Have you been duped by “natural” products?

attack great white shark

See the shark?

The shark embodies nature. It’s vicious, deadly, and unconcerned with anything other than its own wellbeing.

Nature is about survival of the fittest … generally by killing both prey and competitors. So how did “natural” come to mean “safe” and “gentle”?

Anti-vaxxers who prefer “natural immunity” are unwitting dupes to the advertising industry, as are those who purchase “natural remedies” or organic food.

It hasn’t happened by accident. It reflects a highly successful effort on the part of the advertising industry to trick us and we’ve fallen for it.

In Packaging as a Vehicle for Mythologizing the Brand in the journal Consumption, Markets and Culture, Knaizeva and Belk identify “Myths of the World in the Past” that influence the “stories” found on packaging.

By examining stories printed on the food packages that make use of a popular claim of naturalness, we offer a conceptual framework showing how corporations attempt to graft new myths onto old archetypes. We propose that by revisiting traditional mythology, contemporary commercial storytellers collectively create a grand postmodern marketplace myth—that of an empowered and ennobled consumer. We treat packaging narratives as cultural productions and explore them as vehicles for mythologizing the brand. Our findings reveal mythical themes exploited by companies in their packaging stories and messages they convey.

What did they find?

Packaging narratives depict the modern world as a deeply distorted reflection of what it originally was – the garden before agro-chemical technology. While the values of the past include family, tradition, authenticity, peace, and simplicity, the current era is associated with broken family ties that need to be restored, scientific “advances” that pose threats, constant pressure on the well-being of humans, and unnecessary complexity in everyday life.

The authors pay particular attention to the concept of “naturalness”:

Naturalness appears as a rich emotional construct that connects with positive contemporary images of nature… People do not want to remember that nature can also be destructive as in deadly hurricanes and poisonous mushrooms … In a natural health context, Thompson also finds nature to be a positively framed powerful mythic construction; and his informants attribute magical, regenerative powers to nature. They firmly believe that aligning with what nature has to offer for one’s health lets them assert control over their lives and bodies versus losing control by being complicit in a scientized medical system.

Something unfortunate happens when we hear the word “natural.” It’s almost as if the very word disarms our innate skepticism. The irony is that while natural has come to mean “gentle” and “safe’, nature itself if neither.

In other words, advertisers have appealed to our vanity by conditioning us to believe that we are empowered and ennobled consumers. They’ve rewritten history to depict pre-technological Garden of Eden, where nature had magical regenerative properties. And like lemmings, many of us have followed advertisers off an entirely natural cliff.

Natural immunity? We had that for most of human existence and the average lifespan was 35 years.

Natural childbirth? Among the most deadly events in a woman’s life and the deadliest event in a baby’s life.

Natural remedies? If natural remedies actually worked, our lifespan in nature would have been 70 years, not 35 years.

None of that would be surprising if we recognized the shark as an embodiment of nature. Like the shark, nature doesn’t care if you get smallpox and die. It doesn’t care if half (or more) of your children die in childbirth. It doesn’t care to provide us with natural remedies.

Yes, nature provides some plants and animals with natural poisons used to kill competitors or predators. Penicillin existed to provide protection for a species of mold. We hijacked it to protect ourselves. But no one should imagine that nature created penicillin for us.

Anti-vaxxers who prefer “natural immunity” are unwitting dupes to the advertising industry, as are those who purchase “natural remedies” or organic food. They’ve been deliberately tricked into imagining themselves as empowered and ennobled by their choices when, in reality, they’ve been reduced to compliant sheep who can be manipulated into buying food, books and other products that are worthless or worth far less than the premium being charged for them.

Nature is the shark — conscienceless, vicious, and deadly. We should acknowledge the brilliance of the advertising industry in creating a group of consumers who’d rather believe in the fantasy of safe and gentle nature created by advertisers who are flattering them than the evidence of their own eyes.

It’s great for business, but terrible for health.

  • sapphiremind

    I had an addiction to caffeine – a minor thing. But I was trying to lose weight and didn’t want to drink as much coca-cola (my caffeine delivery system) and instead of taking “no doze” to wean myself off, I tried green tea extract pills in a low dose (far lower than recommended on the bottle) to try to wean.

    I almost died from what’s called an “idiosyncratic drug reaction”. There was no warning on the label. I never had heard of it before. But it almost destroyed my liver and I am thankful I did not die and I managed to survive without liver transplant, though others have not been as lucky.
    http://livertox.nih.gov/GreenTea.htm

    Natural /= safe Every drug is something we found in nature originally but then purified, tested and sterilized it. All of those steps are *good* steps to take. There is no benefit to taking willow bark instead of aspirin, only risk. The aspirin is clean and uncontaminated and you know exactly what dosage you’re getting. Or St. John’s Wort vs an antidepressant. The difference between them is just purity, strength and accountability.

  • Bugsy

    When I was semi-woo, my all-natural friend recommending an *amazing* homemade cleansing solution involving white vinegar and orange rinds. We tried it out and loved it. I though it was great until I looked in the spray bottle and noticed that our solution was moulding.

    The reality that I’d been spraying mouldy solution around our kitchen in lieu of tested cleansing solutions was a wake-up call.

    We still sometimes use vinegar for cleaning, but the vinegar is happily next to a few jars of factory-produced cleaning solutions. We now go for what works, whether it’s approved by the all-natural crowd.

    Don’t even get me started on my thoughts on borax as an everyday household solution…

  • Kathleen

    You know, I am all against the woo stuff, but what about things like ‘natural’ cleaning products (I use baking soda for a ton of cleaning and deodorizing). I started using those because they tend to smell better and are slightly less toxic to my kids and pet. Does that mean I’ve bought into the marketing? To some degree, surely avoiding chemicals can be a good thing?

    • demodocus

      The chemistry student in me wants to point out that baking soda is a chemical, and so is water.
      That said, i do tend to use vinegar, baking soda, and method multi-purpose cleaner a lot. Mostly because I *intensely* dislike the scent of most other cleaning products.

      • Kathleen

        And now I hang my head in shame, as I really do know that everything is made up of chemicals. My husband can’t stand the scents of some things – like, I can’t even have candles sometimes because they make him sneeze. But I like the scents of the more ‘natural’ cleaners (like Method brand) and it makes me feel like it’s at least slightly safer for my littles (although I still wouldn’t want them tasting it or anything like that).

  • Stephanie Rotherham

    Slick nitpick, but lemmings don’t regularly go over cliffs, at least not voluntary; it’s usually because of changes in their migration patterns and a certain faked documentary decades ago, they don’t actually commit suicide, it’s a long standing myth.

    But yeah, nature ain’t nice. You know bunnies? Cute, sweet, fluffy little bunny rabbits, with twitchy noses, big ears, sharp claws and teeth? You know that they will kill each other over territory and males will castrate their rivals when fighting. They will also practice cannibalism of their newborn young in stressful circumstances.

    • Monkey Professor for a Head

      And what’s with all the carrots,
      What do they need such good eyesight for anyway?

      • sapphiremind

        Two different bunny references, but I highly approve of both. *clap* Bravo!

  • Tiffany Aching

    You might also add that “nature” (which is definitely not a scientific concept) isn’t particularly good at preserving life itself, as shown by the 5 mass extinctions we know of. Trilobites and dinosaurs lead an all organic, natural life, after all.

  • Irène Delse

    For me, herbs and “supplements” come in the form of spices. Oh, and chocolate, of course!

    • BeatriceC

      Alcohol is a good supplement sometimes. Gotta be careful not to overdo it though.

  • SporkParade

    Ugh, a local mother is giving away her excess tincture to prevent PPD. I’d comment about how intrinsically evil depression and PPD woo are, but I already have a reputation for being anti-nature.

    • MaineJen

      Am I the only one who feels irrational anger when I hear the word “tincture?” Especially in connection with PPD, or depression in general. Let’s get people REAL help, not woo.

      • Madtowngirl

        When I hear “tincture,” all I can think about is video games I’ve played.

      • demodocus

        i think of Brother Cadfael, but he’s fictional 12th century Welsh monk

        • MaineJen

          Awesome. That’s what we should be aiming for…12th century medicine.

          • demodocus

            All-natural!!

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          And one noted for his common sense and compassion, at that. Pretty sure the esteemed Brother (I seriously need to add those books to my books-to-read-while-rocking-the-new-baby list) would be over-the-moon thrilled to hear of modern medicine’s advances!

          • Roadstergal

            I enjoy both the books and the TV series. (I recently saw The King’s Speech, and excitedly told my husband, “It’s a movie where Derek Jacobi _isn’t_ the stutterer!”)

      • Charybdis

        I think of “tincture of iodine” and oddly, “Tinactin” for athlete’s foot and/or jock itch. So, antiseptic or anti-fungal. Neither helps with PPD.

      • Nick Sanders

        I grew up playing video games were tinctures restored your MP, so I’m cool with the word.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      Tincture of what? There’s tons of plants that will kill you if you make a tea/infusion of them. Datura also know as Jimson weed and locoweed, Monkshood/Aconite, Oleander(that one was used as an ornamental for my entire apartment complex, the whole plant is poisonous), Castor beans. White snake root(milk cows used to eat a lot of this and the people who drank the milk would sicken and sometimes die (thats how Abraham Lincoln’s mother died)

      http://iowagarden.blogspot.com/2006/08/wildflower-that-killed-lincolns-mother.html

      All perfectly organic and natural..

  • Who?

    So I’m having some rather special menopause symptoms at the moment. What a treat.

    The people who ask me what supplements I’m going to take, what dietary changes I’m going to make, what extra blood tests (beyond what my gp will do, because, doncha know, doctors don’t understand hormones) and which naturopath/nutrionist I am seeing, really are beginning to affect what’s left of my calm.

    When I tell them I’ll be taking all the chemicals I can get when it is clearer where I am in this process, they look shocked. Don’t I want to go natural? I tell them that where I am now is natural, and I’m not enjoying it, so no thanks.

    I was sorely tempted to load up on the sleepy making narcotics to go to bed last night, on the basis that if I slept deep enough the hot flushes wouldn’t wake me. Husband pointed out that such self medication, and the resultant drug addiction, might not be the mood and life enhancer I anticipated.

    • MI Dawn

      Lunesta (Eszopiclone) is my best friend right now for sleep. Give it a try. I have 1 mg tabs and take 1-3 depending (3 mg is a max dose for me). I like it because I sleep all night and don’t wake up groggy. And HRT isn’t an option for me due to several reasons.

      I go on and off the sleeping pills, as needed for the freakin’ hot flashes and night sweats. Had several months’ break, now they are back and making me miserable. Yay menopause. Though I don’t miss my periods.

      • Who?

        Thanks-I don’t cope w broken sleep: it is good to know there are some options out there.

    • Mishimoo

      Ugh! I hope you get it sorted out soon, that would be utterly miserable!!

      • Who?

        It’s not super fun-I’m hoping the chemical option will be a success for me.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      I occasionally used over the counter stuff like Zzquil. I was offered estrogen to help with the symptoms but given my family history of breast and uterine cancer decided it was safer to decline.(without that history I would have definitely taken it!)

      Now that I am on the other side , I have to say NEVER having to deal with having a period again is Awesome.

    • Michelle Singleton

      Not woo – per se. BUT When I started having hot flushes (peri-menopause) I started putting peppermint oil at my hairline on the back of my neck. I’ve never diluted it – might have to start though because my skin is changing again…
      I also use a salve that has peppermint and lavender in it to help with my headaches. Since the latest changes from the Gov’t make getting pain meds neigh on to impossible now.

    • Montserrat Blanco

      Most of my older friends got a great relief of the night hot flushes by starting to sleep in running gear. They use short sleeves t-shirts that you buy in running stores. This usually helps with the sweat that is mostly the cause of waking up. Do not go for cotton, it will soak up and you will wake up. I run and have been giving away those t-shirts that they usually give you after races for free in the wrong size to my menopausal friends. You will not be harmed and you can always give it a try without side effects.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Definitely not menopausal here, but this is brilliant! I’m going to try that during the first week or two postpartum this time. Last time ’round, it seems my body decided to get rid of all the extra fluid I’d gained via massive night sweats, which were as gross as they were uncomfortable and led to changing my clothes in the middle of the night, leading to even more interrupted sleep…not fun. Thanks for the idea! 🙂

      • BeatriceC

        Ohhhh! You just gave me an idea. I’m not menopausal yet, so it’s not an issue for me, but for whatever reason MrC sweats at night more than I did in the days after childbirth. I wonder if I could make a top sheet out of the same material they use in exercise clothing? Actually, maybe I could make a fitted sheet as well. There are nights I thank every deity I can think of for my California King sized bed so I can shove him over to his side when I wake up in a pool of *his* sweat. It’s really gross. He really should be glad he’s so damned cute.

      • Who?

        That is a fantastic idea. Thanks!

    • Roadstergal

      My husband uses Tylenol PM for his occasional bouts of insomnia. I figure it’s a step below narcotics and it gives him that ‘reboot’ when his sleep patterns are disrupted, so I’m on board.

    • niteseer

      I’m one of those people who do crazy things while on sleeping pills, and don’t remember it. It is too dangerous for me to take them. But my doc gave me Elavil, which is a really old antidepressant, but is now used often as an adjunct med for chronic pain, and it also helps sleep. I went from being awake for up to 48 hrs, to sleeping reliably every night, with no crazy behavior, and no morning hangover.

      • Who?

        So good to hear people are finding solutions-will be keen to hear what the doctor says about it.

        Addiction, and doing something weird/dangerous/out of character while taking sleeping pills is a real concern.

  • Kelly

    The only time that I bought supplements and bought into he woo was when I was pumping with my first. My supply had gone down when I started working and I started to use fenugreek. My mom was always on the next trendy woo thing and I tend to avoid things like this like the plague but I was sucked so deep in the whole breast milk world that I went for it.

    • MaineJen

      The closest I came to woo while bfing/pumping was drinking mother’s milk tea…I honestly don’t know whether it helped or not.

      • Heidi

        Ugh, mother’s milk tea. I have two unopened boxes and one partially used box in the pantry. It’s like chi tea but with dirt covered mushrooms in the mix, at least IMO. In my experience, doesn’t work.

  • Who?

    Sad and difficult news from a regional hospital here. Enquiries are underway to understand what is going on, and what is going wrong:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-20/woman-dies-during-caesarean-in-rockhampton-hospital/7340428

    • Mishimoo

      I heard it this morning, it’s horrible. There have been problems with maternity care in Central Qld for years, I wish it was just fixed already.

  • Tiffany Aching

    I hate to be that commenter but sharks are much less deadly than mosquitoes – and they clearly suffer from their bad rep. That said, I don’t understand why people are so gullible about “natural” products’ merits when humans manage to manufacture some really cool stuff (like new drugs against malaria or, say, the internet. Or aeroplanes. Or jelly beans).

    • Nick Sanders

      Less deadly to humans, not exactly going to win any good citizenship awards from the rest of the sea creatures, though.

      • Tiffany Aching

        Very true. Nature (if such thing exists) isn’t anthropocentric like me :).

      • Charybdis

        Remember, “Fish are FRIENDS, not food!”

    • Angela

      Sharks are so creepy to me, that picture above gives me chills.

  • BeatriceC

    OT, but relevant to the blog: There’s been another NCB cult death. I seem to have been banned from the group where it happened because even with the exact name, I’ve never been able to find it, but last week somebody posted in one of the groups I am in to go over to “the big group” and encourage a 42+6 mom to seek medical care. Those people were deleted and banned, and then they moved the mom to a secret group so they could continue to “support” her. I’m not entirely sure on the details of what happened next, but it’s been confirmed that the baby didn’t make it and the “big group” seems to be “restructuring”; banning people, moving people to a secret group, etc, and one person is claiming that the admins have accused the mother of being fake and none if it ever happened. I’m about to rage stroke here.

    • Amazed

      Oh my God, not again? Beatrice, are you sure it isn’t the death from a few months ago when Meg Heket and/or Ruth Whatever accused baby Penelope’s mom of being a troll after she listened to them and got a dead (VBAC, I think) baby as a result?

      • BeatriceC

        This is definitely another one. It just happened this weekend.

        • Amazed

          Terrible. When is it going to stop? What can stop these monsters? It clearly isn’t preventable deaths.

          • BeatriceC

            And the victim blaming has already begun. *sigh*

            I think I’ve gone past rage stroke.

      • BeatriceC

        Slight update: Word is that the baby died yesterday. The mother was attempting an HBAC and Thursday-ish of last week was 42+6, so was over 43 weeks at that point. Many people from the VBAC group I’m active in attempted to urge the mother to seek medical care, at least for an NST. One of the admins intervened and said those sorts of comments weren’t okay because they weren’t supportive of the mother’s goals for a HBAC, or something like that, and deleted the comments plus banned people who said them. Today it was confirmed the baby died. Somebody over at the killer group grew a conscience, made a whole bunch of people from the evidence based group admins for the sole purpose of deleting members and shutting the group down. The group had something like 14,000 members, and it couldn’t be shut down until everybody had been removed, so it was a major undertaking. Some of the killer admins regrouped and apparently started a secret group by “invite only”, and are now starting the typical victim blaming towards the mother.

        I’ve only half-assed kept up with the drama. My own life is imploding. I had oldest at the doctor yesterday for wrist problems. We’re going to try some OT, but he might need reconstructive surgery. Today middle kid collapsed at the ice arena. He’s the one that was complaining of flank pain. He had an appointment tomorrow, but things suddenly became emergent. We’re waiting on the results of a bunch of tests. It might be kidney stones, but there’s also some indications of renal failure. While all that was going on the youngest’s school called. He fell and felt a massive pop in his knee. It might just be a tendon that popped around one of the half dozen bone tumors around his knee (not breaking, just sliding over like a rubber band), but it seems like one of the tumors is loose. I’ve given him some meds and I’m waiting to re-evaluate to see if he needs to go to the ER.

        In other words, I need a strong drink and a hot, naked man.

        • Gatita

          Oh God, your poor kids. I hope everybody will be ok. And that you get your drink and hot naked man.

          • BeatriceC

            Thanks. And thanks to Peggy sue and who as well. My kids like to gang up on me. This is far from the first time they’ve all had something significant going on at the same time. At least this time of both middle and youngest get admitted/need surgery, it’s at the same hospital. I’ve had to manage different kids in different hospitals at the same time before. That’s a whole lot of not fun. I still haven’t heard back from the nephrologist which I’m taking as a good sign. Ortho had me bring youngest to the ER. I’m there now. It’s crazy busy. It’s going to be a long night.

          • Irène Delse

            Ouch, that is not fun. Here’s hoping things get better soonest! Love.

          • The Computer Ate My Nym

            I hope you get good news about everyone soon! Sorry you’re going through all this.

          • Mishimoo

            Hope it’s all minor and you all get to go home and rest soon!

        • PeggySue

          Oh, no. Things are crossed for all of you.

        • Who?

          I hope you find a moment for the soothers you describe…

          And that the kids’ things turn out to be minor and/or of short duration.

        • Bombshellrisa

          As you know, the hard alcohol is in short supply but I would gladly share this with you if it would help : )

        • Erin

          If only you were closer, I have a bottle of horseradish vodka I’ve been saving for emergencies.

          Fingers crossed for all of you.

        • MI Dawn

          ACK! Sounds like life is not fun at your house. Wish I was closer so I could give you a hand!

        • momofone

          I hope everyone is better soon, and that you get what you need to get through it!

        • demodocus

          *hugs* hope everything works out alright

        • Charybdis

          Aaaaccck! That’s terrible. When it rains, it pours, doesn’t it?

          Thinking good thoughts for all of you.

          • BeatriceC

            Again, just replying to the one comment, but meant for everybody who responded. Thank you. Yesterday was one hell of a ride. The youngest is mostly fine. One of the things that happens with MHE is that tendons and ligaments can get caught around the osteochondromas and occasionally the pop over them. He has a new growth in the relevant area of his knee, and it appears that he was “just”having inflammation and irritation from that happening with a tendon near the new growth.

            Around 1AM middle kid woke up in extreme pain. Off the the ER I went with him. From a lab work perspective everything looks good. The left kidney is slightly enlarged, but there’s no evidence of infection or stones. He does fall a lot (attempting new jumps…falling a lot happens; it’s just part of the process), so it’s possible that he’s just irritated everything on that side. They’ve ordered rest for a few days, getting back on the ice slowly (no jumps until the pain resolves), and if there’s no improvement in a week they’ll take a look again.

          • Montserrat Blanco

            I am glad everybody is doing better. Lots of hugs.

          • Roadstergal

            Argh, I missed all of this the other day. 🙁 So sorry for all of the stress, and I hope it all comes out as smoothly as anything involving teenagers can…

          • Tiffany Aching

            I hope that everything gets better soon. Hugs.

    • Mel

      🙁

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      last week somebody posted in one of the groups I am in to go over to “the big group” and encourage a 42+6 mom to seek medical care. Those people were deleted and banned, and then they moved the mom to a secret group so they could continue to “support” her.

      Those people are fucking monsters.

      t’s been confirmed that the baby didn’t make it and the “big group” seems to be “restructuring”; banning people, moving people to a secret group, etc, and one person is claiming that the admins have accused the mother of being fake and none if it ever happened.

      See above, only moreso

      • BeatriceC

        I have scoured the entire English language and even consulted with a Ph.D. level linguist (a dear friend), and cannot come up with a word strong enough to describe how I feel about these people. “Fucking monsters” just isn’t nearly strong enough to describe my level of disgust with them.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          “‘Fucking monsters’ understates how awful these people are.”

          • Charybdis

            It also gives the fucking monsters a bad name. Maybe a lynching, complete with torches and waving pitchforks?

  • fiftyfifty1

    “ennobled”
    Sigh. I would like to be more noble and less of a dork who makes mistakes. Seriously. I can see why it sells.

  • Lurkerette

    Hey, Amy’s Organic mac & cheese costs more, as its organic status slightly offsets my parental guilt for feeding my preschooler boxed mac & cheese occasionally. Parental guilt ain’t cheap!

    • Roadstergal

      The Vegetarian section of the frozen foods aisle has been taken over by Amy’s stuff. It’s all NON-GMO!!!, overpriced and nasty, IMO. 🙁

      • Who?

        I know right. We bought some ready meals when my daughter broke her arm last year, and it was quite a struggle to avoid the ‘organic’ ‘gluten free’ ‘all natural’, which are some of my basic shopping parameters.

        And the ones we did buy looked nothing like the picture on the box, and tasted like the box.

        As to whether the box or the contents were more nutritionally sound, I couldn’t say.

        • BeatriceC

          I’m glad I’m not the only one that tries to avoid those labels! Though with my kids’ eating habits, I frequently have to give in when that’s what’s cheapest.

          • Who?

            Oh it’s more a guideline than a rule, but I need something to keep the brain alive at the supermarket.

            Though now, with our empty nest, I hardly go at all, which is, I must say, utter bliss.

      • Nick Sanders

        I don’t know how or why, but their shells and cheese is bitter…

        Also, it’s saddening they are the only brand that has single serving frozen versions of so many international dishes without going across town to the international store in the farmer’s market.

        • Bombshellrisa

          The sauce also never turns out quite right. The closest to ok I have ever gotten it to state was the time when I added both butter and sour cream to the sauce pan while draining the noodles and then added the milk and cheese envelopes. I whisked it all until it was smooth and then added the noodles back to the pan. The problem is, that is a lot of work for something that is supposed to be easy. The only reason we own Annie’s mac and cheese is it’s only $1 at our local stores and we are always getting Catalina coupons at checkout that makes them 50 cents.

        • Roadstergal

          Lightlife used to make these vegetarian “chk’n” pot pies – the Masala one was to die for. They appear not to exist anymore. 🙁

      • Megan

        I actually really like their veggie burgers. To each their own, I guess.

        • Roadstergal

          Morningstar Farms is my fave, but I’m sure they’re set to go NON-GMO!! soon. 🙁

  • chemist mom

    I did a product test for a new “all natural” candy (it was gross). The evaluation form asked several times if I would be more likely to buy it and pay $1 more per package knowing it was “all natural” next to other candies that weren’t. It’s a hard candy. But, I guess it’s important to know that the citric acid in it was naturally “chemical free” from a lemon and wasn’t made in a lab!! EEK, chemicals!!!! They’ll kill you, you know?

    OT — Been lurking for a year or so. Thanks to all of you, I’m attempting to do my part to build the next generation of skeptics. After stumbling on Dr. Amy’s blog a year or two ago, I tumbled down the rabbit hole of Science-Based Medicine, Orac, etc. I managed to turn my obsession into something more constructive by redesigning an interdisciplinary freshman seminar (for science and math majors) to focus on recognizing the differences between science and pseudoscience. It was gratifying to see students start to roll their eyes at the claims of the “natural” groups out there and watch them cringe when listening to anti-GMO rants.

    I apologize in advance to any of their families who will now have to listen to them drone on and on about it at the next event. Not really.

    Now I just have to get the class required for all the non-science majors, too!

    • LibrarianSarah

      I try to give the same kind of information (but focusing more on “good” vs “bad” information) but I feel like it goes in one ear and out the other. It is hard to undo the decades of “if it ends in .org, .edu or .gov it’s a good source of information” that public schools shove into their heads and actually get the students to READ and INTERACT with the material and maybe, just maybe, have them understand that life is far more complicated than they thought.

      But it’s kind of hard to do so in 50 minutes a semester.

    • BeatriceC

      I loved teaching my intro to statistical methods class for exactly this reason. I got to hammer home the idea of distinguishing between good and bad data. A good time was had by all. Or at least by me. I can’t always vouch for my students.

      • chemist mom

        My husband is a statistician, so in combination we’re quite obnoxious. 🙂

        • BeatriceC

          You guys are our opposites! Lol. Not sure how long you’ve been lurking, but MrC is a research scientist (PhD in biophysics but does pharma research, so more biochem than anything) and I’m a statistician.

          • chemist mom

            the four of us together would be deadly. 🙂

          • LaMont

            I’m imagining a glorious “Avengers”-style team here. This is gold 🙂

          • chemist mom

            Oohhhhh. Love it.

    • Kelly

      You are awesome! I love when we get the kids to see through this stuff.

      • chemist mom

        Thanks! I love when they start going off about it, too. Makes me smile.

  • Mel

    If nature took its course, my twin and I would have suffocated to death within a few days of birth when we were born at 29 weeks.

    In a natural environment, I wouldn’t be able to be chowing down on the awesome carnitas leftovers from dinner last night since the only native food is the corn….damn….it’s tortillas, so no lye processing… I couldn’t eat my lunch.

    I’m a bit more upset about the absence of carnitas than my theoretical death, but I’ll be back to normal after lunch.

    • Montserrat Blanco

      My son would not be alive without A LOT of unnatural help so, yes, I do not give a damm about “natural”.

  • Nick Sanders

    I came across this during my news crawl today:
    http://www.naturopathicdiaries.com/naturopathic-pediatrics-is-not-safe/

    Seems to be a perfect fit for this article.

    Edit: Since the URL is getting pared down before actually listing the tile of the article it’s “Naturopathic pediatrics is not safe” and the site is written by an ex-naturopath who realized she was in a field of pseudoscience and so quit to learn real medicine.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Britt Hermes is really cool.

      And Naturopaths HATE her.

      • Nick Sanders

        “Use this ONE OLD TRICK to avoid getting scammed.”

        • Roadstergal

          She signed up to be a naturopath, and you’ll never guess what happened next!

          • MaineJen

            “What happened next will shock you!”

      • Zornorph

        Language professors HATE me!

  • Madtowngirl

    My eyes were really opened to this issue a few years ago in a basic lab skills class. My lab partner and I conducted an experiment in which we used a spectrophotometer to analyze several brands of vitamin B supplements. It was quite amazing to see how little of the vitamin was actually in some of the samples – much less than what the bottle claimed. That’s when my skepticism of “natural” products started.

    I was in a grocery store a few weeks ago buying peanut butter, and one brand had an original version and a “natural” version. I compared their ingredient lists….there was only one ingredient difference, and it was one of the ingredients listed after the phrase, ” contains 2% or less of.” I suspect most people aren’t comparing ingredients between “natural/non-GMO” items, which is what these companies are banking on. But then again, only formula and big pharma companies are evil and out for profit! Those “natural” companies have our best interests at heart!

  • mabelcruet

    I love my food, and I love cooking and feeding people. I haven’t noticed any difference in the taste of non-organic vs organic food, except perhaps chicken. Organic eggs taste identical but for some reason have paler yolks. I personally try and buy local and seasonal as much as I can, rather than organic vs non-organic-I think food miles is a far more important factor when it comes to nutrient content. My local butcher can tell you which cow produced which steaks because he gets his meat from one local farmer. I’m fairly rural and lots of farms here simply sell at the gate-potatoes, carrots, swede etc dug up that day. They may not be organic, but they are damn fresh!

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      As far as I am aware, all organic means is that man-made/synthetic pesticides etc can not be used, it doesn’t mean no pesticides etc were used. And some “natural” pesticides that are used on “organic” produce are actually more toxic to the environment than man-made ones:

      http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.htm

      https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/10/24/how-to-sell-a-toxic-pesticide-the-smart-way-call-it-organic/

      • chemist mom

        They can also be exactly the same but “produced” organically. Apply tons of Bt protein to corn: organic farming. Alter the corn genome so that the Bt protein is produced internally and not sprayed on excessively: GMOs!!! We’re all going to die!

      • FormerPhysicist

        I have been informing a few friends of this lately. Trying not to be too obnoxiously “educating”, but I have that people think ‘organic’ means ‘pesticide-free’.

        Of course, I also delight in asking people if they really and truly prefer random mutations via deliberate irradiation to “GMO”.

    • guest

      I think taste differences have more to do with the specific distributors your local markets use. When I lived in PA, I used to buy some organic products for the taste. Now I’m in NYC, and I find their organic products are less flavorful than the regular versions in most cases.

    • BeatriceC

      I bought some organic strawberries a couple weeks ago because they were on sale and actually cheaper than the regular ones (with three teenage boys, one of whom is an athlete, “what’s cheapest” is pretty much the biggest decision making factor for me). They were horrible. Even the birds wouldn’t eat them.

    • Who?

      I’m the same. Local always where possible. Fresher is better.

      It does my head in when people buy tinned organic tomatoes from Italy, rather than locally grown tinned tomatoes, and then crow that the organic ones, which have crossed oceans in their tins, are cheaper. There is slippage somewhere in there.

    • Amy

      Local and seasonal is the way to go for quality, IME. We keep chickens and there is simply no comparison– even if they weren’t so much cheaper (a bag of the high-end feed costs about $20 bucks and will last three months, during which time I will get 10-12 dozen eggs), the quality is amazing. Same for actual free-range chicken (the organic regulations require nothing more than a door in the coop so that the chickens *can* go outside *if they want to* and of course they never want to)– the taste is awesome. Plus I like knowing the people who are getting my food dollars.

      But I recognize that that’s an enormous amount of privilege and exercising these choices doesn’t make me a better person, just a luckier person.

      • MaineJen

        I love the fresh, free range eggs we get from our coworker…they come in all different colors, the yolks are bright yellow and they taste amazing. I just assume it’s because they’ve been allowed to eat feed/insects off the ground and the eggs are fresher.

      • LeighW

        What kind of hens do you have? We bought a little hobby farm and the kids are after me to get a few chickens. I’m leaning towards Rhode Island Reds because that’s what my grandmother had and they were so quiet you could pick them up and carry them around.

        • Amy

          We had a Rhode Island Red and he turned out to be a rooster, and he was AWFUL. I’ve since heard that Rhode Island Reds in general are on the snippy/nasty side; the local chicken store recommends New Hampshire Reds instead. I like our barred rock hens and buff orpingtons better. We just ordered more and got two speckled Sussex and two americaunas. The Sussex because they’re really pretty and the americaunas because they lay really pretty eggs.

      • Montserrat Blanco

        You are really lucky. I do love the taste of “real” eggs and yes, they have nothing to do with what you get even in organic food stores. I used to eat them when I was a child/teenager and crave them all the time. We had a little farm and the hens had a small barn for themselves and a quite big open space that they used to roam, eating wathever snails/foodscraps/insects/etc were available… Lovely eggs.

        • Amy

          That’s pretty much how we do it. We both work full-time and I was worried that they’d be too much work, but they’re super easy. Feed and water once a day, let them out when we’re home, check on them before bed at night.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        I can’t speak to vegetables (except corn, see below), but oh, man, real fresh eggs are nothing short of incredible.
        My absolute go-to comfort food dates from my broke college days: eggs with tarragon, salt, pepper, a bit of cream cheese, a bit of chopped leftover meat, and a half a leftover baked potato, all scrambled up in a pan. *drools* With grocery store eggs, this is delicious. With fresh-from-the-bug-eating-hen eggs, it’s to die for!
        I also spent my high school years in the Midwest, where it was SOP to pass a pick-your-own stand (or three) for corn on the cob on my way home from school. Corn picked half an hour before it’s tossed into a pot of slightly-salted water…dammit, now I’m hungry!

  • mabelcruet

    But sharks can cure cancer, so they can’t be all bad….

    • Mishimoo

      In the same way that death cures most forms of cancer?

  • guest

    I certainly have fallen for it, particular in the areas of diet and minor illnesses/health supplements. I think I have finally seen my way through. I’m still working on being able to recognize distorted scientific reporting.

  • demodocus

    Nature would have killed my father by 32, science kept him alive long enough to not only meet his younger daughter but to meet his grandsons, too.

    • Liz Leyden

      Nature would have killed my father in his late 20s, my husband at 19, my daughter a few days after birth, and me within 2 weeks of her birth.

    • cookiebaker

      I would have died in agony at 19 from a ruptured appendix. Modern medicine is awesome.

    • Amy

      Nature would have killed my dad before he got to meet any of his grandchildren or see his younger two children married; nature would have killed me and my first child in childbirth and meant that no second child would have existed; nature would have meant that while I was alive, I along with my mother and one of my sisters would be practically blind.

      That’s not even getting into my chronic conditions. Without triptans and SSRIs I’d be curled in a ball somewhere crying instead of dazzling everyone here with my witty comments.

  • AirPlant

    I have pretty bad environmental allergies combined with asthma. Mother Nature can eat a dick, she is the reason I have been wheezing for the past twenty years.

    • Guest

      Yeah, I have asthma and allergies, too. They are totally natural, and they make me want to die sometimes.

      • AirPlant

        I once had a twenty minute conversation with someone about rose essential oil. I put some in the bath and immediately broke out in full body hives. I concluded that I had an allergy. He maintained that there was no way that I was allergic to an essential oil because it is natural. No matter how many times I told him that tree pollen and ragweed are also super natural he just could compute how an essential could cause an allergic reaction. It was all I could do not to ask him if his default was so far shifted towards the essential oils doing nothing that he couldn’t comprehend when they actually had an effect?

        • guest

          By that logic, there is no such thing as food allergies. Great news, kids! Peanuts for everyone because it’s all in your head!

        • Mel

          He’d love to see my skin’s reaction to apple peels, raw cherries and celery.

          Heck, a splash of water that had been in contact with apple peels got in my eye one time. I ended up in the ER with an eye that was swollen shut and edema above my eyebrow and below my cheekbone.

          I appreciate that the doctors and nurses asked me about domestic violence.

          I was less appreciative of the doctor who kept asking me “Are you sure you didn’t stick any objects in your eye?” I was so tempted to say “Oh, yeah. I did use a fork to scratch my eye when it itched now that you mention it.” I didn’t because I’m sure people have ‘fessed up about weirder things later in a conversation.

          • AirPlant

            Honestly the happiest moment of my adult life was discovering that my hospital has an app where should you get a UTI, you fill out a questionnaire and within an hour a doctor reviews it and forwards the drugs to the pharmacy of your choice.
            I know doctors are doing the best they can, but sometimes you just want to say OMG I know what a UTI is, its this thing and we will both be happier if you just pony over the damn drugs so I can go home and continue to fail at peeing until they kick in.

          • Roadstergal

            Oh lord, yes. I went through a bad two years where I had an unreasonable number of UTIs, and the agonizing wait to see the doctor…
            DH: “How about some cranberry pills?”
            Me: “Foooooook yooooouuuuu…”

          • Who?

            How fab is that. Also means you get started on the drugs sooner so are far less likely to end up actually needing the hospital.

        • Steph858

          Perhaps you could interest your ‘friend’ in a tasty, organic, all-natural hemlock salad …

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    One of our younger’s friends is only allowed Organic food, and isn’t allowed to participate in regular meals with friends because of this. Nope, no Thanksgiving meal for her at school, she had to eat organic ravioli.

    Yet, her parents business involves selling water laced with things like 2-furfurylthiol, 3-methyl-2-buten-1-thiol, 3-mercapto-3-methylbutylformate, methanethiol, methylpropanal, 3-methylbutanl, acetaldehyde, (E)-beta-damascenone, guaiacol, furaneol, 2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine and 2-ethyl-3,5-dimethylpyrazine.

    Of course, that product is better known as “coffee.” These are among the chemicals that are present when you do a high-temperature extraction of roasted coffee beans (roasting is important, because it triggers a Mailllard reaction, which is the source of the furan-based products which drives the aroma (same thing happens for baking bread)).

    If you know what you are reading above, that’s a lot of sulfur compounds, and the pyrazines are not things I normally think of as part of a healthy diet.

    But hey, only organic….

    • chemist mom

      The mother of one of my twins’ friends will go completely out of her way to make sure her son on only eats organic to the point of favoring any highly processed pile of junk as long as it has “Amy’s Organic” on the label but will protest mightily if her son *gasp* eats a fresh apple that isn’t certified organic! “Do you know they can just make those with GMOs and not even tell you?!”

      I think she’s missing the point.

      I can’t stand listening to her ranting at the preschool. I just have to try not to roll my eyes out of my head and bite my tongue.

      • Roadstergal

        A friend of mine (mom to two) wrote on Facebook about her struggles to overcome that marketing, that pervasive idea that made her want to give her kids a bag of (ORGANIC!) packaged snacks rather than a regular ol’ piece of fruit they’d be perfectly happy with. It sucks, that perfect intersection of mom wars, mom guilt, and Natural Label Fetishization.

        • chemist mom

          It’s true. I’ve found myself being sucked into it sometimes, too. It just sounds so good!

          Our preschool is a cooperative and seems to have two different “types” of parents: academic scientists and statisticians and the crunchy-woo-filled-my baby was born at home type. It can get pretty combative.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Organic Funyuns?

          • Charybdis

            That sounds like an abomination and would totally ruin the Funyuns experience.

      • Dinolindor

        Yes! Have you seen the “100 Days of Real Food” person? She talks about cutting out processed foods from her family’s life and of course going all natural and organic. She lists ideas for non-processed foods school lunches that are packed full of…processed foods that have “organic” slapped on them.

      • Mel

        GMO’ed fresh apples? There are a few varieties that are GMOs – the Arctic line springs to mind – but most varieties have been bred the traditional way – through vegetative cloning of plants.

        • chemist mom

          But, but… cloning! That can’t be natural!

          • Mel

            *thinks about her answer for a minute*

            It really depends on who initiates the cloning, I guess.

            Most plants can do some sort of vegetative cloning either by spreading underground roots or by throwing a shoot along the ground until it roots. That’s why you can bury one potato and get lots of potatoes a few months later. That’s natural.

            On the flip side, vegetative propagation of most fruit trees is pretty unnatural. The cloning of fruit trees It requires the use of a knife and a basic understanding of what vascular tissue looks like in a plant. (Not nearly as cool as molecular engineering techniques, but it still requires thumbs and a nervous system which plants don’t have).

            If the “natural” food crowd wants to go back to open-pollinated offspring of fruit trees, there is absolutely nothing stopping them. The only drawback is that the majority of offspring produce fruit that has a taste described as “awful” or “disgusting”.

          • chemist mom

            It does lead to an interesting discussion in the “GMO labeling” laws. Who gets to decide WHAT exactly is genetic modification? Can there be no human modification at all? That rules out most of the food we eat. Who draws the line? Where?

    • Madtowngirl

      I am baffled by how otherwise intelligent people lose their minds when it comes to organic food. I know a chemical engineer who gets super excited about organic food. It’s hard to wrap my mind around that.

    • BeatriceC

      One of my step-daughters and her wife are heavy into the woo. The wife is an acupuncturist, if that gives you any idea of the level of woo. Anyway, I spend a large part of family meals biting my tongue in the interest of family harmony.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        I overheard a conversation at the gym yesterday with some lady going on and on about growing Organic hops. Because, you know, to brew Organic beer.

        Oh, and she wanted to extract the Organic hops oil. Because aromatherapy. And yoga. And “sensory deprivation tanks.”

        • BeatriceC

          Ugh

      • Gatita

        OT, but thought of you: NY Times compiles video of parrots! http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/18/science/parrots-the-highlight-reel.html?_r=0

        • BeatriceC

          I’ve seen some of those videos before. They’re all awesome. None of it surprises me. Parrots really do have more personality than most people give them credit for. I’ve actually said in the past that large parrots could actually be trained and make really good service animals for things like retrieving items, managing light switches, alerting, etc. They wouldn’t make good service animals out and about it public, but around the house they’d be awesome.

    • Amy

      You know, we try to adhere as much as possible to a natural diet of locally-sourced whole foods…..but when my kids go to friends’ homes or birthday parties, they can eat whatever they want.

      If the foods I’m feeding my kids are so great, a little less-healthy food from time to time isn’t going to kill them.

      It’s the same with people who homeschool for ideological reasons (on the crunchy left OR the religious right). They want to control whom and what their kids have access to. But if they’re so confident in their parenting, why are they so afraid of challenges?

  • namaste863

    In my experience, “Natural” remedies are insanely overpriced, and do jack squat. I live in a highly crunchy area, and there are plenty of products on the market. I’ve tried a few of them with a complete lack of result. The natural mosquito spray I’ve tried (I was at someone else’s home, and that’s all they had) I swear to FSM actually attracts mosquitoes. As for the anti-vaccine crap, I have not one iota of patience for it. It’s beyond stupid. What I will say, in all fairness, is that the locally sourced produce from small farms actually is worlds more flavorful than what I’ve gotten elsewhere. I doubt it has any health benefits, but, hey, if it tastes better, far be it from me to argue with results. The cantaloupe is out of this world.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      There was also the case of The Honest company’s sunscreen, which did not actually protect people from sunburn…http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/entertainment/2015/09/10/jessica-albas-company-honest-sued-again-this-time-over-its-sunscreen/?intcmp=related

      • Mel

        Oh! That reminds me of the zinc nasal swabs that caused people to lose their sense of smell – although it did cause the cold to be over faster.

      • LibrarianSarah

        Of all the “natural” OTC products/advice I’ve seen the “natural” sunscreens scare me the most. Like the Wu Tang Clan, Melanoma ain’t nothing to fuck with. Though I am one of those who doesn’t get out of bed without spf 30 so maybe I’m just weird.

        • Mishimoo

          I have managed to get sunburnt through 50spf sunscreen while using it correctly. So now I just avoid the sun mostly and wear sunscreen when I can’t.

          • Who?

            Me too-not built for this climate.

            Hope your work experience is going well!

          • Mishimoo

            It is so good, I love it! I picked books for the home library, helped out with story time, and I set up the new books display along with other general bits and pieces. It’s weird and awesome that it’s such a supportive workplace – I keep expecting to be told “Hey, you screwed up. This is how it’s meant to be done.” but nope, instead I get “Awesome! Good work” and “If you have any ideas, let us know. You have fresh eyes and it might help make our jobs easier.”

            My husband’s work is currently trialing new hours, so he’ll be able to look after the kids while I’m working so we don’t have to rely on family. I’m really looking forward to working outside of the home and studying more.

          • Who?

            So good to hear all that. Sounds like you are on a great path. Remember to enjoy it-like the song says, these are the good old days.

          • demodocus

            my husband does too, and we live near the us/canadian border. *shakes head*

    • Amy M

      Local produce may or may not be organic though. The way I see it, shopping locally benefits your community and also allows you access to very fresh produce. In the summer, I grow my own tomatoes—probably not organically, since we buy Miracle-Gro gardening soil and put some kind of fertilizer pellets in the soil too. The tomatoes are far better than anything in the store, but that’s because we can eat them straight from the vine—super-fresh. Nutritionally however, they should be pretty similar to any other tomato, regardless of growing method.

      • namaste863

        However they do it it gets results. The how is beside the point, as long as they’re not injecting them with antifreeze.

      • FormerPhysicist

        Only one caveat to gardening – test your soil!!!
        Mine is mildly toxic. Ag outreach says don’t grow root vegetables or leafy nightmares like spinach, but tomatoes and peas are okay.
        My neighbors pushing their lovely garden bounty (no pesticides!) have never tested their soil. Sigh.

    • Mel

      One of the major advantages of having a local source is that the farmer can pick varieties that don’t hold up well under shipping. This lets the consumer get a wider variety of flavors than you can get in produce that ships well.

      My students planted a Sungold-like tomato variety last year. It cracked under the slightest water variation, but it tasted like tiny sugary globes with the slightest hint of acid. They tasted so good.

    • Who?

      My husband had a v disappointing experience with a ‘natural’ cold and flu remedy he bought at the supermarket. After noting that the things that really help you feel better are dispensed by men and women in white coats, with several years of university education, and providing him with same, he was much happier.

      • Nick Sanders

        At least he didn’t use Zicam and lose his sense of smell.

  • sdsures

    I highly recommend the book “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre.

    • mabelcruet

      And his blog-entertaining and educational, and as good as the book.

    • Tiffany Aching

      I do too :).