give me the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance every time - Douglas Adams

Natural Nature's Best

Take a walk around the local supermarket and you will find myriad products claiming to be “natural.” I have even come across a product in a health food store that claimed to be “chemical free.” When I asked the shop assistant “Do you know you have a product on your shelf that claims on its label not to exist?” I could see by the look on her face she was thinking “Oh no, here's another nutter suffering from a drug induced psychosis looking for a cure in a course of food supplements. Why do they always pick on me?” Out of sympathy for the lowly paid health food shop assistant's plight I decided not to press for an answer to my question about unsubstantiated claims on product labels. I further decided never to buy anything claiming to be chemical free as paying money for nothing is something my mother warned me against.

The fact is everything is made of chemicals, I am, you are, we are chemicals. A very complex, and I think, rather amazing collection of chemicals. Everything you ever saw, touched, tasted, or smelt was made of chemicals. So rather than the frankly dotty idea of chemical free products what we are all looking for is “natural” products. What is natural? Is brown sugar more natural than white? Is organic brown rice more natural than Rice Krispies? Phrases such as “full of natural goodness” are familiar to us, but if the product is really popular the chances are its loaded with highly refined sugar, flour, fat and salt. So a more honest advertising slogan might be “full of pure highly refined nourishment (warning; may cause obesity, diabetes, heart failure, and stroke, only consume as part of a balanced diet, may contain nuts).” Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

Natural implies something that occurs in nature without the intervention of humans. Which rules out just about everything we eat. All our agricultural products from apples to yaks have been selectively bred and genetically manipulated for hundreds if not thousands of years by people. Take the apple, a fruit with a special place in the minds of many religious folk. The ancestor of all modern apples is the crab apple, a familiar tree of my childhood. Crab apples are small, hard as wood and bitter as a scorned woman, and fit only as ammunition for small boys war games. Given a choice we would all choose a modern, much genetically modified, nutritious, delicious sweet apple over the more “natural” crab apple. The real problem comes when we choose an apple pie and ice cream instead.

Natural in the context of food then is a relative thing. Food is better if its not over refined, but damned near inedible if not refined at all. So a balanced diet is not just the right mix of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals and fibre, it is also the balance point somewhere between so natural its nearly indigestible and so refined its nearly toxic. Like the wise Buddha choose the middle path!