CNN recently published an article about a new product that will increase the shelf life of certain fruits and vegetables. Food waste is a globally relevant and timely topic, and stories about technologies that maintain the quality and shelf life of foods are extremely important.
The company describes their product as “a family of plant-derived coatings that fresh food growers, suppliers and retailers use to keep produce fresh.” Unfortunately, the CNN article described the product as “chemical-free,” which simply isn’t possible. In fact, in the company’s filing with the Food and Drug Administration, it explains that the product is a chemical mixture of monoglycerides or fatty acid monoesters of glycerol, which are found naturally in the environment.
The point is the product and the important benefits it provides are based on the science of chemistry. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a product has been described as “chemical-free” in the news. In fact, we’ve written about it several times in recent years.
Take a look at the blog below, which we originally published back in 2015. It explains why it is impossible to ever have chemical-free foods or drinks (Hint: they simply don’t exist).
Chew on this: “Chemical-free” foods and drinks don’t exist. Natural chemicals in our food are not “naturally better” than manmade chemicals. And the word “detox” is too often used as a seal-the-deal marketing ploy to sell products to consumers that have already bought in to the first two myths.
“This is NOT Natural,” according to Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown at AsapSCIENCE. The YouTube duo with more than 4 million (!) subscribers published a video on July 15 to help clear up some of the confusion about chemicals in food. As of this writing, the video is well on its way to 1,000,000 views.
They aren’t the only ones helping to make sense of this chemicals-in-food debate. Recently, scientists weighed in on the safety of Mac & Cheese and pumpkin spice lattes, proving what we eat (and what’s in what we eat) is a complex topic. Evidently, people are tuning in.
What are we to understand from all of this? From GMOs to common foods labeled “toxic,” questions about the safety of chemicals in food have clearly created a lot of fear and confusion – and people sick of living in fear are looking for some real answers. This video should help. “A little perspective can go a long way,” the narrator states.
Below, we summarize a few of the misconceptions about chemicals in food that we took from the video (but we recommend first watching the video above).
Myth 1: Avoiding certain foods can help you lead a chemical free life.
Not even close. “You can’t lead a chemical free life like some brands would like you to think,” the video states. Everything around us is made up of chemicals, from the water we drink to the air we breathe. It’s the same with foods: chemical-free foods and drinks simply don’t exist. As Dr. Joe Schwarcz of McGill University said in an uproarious TEDx presentation, “If you buy something that claims to be chemical free, you’re not getting a very good deal.”
Myth 2: Natural chemicals in food are less toxic than synthetic chemicals.
Not true, as the video explains: “We can’t just give blanket statements to natural versus synthetic. Natural chemicals aren’t always good for you and manmade chemicals are not inherently dangerous.” You may have seen some advertisements bemoaning the presence of unpronounceable chemical ingredients in a competitor’s product. However, “natural foods” like bananas and eggs have long and confusing lists of unpronounceable ingredients that can easily rival those of a piece of candy. As chemical mythbuster Sense About Science reminds us, “Whether a chemical is naturally occurring or man-made tells us nothing about its toxicity.” The dose makes the poison.
Myth 3: You can detox your body as part of a chemical elimination diet.
“The word detox is strictly a marketing myth,” the video states. Companies market products to our belief in the previous two myths. If we believe we have done a bad job living chemical free, perhaps by consuming too many unnatural chemicals in food, we are more likely to buy detox products to get rid of those chemicals. These chemophobia-stirring claims aren’t just wrong, they can also be harmful.
More could be said here about individual food allergies and sensitivities. Not all of us will respond the same to different chemicals, natural or manmade, in our food. The key is to listen to your gut, so to speak — it’s the most natural thing you can do.
If you want to read a more comprehensive chemical mythbusting guide, check out: “6 chemical myths debunked: New guide helps consumers see through common misconceptions” and be sure to watch the TEDx Talk featuring Dr. Joe Schwarcz.