Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to remove ‘all natural’ from labels

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream will no longer call itself "all natural", in response to a request from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (, sent a letter to Ben & Jerry's, requesting the removal of the "all natural" label because of the use of things like alkalized cocoa, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, and corn syrup in its products. Ben & Jerry's has complied, and will phase out the labeling. It will not change any ingredients in its ice cream.

Natural, of course, is a slippery term. Models who display the "natural" look have probably spent three hours in hair and makeup and may even have had some plastic surgery. Foods labeled natural can still be bad for you.

Perhaps this is why the FDA has no official definition for natural when it comes to labeling foods. The USDA, which regulates meat and poultry, allows the natural label as long as there are no artificial colors or ingredients, and the product is "minimally processed". The FDA, which regulates all other foods, has yet to define the term natural, so that's why Ben & Jerry's has been able to use the label all these years.

I never liked Ben & Jerry's because it was natural. I liked it because it was deliciously creamy and fattening, and because those little cartons are the perfect size to buy and eat when you're 26, live alone, and have nothing else to do. I doubt the customer base of Ben & Jerry's is overly worried about corn syrup.

I personally feel that natural is overrated. If I let my kids behave according to what comes naturally, we'd eat all our meals with our fingers while squatting 8 inches from the television set. Dogs eating grass and throwing it up 20 minutes later on your living room rug is quite natural. Bed bugs are natural. Just calling something natural isn't necessarily a selling point with me.

Amusingly, there are places where natural food is being taken to a whole new level. At Noma, a prestigious restaurant in Copenhagen, they serve dirt. Edible dirt.

I am not making this up. I don't think like that.

They serve dirt at Gilt in Manhattan, and at Marlowe in San Francisco. Each chef has their own recipe for dirt: Noma's is a mixture of dried malt and beer, and Gilt, already serving mushroom soil, is experimenting with pebbles made from frozen foie gras. Marlowe's dirt is dried olive oil.

Is it just me, or are we all getting really weird about food? The rich people can't just enjoy a plate of delicious food, they have to pretend its dirt. The lower, "starving" classes, are fatter than ever, and the middle class is so busy we just throw processed foods at our kids while we drive them around to after-school activities. And if you finally do decide to get healthy and pay attention to the label, you will find that the label is a mass of contradictions and darn near undecipherable.

Years ago at one of my son's birthday parties, we had "Worms in the Dirt" for dessert instead of cake. The kids make it themselves, which is part of the fun. You take a plastic cup and fill it halfway with instant chocolate pudding, then you crumble up chocolate cookies into crumbs on top of that, and then you put some gummy worms on top. You eat it with a spoon and it's a giant mess. It is anything but natural. But I tell you what, that was some delicious dirt.


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