Food buzzwords that are really food bullwords
Terms such as ‘farm to table’, ‘hand-made’ and ‘no sugar added’ can easily mislead consumers
Every year, the bucket of bullshit food claims, terms, labels — whatever you want to call them — gets fuller. This, of course, has been carrying on since words and food were around, but the more disconnected we’ve become from our food production, the easier it is for meaningless puffery to sway our choices. Here’s a small handful of such terms from the bucket o’ crud, which should raise your BS antenna, if it isn’t already twitching.
Farm to table: There was a time when this meant restaurants that sourced their food directly, with no distributor or retail situation in the mix, from best practice and — by necessity local — farms. Of course, it’s quite obvious how the term could be open to the sort of ambiguity that makes it a lie, in a second. And so it now most usually means anyone with an apron and a menu, using food from any farm on the globe, and serving it on any table, as long as said table is suitably rustic looking (chic tableware with rustic undertones helps).
After all, what is the definition of farm? That’s something that needs a long good rethink. Are we talking a feedlot beef enterprise, an organic egg farm, farmed salmon, industrial soya production? It’s all called farming, isn’t it? Maddening and unfair to those who are actually doing what the term implies, but sadly, if you see those words, questions need to be asked.
Hand-made; hand-cooked (hand-anything): Terms that have always been as nowhere as “factory fresh” (the latter’s success is the supreme example of corporate marketing over consumer common sense). Why do I care if it’s made with hands? “Hand-cut” says my crisps packet. So what? Can hands cut chips better than a machine? Did the hands actually do the cutting, rather than a knife? Oh, the hands switched on the big cutting machine? Mmm, you can just taste the difference in every hand-selected crisp. What I want to know is, what sort of oil were they cooked in?
How were the potatoes farmed? And now that hands have been brought up, are those “hands” happy? Are those workers for whom hands is a terrible sort of synecdoche, and which would not have Marx munching happily on said crisps (anyway the bits would get stuck in his beard), getting their digits cut or their palms burnt?
Hand is used to imply small-scale operation. Implication again; nothing actually stated. But when supermarkets and multinational brands can use this term, perhaps some legislation needs to change. The same goes for the entirely co-opted word artisanal, which requires a whole book of bylaws to protect the innocent.
No added sugar: Here’s one that really needs banning; it plays so dangerously near to “no sugar” in our minds. The label relies on our nutritional ignorance. Most health-conscious consumers know that refined white sugar is a bad idea. But sugar already present “naturally” becomes just as much of a problem when food is processed. The sugar in fruit, for example, is fructose, glucose and sucrose. When fruit is pulped and boiled down — as in most commercial juices — that sugar level is often higher than in Coca-Cola. It wasn’t added, sure. But it’s concentrated as hell.
Your body doesn’t care where the molecules are coming from. When I see “no added sugar”, I know that, most of the time, this product has higher sugar levels than a parallel product maintaining silence on the matter.
It’s a damn minefield. Keep your antennas twitching.