Natural Peanut Butter Pretzels: . . .Junk Food In Disguise?
. . . an editorial by Don Goldberg, presented on the Willner Window Radio Program, January 4th, 2004
We are encouraged to believe that foods and food supplements found in health food stores are healthier than those found in other types of stores. We are surrounded by the words organic, and natural. Everything is free of this and contains none of that.
More often than not, our questions to the store employees are answered with affirmations and assurances couched, again, in terms like "natural" and "free of."
Usually, these products are indeed better than the mass market equivalent. We devoted a previous article and radio segment on the reasons why "health food store" vitamin supplements were better than "drug store vitamins."
But not always.
We have been adding various packaged food items to our product selection at Willner Chemists. For the most part, it has been low carbohydrate foods designed for those following the Atkins-type diet. But we have also been adding various snack and convenience items. We recently brought in a full line of healthy snack items that included nuts, dried fruits, trail mix, ginger candy, etc. All, supposedly, are healthy, nutritious and free of undesirable preservatives, pesticides, etc.
The labels of these products are overflowing with images of goodness--warm colors, pictures of farms, and children. Messages on both the front and rear labels make it clear that a noble and great purpose is being served.
I picked up a package of "Natural Peanut Butter Pretzels with Evaporated Cane Juice." On the rear label, right above the Nutrition Facts information, it says the following:
". . . Farms was created to honor the inseparable relationship between the vitality of the soil, the energy of plants, the taste of ripeness and the viability of farming. Our farmers, their harvest and your well being are the heart and soul of our commitment to you and to our place on earth."
Wow. Makes you feel a little inadequate, doesn’t it? But there’s more. On the front panel of the label, they say the following:
"Biodiversity. Our environment is a thriving web of genetic and biological families. It is up to us as agricultural stewards to make sure the diversity of our plant and animal species, the very foundation of our existence, is preserved for our daily lives, our communities, and our future generations."
Now, at this point, I was considering taking out my checkbook and sending these people a contribution. Forget just buying the package of peanut butter pretzels. But then I remembered why I took the time to read all of this in the first place. It was the term "With Evaporated Cane Juice."
This term, and others like it (i.e. "Dehydrated Grape Juice") has always bothered me. I consider it nothing more than an attempt to mislead people. What is evaporated cane juice? Sugar. What is dehydrated grape juice? Sugar.
So why not just call it sugar? The answer is obvious. Sugar conveys a negative image, especially to those shopping in health food stores. Are they putting regular sugar into these products, and calling it something else, or is this actually a less refined form of sugar? I don’t really know for sure, but it really doesn’t matter to me. It’s still sugar. It has the same effect on my body, regardless of whether it is 99% pure or 97% pure.
And, perhaps just as important, I don’t like to be toyed with. I worry that if they toy with me in one respect, they may be doing so elsewhere as well. It’s a clue to the integrity of the company in general. And that is why I took a closer look at the label.
Here is what I found. Looking past the large "Natural" on the front panel, and the ennobling, philosophically uplifting messages, I turned to the ingredient listing:
"Peanut Butter Pretzel