Monday, December 14, 2009

I think this whole line of thought is artificial. Naturally.

I have several relatives who, for some years now, have been on a "natural" kick. They scrupulously monitor everything that comes into their homescertainly everything that goes into their mouthsfor its content, and if anything on the list of ingredients even remotely sounds like a man-made chemical, they will not eat it, wear it, whatever. Their overall MO is simple: It's organic or it's out the door.

I have a feeling I know what you're expecting at this point, and you're wrong. This is not going to be some politicized Limbaugh-esque rant about why "there's really nothing wrong with artificial substances at all, and while I'm at it, industrial pollutants are an excellent addition to the ecosystem, thank you." This is an argument for why the subject should not be viewed in simplistic terms. Natural is not in every case better than artificial, or even synony
mous with "good." And artificial is hardly a synonym for bad for you.

First of all, there are lots of natural things that you wouldn't even want to be in the same room with, let alone eat. Plutonium-238 comes to mind, as do grizzly bears. Even on a less whimsical plane, Nature also gives us many poisonous plants (e.g. oleander) and dangerous bugs. Recklessly mega-dose yourself (or especially your kids) with certain vitamins or other nutrients and you can cause serious health problems. Conversely, there are thousands if not millions of altogether unnatural (i.e. artificial) things that we now depend on to sustain life. This includes, most obviously, many medicines.

On a more philosophical plane: What really determines whether or not something is "natural"? My dictionary defines natural as "existing in or formed by Nature." This means, o
f course, that people are products of Nature. And so it follows that the things that people produce are also products of Nature. Doesn't that make everything, including the laptop on which I'm typing this, a product of Nature? On the other hand, if you're going to argue that in order to be considered a product of Nature, something must be found in Nature in its original, unmodified state... Well, wouldn't that rule out, say, tangelos? As well as species of dogs that were cross-bred (e.g. cockapoos/labradoodles) or even just purposely bred away from their natural natures, as it were?

It is also true that lots of natural things can be used in unnatural ways for the benefit of mankind. F'rinstance, there's an entire class of blood pressure medications known as ACE* inhibitors that are derived from the venom of a South American viper. If you came by that venom the natural way
which is to say, by meeting the viper in personyou would not be that happy with the outcome. Yet processed through the unnatural ways of modern medicine, the venom is a godsend for millions of Americans. Including, recently, this one.

While I understand that we want to exercise care in what we eat (and perhaps even what we wear), I really think the whole Natural craze is about snobbery. Maybe not the usual brand of snobbery, which is rooted in money and status
per se, but more an intellectual/social snobbery: We're the people who 'get it.' We're plugged-in. Such thinking seems especially prevalent among New Age types, and proceeds from a form of animism that imbues natural things with all sorts of spiritual attributes that I seriously doubt are there.

I'd stay longer but I'm off to make myself a nice bologna sandwich on enriched white bread.

* You can look up the acronym for yourself. It's really not material here.


Duff said...

All of human culture, including a recent focus on all things natural, is itself unnatural.

Yet I still mostly buy organic, although I'm not as sure as to why as I used to be.

Athol Kay said...

I think the food suppply is LMAO terrible in the USA. I certainly look hard at labels for MSG because that little beauty makes me shit my pants quite literally.

But also agree, some quite "unnatural" things are awfully goood at sustaining life.

A metaphor about a baby and bathwater springs to mind, but I'm on my second Limeade and Rum drink, so I'll pass.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - Go visit a meat processing plant and watch them make that bologna. I think you'll decide that a compromise is in order. :-)

Seriously, though... while there are some additives that are best avoided, our civilization would either starve or be overcome with disease, were it not for those "artificial" goodies.

One thing that leaves me scratching my head is wondering where these food allergies came from. When I was growing up, there was no such thing (at least, in the common awareness) as peanut allergies. Caused by chemicals? Genetic manipulation? God? Every kid in my grade school ate peanut butter & jelly sandwiches damn near every day, and I don't recall any of them swelling up like prepubescent blowfish and dying. Nowadays? You've gotta put a warning on a jar of Jif that it's made in a plant that processes peanuts, so some idiot doesn't feed it to their allergic kid and sue your nuts off.

Anonymous said...

It would also rule out almost all agricultural products that are produced through current farming technology and methods.

LizaJane said...

Watch "Food, Inc." and you'll see there is an alternative, and there has to be, for our current situation.

Basically, I agree with all of you.

I love a good bologna sandwich, Steve, and I try to find stuff made from meat that didn't spend it's life (and death) in complete misery (I see no reason to be cruel to animals just because they end up eaten) and hasn't had carcinogenic nitrites added to it (lunch meat additives are KNOWN carcinogens -- so eating less, if not none, is a no-brainer). Sometimes, though, there's only Oscar Mayer.

In all things, moderation. That's my take on it.

Some things are better organic because they are HIGHLY contaminated with pesticide -- grapes/raisins, apples, and strawberries for example. But for other things it doesn't matter much (e.g. bananas and avocados).

I buy organic milk and have since I was pregnant with my first child, because the hormones in conventional milk may be contributing to the earlier and earlier onset of puberty (menarche) in girls. I'd rather my girls did not get their first period and grow breasts at age 8.
Furthermore, early menstruation onset is linked to various female cancers. If you can lower the risk through something simple, while benefiting the planet and small farmers -- and if you can afford to do so -- why not?

It's a small step, but one I felt strongly enough about, since they consume so much of it (milk and dairy), to pay the extra money.

They also eat plenty of candy and snacks and the rest of it (no fried food and VERY little fast food), so we're not crazy health nuts.