What's On My Mind: Food Commercial and Label Claims That Drive Me Crazy

As promised yesterday, following is a list of four product commercials and/or claims that drive me absolutely crazy. 


(1) Chef Boyardee Commercials
These commercials have made me mad for a while. What’s the deal with demonizing vegetables? What’s wrong with teaching your children that they aren’t something to be feared, and actually taste kind of delicious? Now, I don’t have children, so maybe I just don’t “get” how difficult it is to feed children vegetables, but it seems to me if you start them out early, there’s a good chance they’ll continue to like vegetables as they grow older. Heck, you can even “hide” them in made-from-scratch foods if you want. But using a highly-processed can of food to get your full serving of vegetables? I don’t think so. 

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(2) "Cage-free" Eggs
Though the idea of eggs from cage-free chickens may conjure up images of hens frolicking in the pasture, doing chicken-y things like eating grubs, scratching at the ground, and taking dust baths, for the most part, this image is a false one. Though it might be true that cage-free hens have a better life than their caged sisters, it isn’t that much better. Rather than being confined to a cage—often part of a stack that can reach nearly two stories high—that offers the chicken space about the size of a piece of paper, cage-free hens often live packed together in large open barns. Sometimes the birds have access to the outdoors, oftentimes they do not. And even when they do have access to the outside world, their access is often limited to a small, difficult-to-find door that leads out to a tiny bare-ground outdoor space the size of a small patio. If you’re really interested in eating eggs from humanely-raised chickens, your best bet is to seek out eggs from your local farmers market, where you can talk with the purveyor directly to find out how their laying hens are housed, raised, and treated. Alternately, you could raise your own laying hens in your own backyard (if your local ordinances allow!). I hope that someday we’ll have our own brood of laying hens. For now, we usually pick up fresh eggs at the farmers market, or I buy the humane-certified eggs from pasture-raised hens at Whole Foods. The $5 price (which is about $2-3 more expensive than eggs from both standard and cage-free hens) is well worth it to me.

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(3) "Natural" Jif Peanut Butter
D and I were at the grocery store the other day and one item on our list was peanut butter. I prefer to eat natural peanut butter, which in my book has an ingredient list that reads “peanuts.” Maybe “peanuts, salt” if I’m feeling incredibly wild and crazy. So, after a quick look at the jars of peanut butter for sale, I grabbed a jar of “Natural Jif.” Admittedly, I didn’t read much further than the “natural” – after I got home I managed to read further on the front label, which states “Peanut Butter Spread Contains 90% Peanuts.” Imagine my dismay when I turned the jar around and read what the other 10% consisted of: “sugar, palm oil, contains 2% or less of: salt, molasses.” Call me crazy, but that ingredient list doesn’t scream all that “natural” to me. Sure, these items may have natural origins, but none of these ingredients are “naturally” found in a peanut. I think “natural” is definitely one of the most misused terms in food labeling. Producers capitalize on the fact that consumers see the term “natural” on a product as meaning that it’s a healthier, or less-processed option—an aspect that is often not the case at all.

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(4) "All-Natural/Cage free/USDA Process Verified" Chicken
I first saw the commercial for Perdue’s new “USDA-Process Certified” chicken earlier this year, and my BS alarm immediately started to go off. To begin with “USDA-Process Certified” is marketing hogwash. Perdue worked with the USDA to come up with a “verification” program to certify how the chickens are raised and what they are fed. The packaging claims include “All Vegetarian Diet,” “No Animal By-Products,” and “Raised Cage Free.” Let’s start with the last claim first. Here’s the deal – chickens raised as meat birds are rarely, if ever, raised in cages. (Caging chickens is more of an issue with laying hens, which I explained above.) In fact, for the most part, the chickens are stuffed into large barns, where overcrowding and sickness prevail. So that’s problem #1. As to the other two claims, I suppose it’s okay that the chickens are fed vegetarian, animal by-product-free diets, but in reality, a chicken’s natural diet would consist less of corn, soybeans, and marigold (that last one of which imbues the birds’ skin with a yellow hue) and more of insects and leafy greens. A final claim on the product is that “No hormones or steroids added” which is really a non-issue as government regulations require that poultry NOT be given hormones or steroids. So good on you, Perdue, for following the law on that one.

What do you think? Are there any food commercials, labels, or product claims that drive you up the wall?

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