Fooducate Caught being Anti-chemical AND Anti-chemophobia – A Plea from a Food Scientist

That moment when Fooducate flips a coin and decides to join the “all chemicals are bad for you” bandwagon for the day.

Cue the song by Fun., “What do I stand for? Most nights, I don’t know.”

Fooducate can't decide where they stand... Anti-chemical or Anti-chemophobia
Fooducate can’t decide where they stand… Anti-chemical or Anti-chemophobia

I’m tired of being told to be afraid of “chemicals”.

YES – there are some things that should be consumed in limited quantities, if at all. Let’s call these things “ingredients” because (A) calling them “food additives” implies that all of them are added when in fact some of them are naturally occurring; (B) calling them “nutrients” implies they have nutritional value when some of them are calorie-free; and (C) this conversation does not exclude products that are supplements (so it wouldn’t be a food additive in that case).

There are some pretty legitimate concerns I have with the world we live in right now, but fear of “chemicals” should not be as high on the list as certain people want it to be.

This week alone, I have been told by a fast-casual burrito company to be afraid of Silicon Dioxide; I’ve been told by a face wash company not to put “chemicals” on my face (unless those “chemicals” are vitamins, natural sugars, and/or plant extracts); and I’ve had to ask my former-favorite juice company in the world to PLEASE use some alternative sweeteners instead of my whole day’s allowance of sugar in one bottle.

NO!!! Too much sugar! It didn't used to be this way...
NO!!! Too much sugar! It didn’t used to be this way…

I get what these companies are trying to say, but as a consumer, I’m saddened that companies think they have to play this card to get my money – it’s an insult to my intelligence; as a food scientist and biochemist, I’m just plain insulted.

I FULLY SUPPORT people who are trying to limit highly-processed foods (including Pop Tarts, Hamburger Helper, Mac N Cheese, and all those other Millennial childhood favorites). There are a growing number of better-for-you alternatives, BUT identifying those better alternatives isn’t as simple as making sure you can pronounce everything on the ingredient list or making sure the claim “All Natural” is on the label.

I acknowledge that with new testing methods and technology, new research findings, and new eating patterns, some of the ingredients we used to consider safe might be better off phased out. I also acknowledge that food science has made incredible strides with natural color technology so that we don’t really need artificial colors anymore.

HOWEVER, my plea to any company (food, supplement, beauty or otherwise) considering a commercial or campaign based strictly on manipulating peoples’ concerns of chemicals and other ingredients they are unfamiliar with is to PLEASE STOP USING FEAR.

We’ve had some pretty serious foodborne illnesses this year, why not talk about your food safety programs? Food waste and sustainability are both growing concerns among food scientists and consumers alike, why not talk about your commitment to reducing waste? We’re also still struggling economically, why not talk about how much your company cares about its community and employees?

And if you ABSOLUTELY MUST make a commercial that revolves around the removal of an ingredient, can you pretty-please-with-naturally-colored-sprinkles-on-top talk about the food science behind the switch?

Instead of saying

“We removed this ingredient (implied: We got busted using this thing and we don’t really know what it does or why it’s in the food we’ve been making for decades)”,

how about saying

“We were using ingredient A because it is one of the safest, best, and most effective texture-improvers/preservatives/thickening agents. However, we have deeply care about our consumers and they want it out. We’re going to use ingredient B instead, and our amazing team of highly trained food scientists (or use the words “kitchen experts” if you think it’ll go over better) has a way to make ingredient B work almost as good as ingredient A.”

Treated StupidRelated Reading:

Does Removing Artificial Ingredients Mean Healthier Food?

Consumers Fear Some Ingredients More Than Pathogens

The KNOW-No List: For EVERY ingredient on the list, what it is, what are the safety concerns, and what are the natural alternatives

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