Health trends come and go like a merry-go-round with no end. Constantly changing guidelines are practically impossible for consumers, much less food producers, to keep up with. After decades of abiding by later-debunked nutrition myths and watching the rate of chronic illness continue to climb, consumers are taking their health into their own hands. It doesn’t take a chemist to translate an ingredient list to recognize the foods we’re consuming aren’t the same foods our ancestors survived on for thousands of years. At least it shouldn’t.
Chemicals like benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenol methyl ether, myrcene, pulegone, pyridine, and styrene are all additives that were approved by the FDA and used to improve the flavor (aka sales) of everything from baked goods to ice cream for years. Each of these chemicals has been linked to increased rates of cancer and has only been banned in recent years thanks to increasing pressure from outside groups. What’s worse is that these substances were rarely listed by name on ingredient lists. Instead, they hid behind non-specific terms like “artificial flavors.” If carcinogens have been hiding in our grocery aisles and making their way into our kids’ meals for years, without any way for the everyday consumer to know, it’s clear that a new era of food safety standards needs to take the stage. That’s where clean label ingredients come in.
The Clean Label Trend Encourages Transparency Among Businesses
As a consumer-centered movement, consumers call the shots. This means that in order for companies to successfully appease their clean-label-inclined consumers and earn their business, they answer to more than government agencies funded by too-rarely-investigated third parties. To meet the standards of their consumers, companies not only need to clean up their ingredients, but they need to make the ingredients used clearly identifiable. No longer are consumers putting up with seeing phosphoric acid next to folic acid with nothing identifying the first as a chemical found in both soda and fertilizers and the latter as a kind of vitamin B often added to all-purpose flour.
Shifting Understandings Of Health
Society has spent far too many decades being distracted by weight shaming and the villainizing of the human body’s primary source of energy: carbs and fat. Such fear-mongering has been used to progress the agendas of private business interests. Clean labels bring attention to the real killers of Americans like man-made pesticides and chemical additives. These substances remain in our food supply, protected in the name of efficiency and cost savings. After all, if a company can produce a bag of snacks that lasts three months rather than three weeks, that gives them a lot more time to sell it to the unknowing consumer. If a chemical oxidizer, let’s call it potassium bromate, (which has been linked to cancer but is sometimes neutralized during the baking process) is cheaper than safer alternatives, that’s a lot more money a bread company can make per loaf sold. While consumers have been duped into believing they should cut carbohydrates to protect their waistline, they were sold foods riddled with cancer-causing chemicals unlabeled or disguised in chemical nomenclature jargon.
Power to The People
Unlike government-regulated health terms, the clean-label trend is built on consumer demands and interests. Instead of acquiring a standard set of checkmarks from a regulatory body, companies who want to meet the standards of the clean label trend must contend with the desires of their buyers. The standards are defined by the needs of consumers who are invested in the health of their families and communities.
Ultimately, the clean label trend is a consumer-founded effort to clean up our food quality by improving manufacturer transparency and raising awareness of the hidden dangers lurking in our packaged goods. The word “trend” can get a bad rap, but the clean-label trend is a trend that has the potential to improve the health of the world.