Buzzwords Tasty Enough To Eat

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The prime directive of advertising is to get you to want something you didn't know you needed, and the ultimate prize is your money stomach. Let's focus in on the world of food. What are some buzzwords used by food marketers to get you to buy and eat their products? (And, come back for seconds.) And, should you fall for the hype?

Artisanal

Ah, artisanal. Imagine an old-world European family creating gourmet foods in the time-honored tradition, with handcrafted recipes passed down through the generations . . . all the way to your family table. (It does make you imagine some scarred, old, brick hearth in the hills of Italy, right?)

Well, artisanal is just a fancy adjective, and it doesn't mean that the food product isn't mass produced. Food marketers mainly use it to create appeal and interest, to make you think you can't find it on every shelf in the world (think "limited edition"). But, unless you can directly ask the person who made the product in question, file this word under "hype."

Free-range and cage-free

Free-range means that livestock or poultry are permitted to roam around to graze or forage for food, as opposed to being in a cage or some other type of confined space. The animal in question supposedly lives in an environment that causes much less stress than say, oh a cage.

And, cage-free means the chickens are enclosed in a barn with no access to the outdoors.

Both better than the animal farms some meat comes from, it may be safer to go for pasture-raised and organic items over the more questionable (and unverifiable) free-range and cage-free.

Organic

Organic is a super hot-button word for a specific subset of food buyers out there. Anything labeled as such was produced without the help of artificial means like chemicals (pesticides and preservatives). Unfortunately, according to Harvard Health Publishing from Harvard Medical School, "we don't have enough information yet to know if the lack of hormones and antibiotics in organic animal products makes them healthier than conventional animal products."

But, grocery stores like Whole Foods bank on the fact that you believe in the power of organic without the data to back it.

GMO-free

Before going any further, let's explain GMO. This stands for "Genetically Modified Organism." We define GMO as "an organism or microorganism whose genetic material has been altered by means of genetic engineering." In other words, guys in lab coats tinkering with really small living things.

Examples of foods that may contain GMOs include bread, pasta, ice cream, fried foods, alcohol. By law, organic products must be made without the use of GMOs. The challenge is figuring out how to avoid GMOs, since they are not required by law to be labeled. Currently (like with organic food), we do not have information about whether GMOs are safe or unsafe, though.

Grass-fed

If you are buying grass-fed meat, that means the cow was allowed to eat grass as opposed to being fed grain. An article on Business Insider says some evidence shows that grass-fed beef, while more expensive, is healthier and more nutritious.

Yet, the same article also quotes the Agricultural Marketing Service, a branch of the US Department of Agriculture, as saying grass-fed is little more than . . . a marketing ploy used by the major meat-packers to dupe consumers into buying mass-produced, grain-fed, feedlot meat. It's unfair that we can't trust these producers by their word alone.

BPA-free

Although this is not an ingredient in foods, it can be a chemical found in the items that hold your food.

BPA stands for "Bisphenol-A." This is an estrogen-imitating chemical that is used to make reusable plastic products like baby bottles, toddler sippy cups, and plastics for storing leftovers. It can sometimes leech into beverages, specifically when they are in these containers, posing a potential health risk. Many producers have made the switch to BPA-free now.

Gluten-free

What is a gluten-free diet? Well, it's a diet without grains wheat, barley, and rye (they all contain the protein: gluten).

Is going gluten-free the real deal? Not everyone thinks so . . . . But, Celiac's Disease is a real thing, and folks with it need to abide by gluten-free diets, so keeping these products honest about their inclusion of gluten is necessary. Who's to say those that don't medically need it aren't allowed to enjoy it too?

rBST-free

Without getting too classroom-y, rBST is a GMO. Specifically, it is a "type of artificial growth hormone that increases milk production in cows." Canada has already made its usage illegal, but the US has yet to formally follow. Other countries that have banned it include the European Union, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Israel.

Some say it increases production without affecting quality or the safety of the animal. Opponents point to the "Franken-food" aspect of a product that is genetically enhanced. Either way, the hype has been built, and most suppliers won't accept rBST milk anymore.

All natural

We've all seen all natural ingredients displayed on our food labels. We define natural as "existing in or formed by nature (opposed to artificial )." So, we're basically interpreting food with all natural ingredients as food that contains nothing man-made/artificial.

There is plenty of wiggle room and ambiguity in the "natural" claims made by food makers. You can always check the ingredient list to read in between the lines.

Probiotic

This just sounds like a fancy-pants food buzzword, no? It's the -biotic part at the end that seals the deal, we know.

Probiotic, as we define it, is "a usually dairy food or a dietary supplement containing live bacteria that replace or add to the beneficial bacteria normally present in the gastrointestinal tract." Bill Nye would love that.

However, Reader's Digest says, "meh." Or, more accurately, "This word is 100% the work of good marketing, as people scramble for fermented foods that have been consumed for centuries and that some say still have unproven health benefits."

Superfood

Superfoods. What makes them so super? Well, apparently not much. It seems this is just a word given to certain nutritional foods to make them seem more healthy and appealing, with the aura of special healing-like properties. Even some dietitians refuse to use the word because they think it is purely mis-marketing.

But, in reality, a superfood is just a food with vitamins and minerals that gives us good nutrition and should be part of a balanced diet (and isn't that the purpose of food in general?). So, all in all, this one doesn't seem so bad.

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