Greenwashing Junk Food

The evidence is easy to find at your average grocery store.

There are natural (aka sea-salted) potato chips and natural cheese puffs. Next to a box of organic vanilla almond crunch cereal, you can find organic chewy chocolate chip bars. And let's not forget the organic peanut butter sandwich crackers.

According to an article in the New York Times, these organic — or should we say "organic-ish" — snacks and prepared foods are growing increasingly popular. Unfortunately, these new products seem to be more concerned with clever packaging, rather than real health or nutritional value.

That's where the greenwashing comes in. Masking a junk food with labels that say "all-natural" or "organic ingredients" doesn't necessarily make them healthy. But the promise of health and natural ingredients might be a big part of their appeal. Certainly, it's how they are marketed to us.

How does greenwashing look to the unsuspecting public? Here are some common traits:

  • Potato chips have the same fat and calorie counts as regular chips, but they come in earthy-looking brown bags, rather than shiny foil bags.
  • Happy-looking cartoon cows beam out from packages of string cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products.
  • Wheat sheafs and grains are used to sell candy granola bars.
  • Homey images, such as barns, farms, or footpaths leading out into nature are incorporated onto logos, along with a story about how the product came to be at a grocery store in the first place.

As far as I'm concerned, it's already tough to get through a grocery store, with all the new products and claims. But it seems increasingly clear that it is confusing to trust information on the front of box or bag. Good thing that we've got the black-and-white facts on the nutritional labels.

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