Essay:
The Force of Nature
What do we risk losing when “natural” becomes a synonym for “good”? Ana Kinsella investigates.

  • Words Ana Kinsella

Humans have a funny way of imposing a moral code on just about anything. Imagine, for a moment, explaining to an extraterrestrial that one plate of food (an organic green salad) is apparently virtuous and wholesome, while another plate (a pile of golden, salty fries) is more delicious, but bears a kind of guilt. Both foods provide sustenance. Surely, the extraterrestrial might suggest, that should be enough for us humans. Guilt or virtue, you would then need to explain, are social constructs that we have become quite attached to.

There’s a kind of virtue ascribed to choosing “natural.” Organic foods, we believe, are better than processed ones. Following a paleo diet indicates that you care about your health and your body and are willing to do what it takes to cherish it—just like our cave-dwelling ancestors. Experiencing natural childbirth is a badge of honor among many mothers, as though requiring medical intervention is cheating. Lately, the extreme of this idea has emerge...

1. Blurring the line between what might be considered vice and virtue cuisine, Burger King announced the introduction of The Impossible Whopper in 2019 —a version of its Whopper sandwich filled with a vegetarian patty from Impossible Foods.

2. Goop writes of its belief that “whole food is the cornerstone of health,” and describes many of its recipes as “relatively virtuous and free of common allergens.” Paltrow’s cookbook, The Clean Plate: Eat, Reset, Heal, features over 100 recipes using what she describes as “clean ingredients.”

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