Sometimes you click past one of those reality shows on TV with the wannabe starlets, and you say. “Whoah, those ain’t natural.” You know, natural, the thing people claim to want. Nature un-enhanced.
I can recall as a kid, how we used to ache for those horrible frozen dinners, salisbury steak was one variation I remember. My friend’s mom bought them out of convenience, but my mom was too cheap. You got a few bouncy peas, some very suspect looking mashed potatoes in a neat lump, and a suspiciously tender ‘steak’ that seemed almost as if someone had already chewed it before it entered your mouth. We thought we were in Heaven at the novelty of it all. It never occurred to us that the food we already had at home from our mothers was much more natural. We didn’t think about natural back then. It was the sixties. My mom used to give me a dollar and send me down to the corner store when she was making doughnuts. I would come back hauling a tub of lard in my tiny hands. Pig fat, you know, the natural stuff that tastes so good. Every family picnic, we used to guzzle gallons of Kool-aid… brightly coloured drink mix comprised of food colouring and about a cup and a half of refined white sugar. We didn’t care. Nobody batted an eye.
In the years following World War Two, unnatural abounded. Why? Because it was good business. Cheap substitutes had been discovered in the scarcity of natural products during the war. Take raspberry jam. No lack of raspberries now, but it might be more lucrative to make it up out of FD&C Red No. 6, loads of glucose-fructose, and clump it up with the addition of gelatine, the ground up bones of dead animals. Not convincing enough? Throw in some little wooden chips to simulate the seeds. Oh, and the preservatives. Add some of that tasty Sodium Benzoate. Yum. That chemical additive meant it would not grow the unappetizing lump of natural green mould on top of the jar as quickly. The use of chemical substitutes has become so commonplace that when we see a flash on the corner of a jam label which screams out “contains real fruit!”, we read it with no sense of irony.
Back when I was a kid, people did not hold nature in such high esteem because by and large they already had it. Natural had been done for a long time. Think about the apple you buy from the grocery store, all shiny and ready to eat. They spray it with shellac because it makes the apple look fresh and appealing. Shellac is natural. It is bug poop, literally. You know, the stuff that sticks to everything. And those bright red M&M’s. They are coloured with cochineal. Cochineal is a cheap and easy natural dye. You just get a cochineal bug and squish it. An effortless, bright red explosion of guts ensues. You can’t get cheaper than bug squish. You also can’t get more natural. Cochineal is the colouring used in a lot of bright red candies and foods. Think about it. Bug poop, and bug squish in your food. Now that is natural. If you disagree, consider that food regulations allow for mouse droppings in your cocoa beans when they make chocolate. (up to 10 milligrams per pound). Processing coffee accepts that up to ten percent of the mix will be bugs, ground up and roasted along with the coffee beans. To try to get around nature would be pretty expensive.
The fact is, nature can bite. I can remember hitchhiking with a friend at age sixteen. We were dropped off on some remote spot of the Trans Canada highway on the northern shores of Lake Superior. A beautiful austere sandy beach spread out as far as the eye could see on both sides. We were mesmerized by the beauty of being alone in such a spot. We made a camp fire out of driftwood, watched the stars, then spread out our sleeping bags on the soft sand, basking in the benevolent universe, and hearing the quiet rhythm of the waves lapping on the shores. When we woke up in the morning, we were covered from head to foot in seagull poop. Now that is about as natural an experience as you are likely to get.
Actually, we like to distance ourselves from the reality of nature when we make tidy substitutes. Try and buy a meatless ‘steak’ from the store. It will have ten thousand fake ingredients clumped together to simulate the real thing, and yet it is sold as a natural food. A cow on the other hand, has one ingredient, ‘COW’ which did not require the intervention of a team of scientists in a lab. Now that is natural. Just watch any nature show where one animal is happily munching on another’s head, and you will realize that meat might be the original natural food. Chasing down that steak might be a lot less work than three seasons of hoeing and weeding.
Jean Jacques Rousseau the French political philosopher, made much of the idea that man is wonderful in his natural state, and that society is to be blamed for corrupting him. It is a pretty thought, only until you try to rear a three year old on your own. Then you realize quickly, that kid needs to be tamed. What comes so naturally with the flesh requires a lot of outside improvement. Rousseau may not have been the best advisor on child rearing, as his own specialty was churning out bastards from various women whom he abandoned, all the while writing high-sounding philosophy.
Still, I like it when I see natural things. They tend to have survived because they are practical. They work. Case in point, I remember at age ten, clearing out an old lady’s root cellar. It had steep stairs and her legs were getting rickety. That hole in the ground had not seen the light of day for thirty years and more. My brother and I hoisted up jar after jar of preserves, pickles and fruit preparations, all sealed in glass with wax poured in at the top while hot, so that they would form their own natural vacuum when cooled.
Miraculously, the pickles and preserves were opened like a time capsule and found to be as fresh and tasty as the day they were put away. We sat and ate them with her. Those old methods, when they worked, they really worked.
You have to respect things that work. And that is the point, I think. Nature has survived until now, because it worked and it wasn’t asking for your permission. Are you really sure you want to take it on? Nature is your friend… when it wants to be. When it doesn’t let’s just say it bites back.