Naming Names and The Ones Who Name Them

Shakespeare said “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” In a recent article called “Our Decrepit Food Factories” Michael Pollan said this:

“Confucius advised that if we hoped to repair what was wrong in the world, we had best start with the ‘rectification of the names.’ The corruption of society begins with the failure to call things by their proper names, he maintained, and its renovation begins with the reattachment of words to real things and precise concepts.”

This is the problem with a lot of the labeling of our food. You may have bought some food-like products that say “Made with Real cheese.” If you look closely there is a trademark after the word “Real.” That cheese is not real as in “authentic” or “not fake.” “Real” is the brand of cheese used in your food-like product.
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“Organic” was dubbed one of 2007’s most overused words. It is used so much that it has little meaning anymore. Apple’s dictionary says this…


organic |ôrˈganik|adjective1 of, relating to, or derived from living matter : organic soils. Chemistry of, relating to, or denoting compounds containing carbon (other than simple binary compounds and salts) and chiefly orultimately of biological origin. Compare with inorganic . (of food or farming methods) produced or involving productionwithout the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.2 Physiology of or relating to a bodily organ or organs. Medicine (of a disease) affecting the structure of an organ.3 denoting a relation between elements of something such that they fit together harmoniously as necessary parts of a whole : the organic unityof the integral work of art. characterized by continuous or natural development : companies expand as much by acquisition as by organic growth.DERIVATIVESorganically |-ik(ə)lē| |ɔrˈgønək(ə)li| adverbORIGIN late Middle English : via Latin from Greek organikos ‘relating to an organ or instrument.’

The USDA standards for labeling something organic pretty much fit definition one, but industrial organic farming is far from perfect. You can fly asparagus from Argentina to New York in the middle of winter and label them organic. It just means your Argentinean farmer left off the DDT. Unfortunately, it means still participating in a process for acquiring food that seems far from organic (see definition three above).

“Cage free” or “free range” chicken or eggs is another misnomer. You imagine that the lucky chickens get to run around freely in some pasture and live the life God intended. The standards for labeling still allow birds to be kept in battery cages and debeaked. The reality is that many of the chickens producing “free range” eggs never actually get to run in the “free range” just beyond their door.

Confucius was right, we need to reclaim the words we use to describe our food and the world around us. Jesus also said “”But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.”

There is legislation in Congress called Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) that would require labels to specify where things come from. So tell your representative to support it. You could also start calling things “food-like substances” when they have more than five ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce. Maybe we should label foods “Oil-based” that travel more than a certain distance.

What things have you noticed with names that are just wrong? What would you rename things to be more accurate? Go ahead be creative.

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