Food Coloring and the Blurry Boundary of 'Natural' Foods

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In an interview with Adam Ozimek, Marion Nestle argues that we just don't need artificial food coloring in our food. As you can imagine, I haven't much patience for the argument that we should ban food coloring simply because Marion Nestle thinks consumers "don't need" it, but I found this argument particularly puzzling:

ao: I've been reading what you've written on food coloring, it's not clear to me whether you'd support a ban on food coloring or not. I was hoping you could tell me what your position on the policy is.

MN: Since they are unnecessary and deceptive, I can't see any reason to do anything to protect their use.

AO: You say that food coloring is "unnecessary and deceptive ". But couldn't you say the same thing of essentially any garnish or cooking technique designed to make food appear more appealing without physically modifying the flavor?

MN: The issue is artificial. Food garnishes and cooking techniques are usually not.

I do not understand what her definition of "artificial" is. GE Monogram Gas Ranges are not grown by organic farmers who mulch the plants with steel shavings. Iceberg lettuce is a human creation. In fact, almost nothing in my kitchen--from the whole shelled nuts, to the baking powder, to the appliances, can be found "in nature"; they're all the result of considerable human ingenuity applied to the problem of making our food more palatable and attractive.

Actually "natural" foods would also come with things like toxic fungus and horrible parasites which--I guarantee--are much worse for children and other living things than artificial food coloring. "Natural" is not synonymous with "better for you". It's absolutely true that you're probably less likely to get fat if you eschew highly processed foods in the snack and cereal aisles. But oversimplifying this message to "natural good, artificial bad" quickly turns ridiculous.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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