Oct 26 2015

Marketing Natural

For as long as there has been anything synthetic, apparently, people have been enamored of the idea of “natural.” “Natural” has what is called a health halo, or a sense of wholesomeness, while anything artificial or chemical is presented as automatically harmful.

When you scratch even a little below the surface, this idea makes no scientific sense. Nature is full of horrible toxins, many of which evolved specifically to be toxic. Nature does not seem to care particularly about one rather egocentric species on Earth, and there is no reason to think that it should. The degree to which something is natural vs synthetic says absolutely nothing about its health effects, but being natural is meant to feel good.

With the advent of social media is has become easier than ever for self-styled gurus and “experts” to market themselves, and many have hit upon the marketing allure of “natural” as a hook. The Food Babe and Natural News immediately come to mind. They have taken rank pseudoscience and wrapped it in a thin veneer of “natural” marketing hype.

As is often the case, however, the famous examples of any phenomenon are usually just the tip of a large pyramid, with many more individuals struggling in relative anonymity. Further, I have often thought that if you want to, for example, figure out how a standard magic trick is performed, don’t watch the famous experts. They are too good. Watch the hacks. They are much more likely to give the trick away.

Similarly, reading the second tier of natural gurus blatantly exposes the formula of marketing what is natural. Although honestly, the top tier is also pretty obvious.

In any case, a person who markets themselves as “Natural Nancy” recently came to my attention. She has a pretty light internet footprint, but does have a Facebook page. She says she has a PhD but I cannot find anywhere exactly what that is in. Her Facebook page offers this description:

Board Certified Holistic Nutrition & Natural Healing Practitioner, Motivational Eater,Trained Cook and overall healthy person.

A “motivational eater?” That’s a new one. Looking at the posts on her Facebook page her modus operandi quickly becomes obvious. One post declares: “Medicine doesn’t heal you, Doctors don’t heal you, only you heal you.”

This, like all of her platitudes, are completely unoriginal regurgitations of the standard alternative medicine canon. Chiropractors, acupuncturists, homeopaths, and Reiki practitioners all preach that they are merely supporting the body’s ability to heal itself. They hype this ability, even to the point of claiming that it is unlimited. All you have to do is remove anything that is preventing your body from healing itself, and you will live in perfect health to a ripe old age.

This, of course, is complete nonsense. Our ancestors lived a life free of anything synthetic, of GMOs or processed food. They had an all natural diet, and lived on average about 40 years. Evidence suggests they were tormented by every medical malady imaginable.

While our bodies do posses an inherent immune system and an ability to heal damage or injury, this self-healing is, of course, not unlimited. We fight battles with infecting organisms, that have also evolved to survive, and sometimes we lose. Our body parts wear out. Sometimes they are flawed from the beginning. We can heal injuries, but within limits. Sometimes, like with any complex machine, things just go wrong.

That is where modern medicine comes in. The term “heal,” of course, is wonderfully vague and fuzzy. If a bacterial infection is in the process of killing you, and antibiotics kill off the bacteria allowing your immune system to gain an upper hand and eventually recover, what healed you? Call it what you will, but I would not minimize the role of the antibiotics.

The second plank in her naturalistic faith is that food is good for you. This, of course, is very common in the alternative medicine crowd. It is almost daily that someone is hyping to me the healthful effects of some particular food. For example, NN has another post that states that heart disease is caused by inflammation, and inflammation is caused by a poor diet. Both of these statements are oversimplifications to the point of being false. Heart disease and inflammation have many causes, and eating blueberries (as she implies) is not going to save you from the heart attack that will ultimately kill 25% of us.

The “food as medicine” mantra usually goes something like this: This particular food has a lot of a specific nutrient, which in turn has these beneficial effects in the body. Therefore, if you eat this food in large amounts you will gain a specific health benefit.

In reality, however, all this really means is that it’s good to eat food. Food has nutrients in it that our bodies need. Eat a variety of food, not to much, mostly plants – that is still the best diet advice for most people. Everything else is a detail you usually don’t need to worry about.

NN’s logic is like this, however. Your car needs oil. Oil reduces friction, which is the major cause of wear and tear to the engine. Therefore, put oil in your car rather than taking it to a mechanic when something is wrong.

I save the best example for last – NN was gloriously punked recently, exposing just how superficial her reasoning is. She found this meme, and happily posted it to her facebook page with the tag: “Don’t give this junk to your kids for goodness sake. They deserve better.”

She did not clarify if she was talking about the bleach or the fruit punch. This is straight out of the Food Babe playbook – find a product that has a scary sounding chemical in it, and then declare the chemical “icky” and then shame people into not using it or companies into dropping it from their product.

Of course, in this case dihydrogen monoxide is water (H2O). This is a satire that dates back to the 1990s, started by a 14 year-old student who collected signatures for petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide. Did you know that it is the major component of acid rain, and if you breath it in it can kill you? It is a brilliant satire, showing how stating factoids out of context can make anything sound scary, even pure water.

NN apparently bought this 20 year old trolling hook line and sinker. Thinking up new ways to state how scary DHMO is has become a popular pass time on social media – just read to the comments to NN’s post to see.

What this exposes is that natural-hyping gurus like NN and the Food Babe don’t actually understand science or do sufficient research to find out what is really going on. Their process is so superficial, they can be easily scammed by a 20 year old stunt.

Conclusion

The concept that “natural” is wholesome is perhaps the most culturally ingrained marketing idea out there. It is now just an unchallenged part of the culture. Like all marketing memes, it is meant to keep the customer from thinking. Just feel the way I want you to feel when I push your buttons so that you will buy my product or service.

There is a subculture evident on social media that gets it, however. “Natural” is marketing hype, and nothing more.

34 responses so far

34 thoughts on “Marketing Natural”

  1. carbonUnit says:

    Wow, walked into that one, didn’t she? Of course, the definitive website on the dangers of DHMO is http://www.dhmo.org. 🙂

  2. carbonUnit says:

    Oh my! The comments thread on that post is absolutely rich. She’s getting slammed for her ignorance and nobody’s coming to her defense. What’s better, the DHMO meme is spreading to the rest of here FB posts! It’s like my favorite Road Runner cartoon where Wile E. Coyote drops a bunch of winged dynamite from a balloon. Those dynamite bombs come back to haunt him for not only that segment, but the rest of the cartoon. Whatever he tries, along comes one of those winged bombs to blow him up. I was concerned that the damage to NN would be confined to that single post, but like that RR cartoon, “OMG look at all the DHMO in that!” comments are blowing up her every post. She is well and truly flushed…

  3. string puller says:

    I suspect she’s a poe, but my facebook feed is full of this type of stuff to the point that it doesn’t matter what the intent behind “Natural Nancy” is. My facebook friends react to my trashing of these ideas with apparent indifference… their dogma is more important to them.

    “Natura/organic/anti-gmo” is the new creationism.

  4. I thought of the Poe also, but she appears to have a website dating at least to 2010 selling an actual practice. What’s interesting is how hard it is to tell the difference between a Poe and the real thing in some cases. If it is a Poe, she gives no tells. I looked through a bunch of posts, and there were no giveaways.

    The Food Babes of the world are so bad they are beyond parody.

  5. DrNick says:

    http://www.naturalhealthcollege.org/programs/doctor-of-philosophy-in-holistic-nutrition.php

    There apparently is a “PhD” in Holistic Nutrition, assuming this site is actually for real and not an elaborate Poe. You can earn it by completing 28 credit hours of distance learning coursework on such riveting topics as “Psychoneuroimmunology”, whatever that is. The 3,000 word thesis is optional, and can be replaced with a course on “Sports Nutrition & Physiology.” There’s even an optional elective course on “The Mind of the Spirit” for those feeling particularly adventurous.

    It sure does make me feel glad that I invested tens of thousands of dollars in nine years of higher education just so that I can list the same three letters after my name as this crank.

  6. Willy says:

    Words of wisdom from Natural Nancy:

    You can have the flu
    You can take medication.
    You can have surgery.
    You can have your arm set in a cast.
    But at the end of the day. You heal you. Always.

    carbonunit: Thanks for the Road runner memory!

  7. John Danley says:

    Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek’d against Nancy’s creed

  8. carbonUnit says:

    If it’s a POE, would the book be real? I wonder if some DHMO sprinkled in the publisher’s direction would be enough to cause the book to be scrubbed? (Probably too late and the publisher may not care about publishing nonsense as fact.) This is almost enough to make me want a FB account again… Nah.

    Willy: Found it! http://www.supercartoons.net/cartoon/278/road-runner-lickety-splat.html The fun with dynamite darts starts half way through. (But of course, you want to watch the whole thing…) I hope DHMO plagues this “expert” in the same manner.

  9. “Motivational eater” is actually quite a feat, as it requires eating with your head firmly up your own ass.

  10. Khym Chanur says:

    Nitpick: the DHMO thing started out as a joke amongst a community of geeks in Santa Cruz, California. The 14-year old student then took the list they’d made and turned it into a petition.

  11. hardnose says:

    “Our ancestors lived a life free of anything synthetic, of GMOs or processed food. They had an all natural diet, and lived on average about 40 years. Evidence suggests they were tormented by every medical malady imaginable.”

    The average might have been around 40 years (no one knows that for certain), but people who understand statistics realize averages are misleading when the distribution is not normal. High rates of child mortality occurred in humans before antibiotics and vaccines were discovered. Individuals who survived childhood did NOT die of old age diseases at 40!

    And we know from recent research that people living traditional lifestyles tend to be much healthier than modern Americans.

    The idea that modern medicine makes us live longer and healthier lives is almost entirely a myth. Modern medicine prevents babies and children from dying.

    Infancy and childhood ia, sadly enough, meant to be a time when less fit individuals are weeded out. That is no longer happening. It does NOT mean we are healthier!

    But the myth is repeated relentlessly and tirelessly, especially by Big Med, to promote its products.

  12. hardnose says:

    It is very obvious to almost everyone that food that is less processed — more natural — is generally better. If you think it doesn’t matter, then advise your patients to live on Dunkin Donuts (most Americans probably do that anyway).

  13. MikeB says:

    hardnose:

    “The idea that modern medicine makes us live longer and healthier lives is almost entirely a myth. Modern medicine prevents babies and children from dying.”

    My spouse, currently 62 years old, is a Type 1 diabetic. He is kept alive with Humulin, a recombinant DNA product–that is, a GMO. I would call Humulin “modern medicine.”

    You are a weapons grade jackass.

  14. Willy says:

    carbonUnit: Thanks for the Road Runner link!! I laughed ’til I teared up.

    What means “poe”?

  15. jsterritt says:

    Is it just me, or does HN contradict himself at every turn?

    “The idea that modern medicine makes us live longer and healthier lives is almost entirely a myth. Modern medicine prevents babies and children from dying.”

    So modern medicine prevents us from dying young, but doesn’t help us live to be older? As usual, HN would like to exclude those who benefit from “modern medicine” so that he can say it doesn’t help anyone.

    Here is a handy chart [1] that shows, among other things, the life expectancy of a 20-year-old woman in the US being 20 years LONGER than in the pre-modern era. That means a 20-year-old living to 61.8 years instead of 40. Hmmmm, is that a 54.5% increase in life expectancy for an adult? Looks like it to me, but maybe I’m not one of those special “people who understand statistics.”

    Sheesh!

    ______
    [1] http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005140.html

  16. 5i5i says:

    Some of the inane examples of the naturalistic fallacy I have to endure are becoming tiresome.

    I mentioned to my dental hygienist that I hasn’t slept well, and she said well it was a full moon. Dumbfounded I asked how this could be the case so she “reasoned” : well, the moon effects the tides, we’re made up of a lot of water, therefore it’s obviously going to effect us when it’s full.

    I wasn’t quite sure where to start!

    https://unfebuckinglievable.wordpress.com/tag/natural/

  17. 5i5i says:

    Hardnose.

    Food that has been ‘processed’ is said to be bad for you. Surely it depends on what the actual process is, rather than simply the fact that something has been changed from what came out of the ground. Bleaching flour removes some of the nutrients. However on the other hand washing the dirt off a potato removes potentially hazardous bacteria. Then we’ve got crushing grapes, and letting them ferment for a few years, or cooking tomatoes which increases antioxidant levels. Some argue that we wouldn’t have brains as big as we do if it wasn’t for our ability to cook food. These are all forms of processing, some beneficial, some less so.

  18. hardnose says:

    Modern medicine can prevent people from dying, especially infants and children, mostly because of antibiotics and vaccines. Some things have been discovered, such as insulin for type I diabetes, that can prevent early death. Surgical and diagnostic technology can cure certain things (but only a minority of people need their lives saved by surgery).

    Many other things have not been touched by modern medicine.

    Prehistoric people did NOT die of old age at 40! It is utterly misleading to say that, and it is repeated endlessly to justify the toxic modern lifestyle.

    The toxins in our food and environment are unprecedented. Chronic diseases caused by lifestyle and toxins are rampant.

    You can find a stupid mistake on some ignorant person’s blog and make a big deal out of it. But you have provided no evidence that toxins in food don’t matter.

  19. BillyJoe7 says:

    5i5i,

    No big deal but…
    Your last post was a direct quote from the link in your previous post.
    You should use quotation marks to make that clear.

  20. LouV says:

    Her book’s presentation ; I have no words :
    “Your health is black and white. There are no gray areas. If you eat and live according to the laws of nature, you will enjoy stellar health. If you eat and live against the laws of nature, you will have poor health and disease.
    Sure, certain diseases are genetic, but STELLAR HEALTH is also genetic, as this is the body’s most natural and least stressful state.
    Empower yourself, make the necessary adjustments and triumph over your current mode of living. Not only will you lose ridiculous weight, you’ll gain ridiculous health in the process.
    Get ready to EAT! this December!”

  21. carbonUnit says:

    What’s amazing is that her FB page is now awash in DHMO comments. I can’t figure out what she’s thinking. Upon every post, a lot of DHMO falls. Seems to be trying to just ignore the problem, continuing to post as if everything’s fine. (“la la la …”) Denial is not just a long steam of DHMO?? In her position, I’d delete the bad post. I don’t think that would stop the flood of DHMO posts. She’d pretty well have to flush the whole page. But if she tried to do that, I’m guessing the anti-DHMO crowd would divine the location of her new page and it would start again…

  22. 5i5i says:

    BillyJoe7

    You’re right, I’m a bad bad man.

    Given I was quoting myself, does that still stand?

    Honestly, I was expecting someone to pick me up on the fact that the example I gave of a naturalistic fallacy wasn’t a naturalistic fallacy.

  23. Bill Openthalt says:

    CarbonUnit —

    Upon every post, a lot of DHMO falls.

    Someone forgot to close the tap?

  24. 5i5i says:

    Hardnose you do have some valid points

    – the average US diet is probably far too high in sugars, saturated fat, etc.
    – lifestyle choices do mean people get more diseases
    – average age is not a good indicator

    However, it’s a non-sequitur to say we should therefore follow a paleo / traditional / natural / non-GMO / DHMO-free diet.

    And it certainly doesn’t follow that “the idea modern medicine makes us live longer and healthier lives is almost entirely a myth”. Antibiotics save old people as well as young people. Heart bypass, transplant, etc. makes people live longer and healthier lives, yadda yadda…

    As for “The toxins in our food and environment are unprecedented” I’m not quite sure what you are on about. Plants produce plenty of toxins – it’s how they’ve evolved to protect themselves. Chilli’s are a great example.

    Casava / yuca plant is part of a traditional caribbean / latin diet, but is pretty damn toxic!

    Then there are cashew nuts, almonds, cherries, apple seeds contain cyanide….

  25. Bill Openthalt says:

    SiSi —

    Most of the “natural” plants we eat are heavily modified by selective breeding. The ancestors are more often than not, difficult to digest (ever tired to eat a wild carrot?). Even domesticated plants like the solanums are toxic with the exception of the part that’s eaten (and the green skins of potatoes left in the sun are also toxic). The fact that we have such a large and varied choice of edible plants is not because of “nature’s bounty”, but rather through the hard work of our ancestors who discovered and then bred these plants.
    Speaking about poisonous, I have always been amazed to find out how many of the decorative plants in our gardens (and not just poison ivy) are actually dangerous.

  26. hardnose says:

    Yes we know that nature is full of all kinds of toxins. But obviously I am talking about the artificial toxins we are now exposed to in ever increasing doses.

  27. hardnose says:

    If you believe in evolution, then you should understand that life evolved over eons of time, and our bodies are good at fighting certain types of naturally-occurring toxins and pathogens.

    If you are a young earth creationist, on the other hand, maybe you think we can instantly and magically adapt to any kind of new man-made toxin.

  28. hardnose says:

    “Heart bypass, transplant, etc. makes people live longer and healthier lives”

    Heart bypass surgery does not make people healthy. If they drastically improve their lifestyle, bypass surgery can give them a second chance. But it is MUCH better to improve lifestyle first! Obviously.

    We now have large numbers of older people who are alive but severely disabled, thanks to modern medicine. Millions are on drugs that probably contribute to dementia, depression, diabetes, etc. Some of the new drugs might prolong life, but they really do not restore health.

    Everyone now admits that preventing illness by avoiding the typical American lifestyle is the best advice. When people get sick in spite of a good lifestyle, sometimes modern medicine can restore health, but very often it can’t.

    In any case, the statement that prehistoric people lived only 40 years, on average, is deliberately misleading. The intention is to convince us that we should not worry about lifestyle and environmental toxins.

  29. MikeB says:

    What hardnose says Dr. Novella said: “Prehistoric people did NOT die of old age at 40! It is utterly misleading to say that, and it is repeated endlessly to justify the toxic modern lifestyle.”

    What Dr. Novella actually said: “They had an all natural diet, and lived on average about 40 years.”

    It’s time hardnose shut his piehole.

  30. carbonUnit says:

    In searching for the publisher of Natural Nancy’s upcoming book Eat, I came across some children’s books she (Nancy S. Mure) has authored or co-authored several children’s books.
    http://synergebooks.com/bio_mure.html
    http://www.amazon.com/Nancy-S.-Mure/e/B00AW4XPPG

    One title Massimo’s Meatballs, caught my attention because it kind of resonated with Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, but I see no evidence in the summaries or reviews that her pseudoscience has infested these books. Can’t tell without reading one, I guess.

  31. hardnose says:

    What Dr. Novella actually said: “They had an all natural diet, and lived on average about 40 years.”

    Yes, and he wants us to think they died young because they were unhealthy, in spite of an all natural diet and no artificial toxins. He is obviously wrong, but that won’t prevent you from believing the myth.

  32. Bill Openthalt says:

    hardnose —

    An all-natural diet implies eating whatever is available. If one defines “unnatural” as “devised by humans using their brains”, agriculture, cooking, salting, fermenting etc. are all unnatural. Humans in their pre-sentient days depended on what they could hunt (not much, we’re neither fast nor strong), scavenge (try getting a hyena to let go of its meal), or gather. To believe that this at all times lead to a balanced, “toxin-free” diet is to believe in a Garden of Eden.

    Even when allowing for “soft” technologies like used by the typical tribe, there is no reason to assume they did not ingest “toxins” from burnt meat, smoke, etc. Salt used to be heavily used to preserve food, so people relying on this practice ate far too much salt. Using every last scrap means eating spoiled meat and mouldy or rotting vegetables. Plenty of toxins there (aflatoxin, anyone?). What about drinking contaminated water (or do you think all rivers, streams and rivulets carried crystal-clear water in those halcyon days)?

    Granted, those who survived into adulthood could attain a venerable age, but it’s rather telling few of the prehistorical skeletal remains are from old (like 70+) individuals.

  33. Willy says:

    Alas, our good Dr Natural Nancy has removed the post from her FB page. Does anyone have a copy?

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