UC Law Environmental Journal


Every day, consumers are bombarded with conflicting messages about what they should and should not eat. In an effort to make healthy food choices, consumers often flock to food products that boast “organic,” “all-natural,” or “non-GMO” labels. But are all of these foods really better? In this note, I discuss the confusion surrounding “natural” food and how it has hindered progress toward more productive and sustainable food systems. First, I examine the hazy definition of “natural” foods and explain why consumers continue to demand natural foods despite their environmental impacts. Second, I discuss how consumers’ single-minded focus on natural foods has stymied scientific research and invited apathy toward unsustainable agricultural practices but has also emphasized how some new technologies may present an opportunity to improve food science literacy among consumers moving forward. Third, I outline one past attempt to legislate consumers’ fears of artificial foods (the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990) and discusses that law’s strengths and flaws. And fourth, I argue that focusing the conversation squarely on food system sustainability— and in the process, giving the word “sustainable” some legal heft—will not only force a reexamination of our broken “natural” foods narrative but will also direct our collective attention toward the current climate crisis.