What do Tofurky and elephants have in common? Not much. But both are names. Names help humans make sense of the world. At creation, God named night, day, heaven, Earth, and seas. But He allowed the first human to name Eden’s animals. (Genesis 2:20) Names have always carried meaning. As food companies develop substitutes for meat, dairy, and other foods, names and meaning are still important.
From Gatorade (a sports drink crafted for the University of Florida Gators) to Häagen-Dazs (an ice cream company name that means . . . nothing), creative product names can be attention grabbers. But names sometimes allow companies to sidestep standards. Is “Arctic frozen dessert” ice cream? And what’s a “chocolatey” candy bar?
Fudging on food names isn’t new. Years ago, a jam-like product named “Bred-Spred” was heavy on coloring and flavor but low on fruit. In the 1950s, Chil-Zert “frozen ice cream” was very nondairy. And Jif peanut butter once contained only about 75% peanuts. The rest was oil and artificial flavors.
Avoiding label confusion and misinformation is why some Food and Drug Administration standards exist. The standards are supposed to guarantee quality. But the rules aren’t always consistent. For example, there are FDA rules for what can be called ketchup but not mustard. Huh?
It gets really messy in the dairy section. By definition and current FDA regulations, dairy must come from milk—which must come from a cow . . . for now. (Read “Is It Really Milk?”) Yet nondairy versions of cheese, milk, and butter abound. (Think Cheez Whiz and “buttery” spread.)
Yogurt offers a taste of how sour the food industry can get. Some insiders want to protect the name yogurt. Must yogurt contain milk? (The dairy industry says, “Yes.”) Should mix-ins and toppings disqualify a yogurt from being label “yogurt”? (The dairy industry says, “No.”) Who can keep track? (Read “Dairy Industry Wants Yogurt-Naming Liberty.”)
Makers of a new dairy-free yogurt alternative think the name “cashewgurt” is safe. (Yep, it’s made from cashews!) After all, g-u-r-t isn’t a word—even though it carries meaning for most English speakers.
What’s Worth Protecting?
Food names can be tricky—especially when they hide the truth: Onyums Onion Rings with no onions, “Bac’n” bits with no bacon, and so on. Consumers deserve to know what’s in the food they eat. But letting the government dictate word choices and meanings can be dangerous. Words and people are both worth protecting, so the solution to the name game probably isn’t simple. What do you think?