A rose by any other name

Rosa sp.

One of the things associated with Vani Hari (the so called Food Babe) is this sentence: If a third grader can't pronounce it, don't eat it. Now, as I have stated several times, I am no fan of this person, for various reasons, but this argument is one of the most annoying ones for me. First of all, it implies that not knowing how to pronounce something is reason enough to fear it (which makes me think that either she probably doesn't eat a lot of international types of food or she masters a LOT of languages) but also neglects the simple fact that several ingredients might have both a scientific and a common name and this does not represent the properties of said ingredient.

If I tell you that her last recipe in her website contains Cucurbita pepo, Cannabis, Helianthus and some Theobroma powder, would you be afraid? Maybe and probably due to this crazy "if you don't know it, fear it" culture she herself has pushed. In fact, those are just the scientific names of pumpkin, hemp, sunflower and cocoa.

On the other hand, outside the food industry and more into the makeup or beauty industry, I see the other tendency: they will use the scientific name in what it seems is a way to prove that they are using "natural" products. My shampoo, for example, states very proudly that they use Persea americana and Cucumis sativus extracts, but unless you are a botanist (or a biologist with a better memory than me) you probably won't remember that these stand for avocado and cucumber.

Millions of websites will tell you that a "natural way to clean your house without those nasty chemicals" is to use vinegar...also known as ethanoic (or acetic) acid. Sure, vinegar is NOT pure ethanoic acid, it has been diluted to up to 3%, but the point remains on what we call it. Bleach? It can be sodium hypochlorite. A Carica mask for acne? Just some papaya, thank you. Those home remedies are another treasure chest of "all natural" ingredients: orange peel mask to remove spots? Citric acid, which can be very abrasive. No matter if your orange is organic, grown with nothing but love, it will burn.

So what is my point with all of this? A hard name to pronounce is not indicative of how dangerous or innocuous something is. "All natural" doesn't mean not dangerous and chemical doesn't mean toxic. These trends have (sadly) the power to confuse all through marketing. The safety/danger in consuming or applying something should not be equated to how easy it is to pronounce their active (or even non active) ingredients but to what these components, in determined concentrations, do. Going back to my vinegar example: Adding "pure" vinegar to your dishwasher to remove pesky smells might work, but I can assure you using pure ethanoic acid will pretty much kill your machine. Before jumping into the wagon of I-can-pronounce-it-ergo-it's-safe, read your labels, get your facts straight, and when in doubt ask someone with the proper background.

By the way, I have now added a question tab here, so if ever you have a question you think I might be able to help you with, please don't hesitate to ask. I will do my best to get to you in the shortest of delays.

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