Another "natural choice," this one from Hormel

I'm the Brigadier who doesn't have a TV, so I'm always tromping around online to find the commercials we comment on. This week, however, I found the commercial on the screen at an Oscars party.

I hadn't realized Hormel had a Natural Choice line of products, until I saw this commercial. I actually smacked my head with my palm, starting a greenwashing conversation with people who had never heard the term.

Normally, I'd let this slide - we've already discussed the meaninglessness of "natural." But this time, it's personal. The company hails from my hometown, SpamTown USA, a.k.a. Austin, Minnesota. It reminded me that I highlighted Hormel to an investment club that includes some Hormel retirees - and of course the club has Hormel stock.

When I got home, I went online. Evidently, for Hormel, "natural" means "no added nitrates or nitrites, and no artificial colors or flavors." Am I the only one, or does that seem like a remarkably low bar?

I also checked out the environmental goals posted on their website again. My assessment hasn't changed: they've got a report (good), they're doing some measuring (good), the plan is remarkably unambitious (bad). Plus, they are promoting their compostable and recyclable packaging (meaningless, unless people have access to industrial composting facilities and unless customers DO recycle).

They set some goals in 2007 - a good start:

  • Reducing water and energy consumption two percent a year for five years (that sounds as ambitious as screwing in CFL light bulbs, as industrial facilities tend to have lots of good conservation opportunities.)

  • They're increasing their recycling. To 40 percent (by 2008). And to 50 percent (by 2011).

The big failing - they don't share the results, at least not there. It's like claiming a 2007 New Years resolution to lose 25 pounds. Did they get to 40 percent? Have they reduced their energy and water consumption by two percent a year the last three years? (How's your 2007 New Years resolution doing?.)

As a vegetarian, it's doesn't much affect me, but that commercial gave my hometown pride a beating.

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I think "Less Unhealthy" may have been a better focus for this product, than being "Green". In the standard supermarkets, the Hormel Healthy Choice line is often one of the only options that does not contain all of the nasty nitrates, nitrites, and phosphates. Now I only need to worry about bacon making me fat, instead of also giving me cancer too. It may not be a "Green" product, but I applaud Hormel for offering a healthier mainstream alternative.

Thanks for posting this! I have an MS in environmental science and BS in geology. I practice conservationism quite frequently and make green choices with equal frequency. But, as many do, I forget to check in with my principles sometimes and my values lapse as a consequence. The other day I saw the pleasantly packaged "Natural Choice" Hormel ham. It was new. I was bored with my food. And its environmental claims on its packaging swayed my tired brain. I bought it. I'm eating it. But will cease to do so after this dutiful post by Janne. I will also thank myself for continuing to check in with my principles via insightful websites like this one. Thanks.

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