If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

This acclaimed mind bender challenges us to consider multiple possibilities to the question. In the same vein, a similar inquiry can be made with regards to all of the food certifications circulating in the ether. If a plant or fruit germinates and grows in a virgin forest is it still considered organic or naturally grown even if it is not certified? With pervasive concern regarding the health and sustainability of our food and its sources, it can appear to the average consumer that there are enough certification standards and ensuing labels to raiment new ones each day. We are constantly looking behind the labels to see what processes and practices substantiate their designation, but have we ever looked at the motivations and humanistic tendencies around creating these labels?

Humans through antiquity have used labels to capture, define, and understand the surrounding world as evidenced by our religious, scientific, and literary texts entwined in time. We each encounter countless objects, people, and experiences in our lifetimes and these encounters can easily become jumbled if we do not have categorization strategies to organize and comprehend our experiences. Similarly, our food systems are abounding in complexity; therefore, labels enable us to synthesize the limitless information that is barraging us each day.

In addition to organizing and synthesizing information, our labels can connect us to a tribe of coterminous cohorts. Tribe members agree to use certain labels to define the objects in their worlds; this agreement becomes the tribe’s language. Similarly, the various food cultures within the abridging food world reflect the tribe’s agreed language and distinguishing labels. These shared labels translate to shared experienced and a connection with veritable counterparts in the tribe.

Food labels are also meant to simplify our food scouting strategies; however, have we become so inundated with different types of certifications and labels that we experience information overload and continued food consuming conundrums? This conflicting information surrounding food can make us feel like we are trapeze artists swinging from one notion of food to the next and that our only safety net is the certification label. In our efforts to secure safety around our food, we may unwittingly adopt certain assumptions about certifications such as the idea that foods are free of pesticides, organic foods are healthier for us, that certification standards are routinely met, that our foods are being held to a higher standard, and that watch dogs are ensuring our food safety.

Because we cannot be involved with the intricacies of the various food certification processes, in a sense,we are resigned to take a leap of faith and cautiously trust the veracity of our food labels. However, our consumerist power resides in our humanistic capacities to question our assumptions and the information we are being fed. We can trust but verify those labels that most significantly impact our lives. Then again, we can go one step further and cast the labels to the wind and trust our own eating instincts.

*Certified Labels image from Diabetes Mine

*Labels image from Gay Guido Toronto

*World Apple image from Weird Existence

*Label Off image from A Man With a Voice