I grew up wanting nothing more than potato chips and a Barbie doll. Instead, I was offered Holly Hobbie -- the most wholesome, most child-appropriate doll imaginable -- and carrot sticks.
The worst part is that I now deny my own child the same junk food I once sought out. He gets chips and candy as treats on vacations, and when he decides to spend his allowance on them instead of saving up for remote-control helium sharks, but his daily life is filled with suggestions that he have an apple if he’s hungry and offers of roasted almonds when what he really wants is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
So, like plenty of parents around the nation, I’m tempted by the notion of magical snacks that I’ll be OK buying and he’ll be happy eating. Unlike most parents, however, I work as a food writer, and sometimes companies send me their latest "all-natural" creations.
I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so the entire category of treats made with unrefined cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup flies under, over, and around my snack-dar. But anything crispy, crunchy, savory, or salty gets opened and given a shot to impress.
They’re not all good, I’ll say that much. It’s hard to improve upon the humble potato chip. And most things marketed in the “natural snacks” category aren't necessarily any more natural or less processed than a salted potato chip, which is cause for pause.
The marketing of natural snacks hints at “not processed.” Of course, a fistful of pork fat is completely “natural” by any definition, and even unprocessed (at least before you render it), but there aren't many who would claim it was “healthful” (and we won’t even touch on the issue of deliciousness in this case). The pushers of “natural” snacks try to focus attention on their all-natural ingredients, but as I examined one of the styrofoam-like “potato” chips covered in bright orange powder that I was admittedly happily snarfing down one day, I decided to write an article about the venn diagram of “natural” and “processed” and “healthful” in the snack world.