Does Anybody Care What’s in French Dressing?

Delft Salad Oil FDA announced yesterday that it is revoking the standard of identity for French dressing. That means food makers can now put any otherwise legal ingredients into a bottle and call it French dressing.

To some people, this is obviously trivial news. So what if the FDA no longer cares too much about what goes into French salad dressing? But to others, it is one more tiny step toward losing sight of the difference between real, wholesome foods and the despised ultra-processed foods. It seems that the world may be moving on from caring about the integrity of standard identities for foods.

The Oddity of “French” Dressing

Deregulating French dressings might have been an easy call. After all, the name itself is bogus. There’s nothing French about it. It’s an American concoction that evolved after the nineteenth century from real French vinaigrette. Its color ranges from orange to red and it’s a bit too sticky and sweet for our tastes.

So it’s not clear that anyone will really care that salad dressing makers can get more creative with the dressing they put into a bottle and call French.

What’s in Our Food?

Standards of identity date back to the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. It was all about preventing unscrupulous businesses from selling impure, adulterated, and frankly fake products at an inflated price. It grew out of a twentieth century agenda for consumer protection.

However, some consumers are now eager to buy fake products. All kinds of milks that come from plants, meatless meats, and fake seafood are coming at us. Ultra-processed foods are supposed to be bad for us, but not if it’s plant-based.

We’re not so sure that standards for real, wholesome foods are obsolete. The quality of our food and what’s in it will always matter. If we look at any guidance for how to eat healthfully, the advice to favor real, whole, and minimally processed foods is almost always prominent. Nonetheless, food technology and consumer preference for convenience will create pressure for food regulations to adapt.

Hang on for the ride.

Click here, here, and here for more on this development. For further perspective on standards of identity, click here and here.

Delft Salad Oil, poster art by Jan Toorop / WikiArt

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January 14, 2022