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Overly-Honest Product Stickers

I was reading the “Sunday Secrets” on Post Secret recently and saw one that said: “my family thinks I only buy organic produce… but sometimes I just put ‘organic’ stickers on the packages”. I really liked that idea. Strictly speaking, they weren’t wrong in doing that – all food is organic. OK, sure, “organic” has a specific legal definition when it comes to food products. Thing is, that specific legal definition is wrong. Wrong, wrong, WRONG. There, I said it.

You see this sort of thing all the time, especially in food labeling: words being co-opted and redefined to give the impression that a product is better, safer or healthier, when it’s unlikely to be any of those things. They’re used to imply added value, regardless of whether any value is actually added.

“Organic” – What, exactly, is inorganic food? Yeah OK, salt is inorganic I suppose. And water too I guess. But there isn’t a lot that you eat that doesn’t contain organic compounds.

“Chemical-free” – If your food doesn’t contain any chemicals, what is it? Photons? Dark matter?

“Natural” – Well, I should hope so! Unnatural food sounds like something H. P. Lovecraft would write about. “The Sandwich Horror”? “The Brunch of Cthulhu”? Something.


So, how about some product labels that reflect more realistic definitions of those words. Nice, friendly green labels (They have to be green. Green means good, right?) with honest descriptions on them. Something like these:

(Click through for high-resolution versions. Y’know, in case you need them. For something.)

I came up with these designs right before the Science Online 2013 conference, so I decided to print some up and take them with me. By the way, something that’s really handy for making custom stickers is a die punch. I found one that cuts 2.5″ circles at the local craft store, in the scrapbooking section. You just need to print your designs on full-sheet label paper and punch out the shapes. You can even place this on blister cards.

I was hesitant to share my creations with the other conference attendees. It’s a bit intimidating being at a conference where the PhD quotient is close to unity. “You worked on genetically enhancing color vision in squirrel monkeys? Me, I made some stickers. Derp.” As it turned out, a lot of the people I talked to really liked them …especially the chemists. There was even a session on chemophobia and what to do to counteract it. A few people requested copies of the stickers and I obliged.

Coincidentally, the break room at the conference – AWESOME break room, by the way. Constant supply of food and fresh coffee. – But they just happened to have a bottle of blue agave syrup by the coffee dispensers. And, yes, it had “ORGANIC” plastered across the label. Which meant this eventually happened…

I didn’t do it. I didn’t! Honest! I may have pointed out the bottle to some people. I may have given stickers to some people. Some of the former and some of the latter may have been the same people. There’s no way of telling. (whistles nonchalantly)

Steve DeGroof

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.

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  1. Love it. Always get in this argument with people. The other advertising slogan I LOVE (read: deplore) is “New & Improved!”

  2. My favorite one along those lines was on some deodorant I bought recently. There was a label on the cap that said “NEW LOOK” in large, bold letters. Under that, in much smaller letters was “coming”. Yep, they changed their packaging to tell customers they’re going to …change their packaging.

  3. Something like this with maybe a little 10^23 graphic?
    100% SAFE*
    *Mainly because any potential active ingredients have been diluted to the point of non-existence. So, you’re basically paying a 1000% markup on sugar pills. But, hey, as long as it’s safe, right?

    (Edit) Something like this?

  4. Ahh, I want these! So much potential for educational vandalism.

    And I’ll put in a request for the ‘no side effects’ claim found in so much alt-med quackery.

  5. How would that one go? Something like…
    *That we know of. We didn’t actually check, to be honest. See, the laws governing alternative medicine and dietary supplements are fairly lax. We can put just about anything in our products and, as long as our customers aren’t dropping dead left and right, we’re pretty much golden. So, hey, good luck with that.

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