98.9% natural? Either you is or either you ain’t

natural wine controversy

When I saw this claim, “98.9% natural,” on a bottle of baby liquid bath soap, I couldn’t help but think of the 1955 single by one of my favorite R&B singers Big Joe Turner: “Lipstick, Powder, and Paint” written by Jesse Stone, who also wrote “Shake Rattle & Roll” (also recorded for the first time by Big Joe Turner).

The song is about a transgender person: lipstick, powder, and paint/either you is or either you ain’t.

It’s kind of like being pregnant: you can’t be a little bit pregnant.

I think that one of the reasons why the expression natural wine stirs such controversy and can evoke such vitriol is how the precious word natural is so often abused in marketing today.

Here’s the etymology from the Oxford English Dictionary:

“In earlier senses after Middle French, French naturel constitution, complexion of the body (late 14th cent.), temperament, humour, inherent property (early 16th cent.), original inhabitant of a country (late 16th cent.), normal state, absence of affectation (1671; mid 16th cent. in phrase au naturel in sense ‘in accordance with real things’), classical Latin (or post-classical Latin) nātūrālisnātūrāle.”

(It’s significant to note that au naturel originally meant in accordance with real things and not nude.)

In Latin, naturalis means literally by birth or the following:

“Of or belonging to the nature of things, produced by or agreeable to nature, natural: “naturale est alicui,” it is natural to one, it is his innate quality.”

(The above is taken from the Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary.)

Wines and foods (or baby soap, for that matter) aren’t produced by nature. Wine and food cannot be without humankind (our “rational distortion” of nature is what gives us wine and food, as Lévi-Strauss taught us). But I love the thought of a wine or a food agreeable to nature.

Natural is such a beautiful word, literally mellifluous.

Think of how it used in popular music…

You make me feel like a natural woman.

Alone again, naturally.

It’s a word that touches a deep chord in our psyche.

Why must we abuse it so?

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