Dealing with ‘food bullying’ (Editorial)

by | Nov 8, 2019

Given its essential nature to sustaining life, emotion and food are tightly intertwined.
Whether it’s the turkey at Thanksgiving, the ham at Christmas or the burger on the Fourth of July, food is part of our most treasured occasions.
But the carving knife cuts both ways, of course. Food gets abused and wasted, people are shamed for their food choices, farmers are demonized for how they grow it and the same for companies in how they process and package it.
Food marketers seize any opportunity to connect with consumers, promising theirs is just like Mom used to make or somehow framing the product as the right choice for health, social or other reasons.
Preying on consumer’s fears has become a form of bullying, according to author Michele Payn, who’s new book, Food Bullying: How to Avoid Buying B.S., released on Nov. 5, takes a deep dive into how food is used as a weapon to serve other motives.
It can be overt; activists protesting at a farm entrance, verbal intimidation or vandalism. It’s also subtle when food companies bring in morality and guilt.
Food has become a battleground where marketing labels and misinformation is used to bully people around their eating choices, Payn says. The new book breaks down so-called neuromarketing tactics and misleading food labels used to generate food sales. It also lays out tools to battle back, including a six-step action plan for consumers to overcome food bullying and relieve guilt.
“Something that should be one of the simple joys in life, nurturing ourselves and our families with food, has gotten so complicated — caught up in mistrust that is made worse by meaningless labels,” said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president in promoting the book. “Consumers just want to make the right choices, but they are too often confessed and manipulated. The solution is facts, and that that’s what Michele Payn serves up in her latest book.”
Just like agriculture has no one right way to farm, there’s no one right way to eat. Numerous factors play into a family’s food choices and fear or guilt should not be on the list.
As the food industry continues to grow and change, companies will scrap for any edge that will get you to put their box into your shopping cart or walk into their restaurant. Organizations will use whatever they can to further their agenda, because the more people they can convince, the more powerful a voice they have in shaping public opinion and policy.
As Duvall says, the shopper and farmer’s best weapon in the fight is to arm themselves with facts, call out the bogus claims for what they are and add a healthy dose of common sense.
Emotional connections will and should continue as well. It’s what keeps us alive and the forms the foundation of society.
The connection can be what brings people together to reach and understanding or fracture the relationship further, pushing us farther apart.

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