With so much conflicting information on what to eat and what not to eat, some people find themselves scared to make choices
At a time when people are more concerned than ever about making healthy food choices, a not so healthy mindset has emerged. As people’s interest in food and conversations about food grow, so does an unnecessary – and unhealthy – fear about what to eat and what not to eat.
“People have become really afraid of what to eat,” says Robyn Metcalfe, executive director of The Food Lab at the University of Texas. “They ask me what is safe to eat. My answer is to not be fearful and to learn what they can about the food system.”
Metcalfe points to a mentality of “right” or “wrong” food choices as a major contributor to this growing fear of food.
“That’s really damaging to the future of our food system and how it’s going to look in 2050 when we will have 9 billion mouths to feed,” she says. “The really harmful aspect of our food conversation today is that too many minds are already made up and aren’t open to new solutions and possibilities.”
Debates rage about genetically modified foods (GMOs), and the organic movement continues to build momentum, despite conflicting information about the health implications on both sides of these touchy topics. These are prime examples of the factions that create fear and confusion, says Charlie Arnot, chief executive officer of the Center for Food Integrity.
Arnot believes the divide on issues such as these actually stem from a broader gap that exists between supporters of science and technology in food production, versus those who feel that science is to be distrusted. Research by The Center for Food Integrity was recently reinforced by the Pew Research Center think tank. What people believe and what science says aren’t always in alignment.
“The application of technology in food and agriculture has provided countless benefits to society and helped us meet one of humanity’s most basic needs – to provide safe, nutritious food for our children and our children’s children,” Arnot says. “Today, our challenge is not just better technology, but finding better ways to enhance public understanding of those technologies and our food production system.”
Fundamentally, Metcalfe believes the majority of those engaging in the so-called “food wars” have the same goal in mind: broad access to affordable food.
“It’s how we get there that we find ourselves stumbling into these areas of food camps and being polarised,” she says. “Ultimately, I believe that people should take advantage of their innate curiosity and use it as a weapon against the fear of other solutions or ideas. Be curious about every single aspect of the food system, really seize your curiosity and run with it.”
Curious consumers can visit bestfoodfacts.org to learn more about food from more than 170 university-based experts and registered dietitians.