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Perspective: Fear-mongering about food impacts families

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As many as 1 in 6 kids in the United States are living in a food insecure household. These 13 million children across the country are likely missing meals, not getting enough food when they do eat, and aren’t getting the correct nutrients. An additional 29 million adults are also facing food insecurity this year. Food insecurity causes are often attributed to things such as unemployment and poverty rates, however there is an additional factor statisticians should consider.

Fear-mongering of conventional food choices — which are often more affordable, more abundant, and more accessible — may be contributing to food insecurity and mental health in the U.S. Advertising from some big companies combined with influencers continue to market certain food products as healthier, “better for you,” and especially prey on families feeding children. Labels like organic, non-GMO, no added hormones, antibiotic free, and others are touted to be a superior product than the conventional products, and this is reflected in the price.

Families who may be food-secure if they were to purchase the affordable conventional product may be guilted into purchasing more expensive food options and therefore have to limit the amount of food they are purchasing. Organic foods vary wildly in their price differences compared with conventional foods — sometimes they are as little as 7 percent more expensive, sometimes they are 80 percent more expensive. Deciding to purchase organic products can rapidly increase the total cost of your grocery bill, and with food prices up over 5 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic related costs, it is no surprise families may be facing difficulties putting food on the table if they fall victim to this fear mongering.

Related: Top 5 ways to shop based on #FactsNotFear at the grocery store

In addition to spending more on food because of fear-mongering surrounding label claims, families may be removing certain food groups entirely. Childhood nutrition is vital to long-term health and wellness, but fear-mongering regarding certain agriculture industries and their related ingredients in products may be having a negative impact on some youth. Parents/guardians of children are experiencing pressure from influencers to completely remove gluten (grains) and dairy from their families diets. These food groups have been proven, time and time again by expert dietitians and research, to be crucial to human nutrition (aside from those who have celiac disease). However, fear-mongering surrounding these ingredients is insinuating that they are dangerous or negatively impacting human health, without suitable research to back up their claims.

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The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers several programs that provide healthy food to children including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. (Image courtesy of USDA)

If we continue to allow families to succumb to food fear-mongering, we likely will see negative impacts on children’s health as well as continued pressure on parents’ mental health. Some of these impacts may not be easily quantifiable or researched, but that does not dismiss their occurrence. It’s time to quit fear-mongering food and learn that fed is best! The U.S. is lucky to have the most abundant, safe, and diverse food supply available, and we should focus on making sure everyone is fed before trying to guilt families into purchasing products with baseless claims.

Protect the science, protect families.

We must continue to advocate for agriculture, tell our story and offer communication to the end consumer on what we do. In addition, we should be having conversations with marketing groups of larger scale food companies and brands to encourage them to end the fads — that there are many ways to market food that do not require fear-based messaging.

 

Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

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