Food shaming under the guise of “just sharing my opinion” is an issue that is rampant across many social media platforms.
I came across a TikTok video a few weeks ago from a personal trainer falsely claiming that Premier Protein drinks are “bad” and “unhealthy.” There was no other explanation in the video other than “these ingredients are bad, therefore you should not consume this product.” Oftentimes, when these people get pushback on their inaccurate posts, the standard response is that it’s merely an opinion and they’ll have to “agree to disagree.”
This is problematic for so many reasons.
First, it’s not merely an opinion to assert than an ingredient is “bad” or “unhealthy” just because you personally don’t understand why it’s in a food or because you can’t pronounce it. This is not an opinion, but rather a false belief. Just like it is inaccurate to claim that something is “toxic,” “harmful,” or “unhealthy” without peer reviewed evidence to back up that assertion. As I’ve explained many times before, if someone is trying to scare you about a food or ingredient, but they can’t name the chemical, the harmful dose (with evidence for harm at that dose), AND the concentration in the food, then they either have no idea what they’re talking about, are purposefully trying to deceive you, and/or are trying to sell you something. Not only do these types of claims have no scientific basis, but it can cause real harm, too. Which brings me to the second point …
This could be a product that helps someone to meet their daily nutritional requirements.
When I posted about it on Instagram, there were dozens of comments from people explaining how these drinks helped them tremendously throughout their eating disorder recovery. Many others rely on them as a quick snack or meal during difficult times when they may be too depressed to make a meal. Others may physically be unable to chew food or eat a large meal due to disability, recovering from surgery, older folks with dementia, etc. So, convenient and easily consumable products like ready to consume protein drinks can be very important in providing calories, protein and other necessary nutrients for those individuals.
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It’s incredibly ableist to shame people for making food choices that are not only more accessible, but could be necessary for survival.
My daughter is disabled, and when she was younger, there were certain supplemental products that her dietitian recommended to help her gain weight. We were getting to a point where she either needed to consume more calories and gain weight or we’d need to consider a feeding tube. I can only imagine how much more stressful and difficult that already stressful and difficult situation would have been had I been misinformed by a food blogger’s false beliefs on the foods we were feeding her.
Third, nobody should have to justify their food choices. If a product doesn’t make sense to you or you’re unsure why someone would consume it, then the product simply isn’t made for you. Not everyone needs to understand why another individual would choose to consume a specific food, and those individuals don’t need more stress put on them now wondering if the foods that make their lives easier are harmful due to misinformation they saw on social media. Just mind your own plate.
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Finally, a lot of this misinformation doesn’t stem from a random TikTok-er sharing an opinion. In many cases, it originates from a company or a popular influencer using it as a marketing tactic to help them sell a “healthier” or “cleaner” food or supplement.
Food Babe recently posted about these Premier Protein drinks to scare her followers about several ingredients that she is very misinformed about. They included common ingredients that she frequently fearmongers over, like carrageenan, which I’ve talked about many times. Of course, she’s doing it to sell her protein powders and books.
It’s so disheartening to read some of the comments on posts like that. People who trust her are now afraid of the protein drinks that have helped them recover from an eating disorder or that help them to just get a meal in when they otherwise wouldn’t. Now, in addition to those already stressful situations, they have the added stress of unnecessarily worrying about the ingredients giving them cancer, when that’s not the reality whatsoever. The claims about these specific ingredients are not based on evidence, but rather the false beliefs of someone just trying to sell you their products or services.
From the organic industry and organizations like the Environmental Working Group shaming and scaring consumers over non-organic foods to social media influencers making false claims under the guise of “just an opinion” in order to sell products and gain followers, food shaming is a very popular marketing tactic. It’s so effective that it’s likely to continue, which is why it’s important to be able to recognize it. After all, we can’t be shamed in the first place if we know better and don’t allow ourselves to feel ashamed for our food choices.
The only people who should be ashamed are the ones knowingly spreading misinformation to make a buck.
Food Science Babe is the pseudonym of an agvocate and writer who focuses specifically on the science behind our food. She has a degree in chemical engineering and has worked in the food industry for more than decade, both in the conventional and in the natural/organic sectors.