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Commentary: Food Bullying Needs to Stop

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By Gary Truitt

Activist groups have long criticized consumers food choices that don’t meet their agenda. Vegans love to tell those of us who eat meat that we are committing murder. This trend of condemning someone because of the food choices they make now has a name. Food bullying will be a term that will be heard a lot in the coming year. Once considered impolite to criticize someone’s food choices, today it is socially acceptable — even chic — to publicly or on-line shame someone for their food choices. It takes place in the school cafeteria, the local mom’s group, or even the workplace. So, what is behind this trend?

Noted author and food-to-fork advocate Michele Payn is currenting researching and writing a book on the topic. She says almost everyone has some kind of a food bullying story, some more extreme than others.  She notes that not all food bullying is verbal but that food labels can also make people feel uncomfortable about their food choices.

While food bullying has become more in your face, it is not really new. How many of us remember our mothers telling us to eat some food item we did not want to eat? I remember a battle of wills with my mother who made me stay at the table until I finished my butter beans, something I abhor to this day.

Yet, this pales in comparison to the kind of public shaming that takes place today. In our culture, food has joined politics and religion as a subject that divides us. When it comes to arguments over food, not only is it the food choice but also how that product was produced. Was it cage free, locally grown, or organic? When ordering in a restaurant, I have been known to ask for meat with antibiotics or eggs produced in cages. This gets me quizzical looks from my server and a kick under the table from my wife.

Payn points out that food bullying also takes place within the farm community. Large producers are criticized by small growers, and organic producers slam those who use conventional means.  She said this kind of bullying is unfortunate because it destroys the trust consumers  have in agriculture.

Her book, due out in late 2019, will attempt to help people stop obsessing about their food choices. She stated she is “trying to help people stop stressing about what others think about their eating decisions and to and decide what their own family priorities are around nutrition and food choices.”

So, as we begin a new year, perhaps our resolutions should be to not bully people over their food and to exercise a bit more tolerance with the many diverse areas of agriculture that may be different than our own.