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Commentary: Food, the New Hate Speech

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By Gary Truitt

From the beginning of human existence, people have had to eat to survive. Over time, humans moved from hunters-gatherers to farmers.  Most people do neither in the U.S. today; they just consume. Large box stores are filled with tens of thousands of food items, and all most people have to do is take them off the shelves and go home to consume them. Even if you don’t have money, our compassionate society has programs that will provide free food. As a result of having to do so little to obtain the basic nutrients of life, we have lost our respect for food.

Discussions about food no longer revolve around taste, preparation, or nutrition. Rather, they center on the mental and emotional states of the animals who produced the food or the social stigma assigned to eating certain food products. Consumers will buy cage-free eggs or pastured pork because they believe the animals lived happier lives, a reality not supported by actual facts.  More recently, some foods are being shunned because they are considered racist.

Several white supremacist groups have adopted white milk as the symbol of their hate-filled platform. Always quick to exploit an opportunity, PETA has picked this up and are telling people not to drink milk because it is racist. To try to give credibility to their claims, they cite the fact that 90% of people of Asian heritage and 75% of African Americans have a tendency to be lactose intolerant. Thus, both the PETA nutjobs and the skinheads claim that white milk is only for white people. The fact that there are large, dairy herds in parts of Africa and that India is the largest milk-producing country in the world is an inconvenient truth that they ignore.

Another bit of food bashing centers around food allergies. People today claim all kinds of allergies to a wide variety of food products. Peanuts, gluten, dairy, wheat, soy, tree nuts, and many more are cited as causes of allergic reactions. School lunchrooms are divided into sections based on what can and cannot be consumed. Yet, according to a report by National Academy of Sciences, it’s hard to know how many people in the U.S. actually have food allergies or whether they’re on the rise. “There are a lot of misconceptions about what a food allergy is,” says Dr. Virginia Stallings, a board-certified, nutrition pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the chair of the committee that wrote the new report. She said part of the challenge is this: Food allergies are often self-diagnosed and symptoms can be misinterpreted. However, once someone says they have a food allergy, it is very hard to convince them otherwise.

This Halloween, more and more houses have teal-colored pumpkins outside as a sign that they are  passing out non-food or non-allergenic treats. Children who feel they have food allergies are encouraged to walk past houses that do not have the special pumpkin on display.

In some extreme cases, eating a certain food item will lead to public condemnation. This phenomena is called “food bullying,” reports of which are becoming more common. Indiana dairy farmer and nationally-known author and speaker, Michelle Payn, is currently writing a book on food bullying.

Over the long span of civilization, food trends have come and gone.  Our ancestors consumed some items that we find disgusting today. I am hoping the current attitudes about food will also change with time. Food is too amazing, nutritious, and versatile for us to put unscientific limits and social restrictions on it. Food should be something that brings us joy and brings us together, not something that fosters hate and keeps us apart.