How have you been made to feel about food? Has anyone ever made you feel bad about the food you choose to eat? Is it OK to shame people about their eating choices if it’s not socially acceptable to shame people on race, religion, or sexual orientation? Why is a pregnant woman made to feel guilty if she’s not buying the “right” label of food, or a new dad totally frustrated over the thousands of options found in the grocery store? Is it necessary for a college student to be shamed over her choice to eat meat or not?
B.S. refers to the bad behaviors, deceptive label claims, marketing half-truths, and other unnecessary drama surrounding our food plates today. Frankly, it’s all just Bull Speak (B.S.). An $8 gallon of milk from a specialty store is not superior to a $1.99 gallon of milk from a convenience store. Both the perceived better label and resulting sense of superiority are often B.S. Assuming you are a better person because you bought the “right label” of food is no different than schoolyard bullying over the “right brand” of clothing.
Bullying operates from a point of privilege, preying on fear. Food marketing is often fear-based. This misleading marketing has made food overly emotional, to the point where our nutrition is seemingly trumped by moral statement. The resulting social movement has caused an alarming rise in food bullying. The more food bullying, the more B.S. food—and so the cycle continues.
Consider this; if the power in your food choices has shifted to what you read on marketing labels, you are likely being bullied. The front of food packages frequently contains misleading and B.S. information—because companies want you to spend your money on their product. The Michigan State University (MSU) Food Literacy 2018 study showed that 87% of people are at least somewhat influenced by food labels in their food buying decisions. Do label claims influence your eating choices? Likely.
Merriam Webster defines bullying as “acts of written or spoken words intended to intimidate or harass a person.” Bullying is a huge concern with young people today; I know from personal experience how painful it is, after being bullied as a seventh-grade girl in a new school system. Taunts from decades past are still a clear and painful memory.
The National Bullying Prevention Center clarifies the difference between bullying and conflict, which is a disagreement or argument in which both sides share their views. Conflict is an exchange, such as a debate about whether green or white grapes are better. Bullying is done with a goal to hurt, harm, or humiliate. It’s often about having power and control over another. The power, real or otherwise, can include a group against an individual, one person being physically larger than another, or elevated social status. That power, particularly elevated social status, has resulted in an epidemic of food bullies.
What does food bullying mean?
Bullying doesn’t happen without fear—and there’s a whole lot of fear in food today! Food bullying literally takes food out of someone’s hand—by removing choice, creating emotion, or forcing an individual into groupthink mentality. I’m so excited for the new Food Bullying book to release on November 5 and shed light on this epidemic that has made eating far too emotional. You can also take a deeper dive with the new Food Bullying Podcast, featuring dietitians, farmers, moms, neuroscientists, and other experts who bring context to food bullying. How will you elevate the food conversation?