Whether feeling guilty about what’s in your grocery cart, being told your restaurant food choice is “wrong,” or the pressure you feel from an overly opinionated work colleague to make the “right” eating choice at dinner, food bullying impacts all of us negatively.
Exclusion, social manipulation, humiliation, and rumor mongering are all examples of emotional or social bullying. For example, the co-worker who decides you should not be in charge of snacks for your team anymore because you don’t bring the “right” labels. Or the one who snubs you for going on a pre-packaged meal plan to lose weight?
On a larger, corporate scale, I would also describe many B.S. label claims, such as all-natural, sustainable, and farm-raised as emotional or social bullying on the food playground.
Verbal bullying is easier to identify; it includes spreading rumors, making jokes about someone’s difference, teasing, name calling, intimidating, threatening, and slandering. The most egregious example are animal rights activists who are known for threatening farmers and even breaking into their farms and damaging personal property. Activists publicly slander the farm families for raising food, calling them names such as murderers and rapists. These disgusting bullying tactics are extremely hurtful to the families involved who consider it a privilege to take care of animals so they can provide us with food.
The National Bullying Prevention Center describes cyberbullying well. “The internet has become the new bathroom wall. Cyberbullying is when the internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” Examples include threats online, hate speech, ridiculing someone publicly in online forums, threats and posting lies, rumors, or gossip about the target, and encouraging others to distribute that information. I call these “keyboard cowards”.
One of the case studies in Food Bullying shows how health/dietetic students are being educated with anti-GMO propaganda. Whether you love or hate GMOs, this type of bias showcases the lack of science-based information about how food is raised. Inaccuracy and imbalanced information are the common denominators across the entire spectrum of food bullying.
· Food waste: 40% of food is wasted in the U.S. Apples and potatoes, modified to eliminate browning, have the potential to significantly reduce food thrown out. Yet, both were immediately rejected by McDonalds and other restaurants because of concerns around consumer backlash.
· Food costs: Consumer food costs are increased by marketing moves and activist pressure that result in more regulation. For example, each family in Canada is expected to pay $400 more for groceries in 2019 as compared to 2018. The price of food in the States has risen 26.8% over the last 10 years. We talked to a formerly homeless mom about the cost of bullying.
· Farmer mental health crisis: Farmer suicide rates have increased dramatically and gained national recognition in both the U.S. and Canada. Much of the farm mental health crisis is due to the economic hardships and inability to continue farming. For many farmers, “being a farmer” defines who they are, and when they can no longer afford to farm, it is emotionally excruciating. More perspective from a farmer mental health advocate here.
Food bullies also pressure brands: Have you considered that your favorite brands have also been bullied? Rather than relying on experts who are involved in producing food or scientific proof about what is best for the animals, environment, or consumers, companies are increasingly being publicly pressured by activists.
The victims of food bullying span all income levels and generations, individually and corporately. The effects of group thinking are far-reaching on a chaotic playground of food bullying. Remember, if you’re being pushed into groupthink, you are a victim of food bullying.