Connecting Gate to Plate Blog

What is food bullying?


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?

I don’t think it’s O.K. to shame, judge, or taunt others about their farming or eating choices. That’s why I wrote Food Bullying: How to Avoid Buying B.S., which will be released November 5, 2019. Many people have never heard of food bullying, so I wanted to help frame this issue, as it’s an alarming trend in the $5.75 trillion business of food.

Bull Speak (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 B.S.! An $8 gallon of milk from a specialty store is not superior to a $2.99 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.

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.

“Somebody telling me I’m buying/eating incorrectly if I don’t eat vegan or organic” is how a Wisconsin millennial summed up food bullying, while another local friend said, “It’s simply someone belittling my eating choices without knowing the reason behind them.” A Canadian baby boomer dad pointed to food evangelists who try to force their viewpoint on him.

What does food bullying mean to you? It’s likely different for everyone, but bullying typically appeals to esteem or belonging needs. It can be done with the best of intentions, or to change your buying behavior. Isn’t it time we stopped bullying?


  1. David on May 6, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    “Somebody telling me I’m buying/eating incorrectly if I don’t eat meat or junk food” is how I’d sum up food bullying. Folks think it’s okay to berate me, poke fun at me, or complain about my choice to NOT eat certain foods. Food choice is about just that–the ability to say yes or no. Thing is, the food industry can’t make money off me if I’m not eating their products, so they will attack me or people like me through ads, campaigns, and social media to try to make me appear fringe or freaky. I’m just a bland and healthy eater, like people used to be throughout history.

    • Michele Payn on May 8, 2019 at 5:22 pm

      Agreed. Food choices are personal, just are farming choices. And each of us have the right to make those without being berated.

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