We’ve all experienced food shame — “You aren’t going to eat that, are you?” Or “I just think eating this way is the right thing to do,” as if there is clearly a wrong way to eat. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I love helping people dispel those unhealthy social pressures.
Case in point is a recent chat with a dear friend of mine who was in tears over her escalating food bill — “I know it’s ‘better’ to eat organic, but I just can’t keep up with the cost!” I’ve listened to concerns like these from friends, family, and clients for many years, and these claims aren’t even true! Organic crops aren’t more nutritious1https://youtu.be/k9p2jXhYRCk, or even free of pesticides. What matters more for your health is that you get enough2http://www.safefruitsandveggies.com/ fruits and vegetables overall, not where they come from or how they’re packaged. My friend’s suffering is born out of a social dilemma – the moralizing of food.
When food takes on moral value, it’s rife with shame: the food isn’t just bad, the people who eat the food are bad too. Food shaming can create such a strong fear of what to eat that a person risks their physical and emotional health. The chronic stress these situations can cause has been shown3 http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx to be associated with poor health, probably more so than the very foods people feel shame for eating.
Instead of worrying about what others think of us, what if we followed a different approach, one grounded in facts that allowed us to make the choices that fit us best? It’s entirely possible, and I’ll share how, through the lens of a “hot button” issue in the food and health world — GMOs, a topic that I’ve found often plays into the food shaming culture.
Whenever I’m asked about GMOs, the first thing I like to do is make clear what, exactly, GMOs are. I find there’s a lot of honest confusion out there, and even in the scientific literature I’ve come across countless competing descriptions. To keep things simple, here’s my boiled-down definition: GMOs represent a method of seed production that makes it more efficient, accurate and safe to boost beneficial traits in the crops humans have been modifying for centuries.
GMOs and the sustainable farming methods they enable — what I’ll call “GMO Farming” from here on out — are interesting to me because I have seen so many people unwittingly spread misinformation about them. It’s an easy trap to fall into when false information looks authentic and aligns with your own beliefs, or reinforces other rumors you’ve heard.
As a mom of two young girls, I care deeply about good nutrition and the well-being of my family. So, beyond my professional interest, I wanted to verify the facts for myself. Once I reviewed the rigorous science from sources like the American Medical Association, the European Union and the National Academies of Science, I came to the same conclusion that virtually every scientific and medical institution agrees on — that crops grown with GMO Farming are just as nutritious as crops grown conventionally or organically. This is just one example of how having access to information can be helpful in making choices that fit your family’s needs and preferences without the side of “food shame.” Not to mention that farmers who choose GMO Farming methods are able to use fewer, safer pesticides; in fact, GMO Farming has reduced average pesticide use by 37% globally!4http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111629
Yet, many people still believe that they can’t eat healthily and sustainably if they buy food grown with GMO Farming methods. When I talk to clients about this, they are surprised to hear that, in addition to producing nutritious crops, GMO Farming can be good for the environment too.
Eating to today’s standards of food purity can be draining on anyone’s bank account (not to mention downright inaccessible for many Americans living on a budget). Under these socially imposed standards, a person must endure the consequences of stigma for their lack of disposable income and their food choices. I stand firmly against the cultural messages that say someone with a lower food budget than mine is somehow “lesser than.” There is no shame in making your food budget work for you and your health (and don’t forget, the science says where health and food safety are concerned, there is no difference5https://www.nap.edu/read/23395/chapter/8#172) between crops grown with GMO Farming and crops grown with organic, conventional or any other farming method).
This post is sponsored by A Fresh Look, a 501(c) (6) organization, whose mission is to provide trustworthy research-based info to consumers about the benefits of GMO Farming methods.