Food bullying in its most basic form is when people or consumers are bullied based on the food they purchase or consume. For instance, while some consumers may buy regular cow's milk, a different consumer may wish to purchase a nondairy almond beverage. Due to the consumer making different choices based on their preferences and different ways of thinking, a possibility for food bullying arises.
“The challenge with bullying is it does impact all of us and it can affect us in different points of our life,” said Michele Payn, an award-winning author who is known for her book "Food Bullying, How to Avoid Buying B.S."
Payn was one of the keynote speakers during the University of Minnesota Extension's sixth annual Women in Ag conference.
According to Payn, food bullying happens far too often, and part of that is due to the many choices consumers are met with when they walk the aisles of their favorite grocery store or supermarket. One issue she touched upon was the use of unneeded labels on products, which can confuse the consumer more, thus, giving them yet another choice that will need to be made.
“Sustainability is one of those food labels that I found quite annoying to see on a food package. Where there is no definition there is no distinction, where there is no measurement there is no meaning. Food labels target food bullying,” Payn said.
Payn also discussed some topics consumers are food bullied for, such as their stance on GMOs, pesticides and herbicides, as well as their thoughts on organic products. Having different viewpoints on these topics can open the door for food bullying as well. However, Payn says while many consumers are skeptical about the practice of farming, most consumers trust the actual farmer.
“People who have not been on a farm or ranch distrust farming but still trust farmers. They trust their farmer as a person, but when it's farming, it's a practice and the trust is not there," Payn said. "It is a distrust that has built fear. There is this fear of the unknown that is leveraged by the bullies and the bullies prey on that fear by creating confusion, pushing the brain to think emotionally.”
Payn urges consumers to push against their fear, educate themselves, and allow themselves to purchase food based on social, ethical, environmental and health standards that suit their lifestyles, rather than relying on marketing, friends, social media claims and of course, food bullies.