Changing the Conversation About Food Science
It’s no secret that food science and processed foods are under fire on many fronts—by activists, marketers, and consumers themselves. To figure out ways to help change that situation, a group of Annual Meeting attendees gathered Tuesday afternoon for a workshop session titled “The Scapegoat That Is Food Science: How Do We Save the Discipline That Is Feeding the World?”
Presenters including Fergus Clydesdale of the University of Massachusetts and Guy Johnson of Johnson Nutrition Solutions helped set the stage for the conversation.
“From my perspective, I think we have a crisis on our hands with respect to food science,” said Johnson. “Food science is being skewered not only by consumers, but by people who should know better—people in the academic community, people in the research community. We really need to do something about it.”
“We’re getting attacked with emotionalism, and we’re responding with facts, and it isn’t working,” said Clydesdale.
Author Michael Pollan, an outspoken critic of processed foods, says that “food is what your great-grandparents ate,” said Clydesdale, adding that he hopes that is not the case because what our grandparents ate wasn’t always optimal. Consider Ireland in the mid-19th century, for example; when the potato blight struck, millions died or were forced to emigrate.
“I really think the media should look at just how good were the good old days,” said Clydesdale. “We have to approach it on an historical level with real data.” He pointed out that many people today are losing touch with some of the benefits of food science because they’ve rarely encountered a spoiled food and “therefore they don’t understand how a food stays stable and safe and why they should be concerned about it.”
After hearing opening remarks, session attendees divided up into groups to brainstorm strategies for helping to improve the image of food science. Participants came up with a long list of suggestions, including those that follow.
• Build messages around the culinary aspects of food science because consumers are favorably inclined to celebrity chefs.
• Think about using universities to disseminate information that consumers will perceive as credible and unbiased.
• Work on finding ways to communicate scientific data in ways that target consumers’ emotions.
• Help consumers realize that most food is processed in one way or another.
• Attempt to attract a growing pool of students to the food science discipline, and educate their parents about the potential for careers in food science.
Taylor Wallace of the Council for Responsible Nutrition wrapped up the session with a few thoughts and recommendations. “We really have to rally as a scientific community,” said Wallace. He acknowledged that communicating scientific information is complex because “science is gray; it’s hardly ever black and white.” He stressed that “consistent communication to consumers” is critical. “We need to seek common ground. How can we get aligned with consumers if we can’t get aligned ourselves?”