Podcast: How food bullying spreads unjustified fears about GMOs, animal welfare and food safety

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We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the harmful impacts of bullying, especially cyber-bullying aimed at children. But rarely do we consider how this aggressive behavior influences our beliefs about food. This is a serious mistake, according to science writer Michele Payn, who says bullying is often used to shame consumers into accepting a particular set of values related to food and farming.

Consider companies like Chipotle or Whole Foods that promote the wholesomeness of their non-GMO products and disparage other foods as inferior, though there is no evidence non-GMO products offer any unique health or safety benefits. These marketing strategies, Payn argues, encourage low-income consumers, both in the US and abroad, to spend more on products they were wrongly told are better for them, or to even avoid nutritious foods altogether.

screenshot agriculture food nutrition speaker michele payn
Michele Payn

It’s those potentially harmful outcomes that underscore why we should fight back against the bullies, Payn argues. Her new book, aptly titled “Food Bullying: How to Avoid Buying B.S.,” explores the social-psychological basis of food bullying and how it influences our perceptions of food safety, farming and biotechnology—and what we can do about it:

Food has become a battleground where marketing labels and misinformation are used to bully and demonize people about their eating choices. What if you could stop stressing about what other people think and make eating decisions based on your own needs and preferences? This startling look at the misrepresentation of food sheds light on fictitious nutrition and environmental claims to help you recognize bullies and defend your food choices.

On this episode of Talking Biotech, Payn joins plant geneticist and host Kevin Folta to provide a snapshot of how we talk about food today. While questions about nutrition and food safety are important, she argues that the issue goes deeper than that. Our beliefs about food are deeply connected to social status and group identity, which helps explain why we argue so ferociously about what we eat.


Michele Payn is a much sought-after speaker, author and podcast host. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @mpaynspeaker

Kevin M. Folta is a professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Follow professor Folta on Twitter @kevinfolta and email your questions to [email protected]

Related article:  Video: Why many food companies won't pick a side in the GMO debate

The Talking Biotech podcast, produced by Kevin Folta, is available for listening or subscription:

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