Why the Food Industry Loves to Scare Us Into Eating Scarier Food


People can be so convincing. Especially when it comes to food.

Humans love enthusiasm. We adore showmanship and passion. Attend a four-hour long Bruce Springsteen concert or the Super Bowl, and see if you don’t leave feeling inspired and renewed in the human spirit (if also a bit exhausted…and broke). It’s why pundits run the gamut of extremes; because for (almost) every opinion out there, some open mind will listen–and form more opinions.

It’s all ego stuff, if we want to get technical…ideas occupy the mind, the identity of who we are and our purpose. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if we do good things with what we learn and believe. It’s also a cunning wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing game for marketers and multinational (food) corporations.

Take into consideration the great lengths corporations go to in order to sell you their packaged, processed foodstuffs, and the pieces begin to fall into place. It’s definitely at the heart of fear-mongering tactics designed to keep you from eating the healthiest food options.

When the Environmental Working Group recently released their 9th annual Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen produce guides to pesticides in produce, it’s no surprise that industry trade group United Fresh Produce Association said: “it is irresponsible to mislead consumers with a sensational publicity stunt disguised as science.” They made this claim despite the fact that the EWG takes its rankings directly from U.S. government data on produce. But, apparently, the UFPA wants you to not worry about pesticides. Now who’s sensational? The conventional produce industry certainly doesn’t want you to buy fruits and vegetables that are organic and locally grown on a small farm. In fact, they’d prefer it if you buy the safest of all: canned or frozen.

The same tactic is behind the lawsuit that got New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban overturned. Despite everything we know about sodas—particularly their effects on children—the industry turned the issue into a discussion about Big Government and Americans losing their rights. As if we were one sip away from being imprisoned, stripped of our identities, and sent to government labor camps.

Or, take the raw milk issue. Nearly half of all U.S. states ban the sale of raw dairy products because of the “health risks,” but there are still minimal regulations on the health or safety of the places (you cannot call them farms) where the overwhelming majority of our nation’s dairy comes from. These filthy, sad, terrifying and inhumane massive factories produce far more health risks than a glass of milk from a loved and well-tended to cow. You know the kind, they have a name, not a number stapled to their ear or branded into their hide.

Then of course, there’s the hot button food issue of our time: GMOs. Giant chemical companies now own patents on most of what’s on the average American’s dinner plate. They claim to be advancing food science, our safety, our farming culture. They tell us non-GMO crops are bug-infested and nutrient-deficient inferior-quality products. We must support GMOs because it’s our duty to our farmers, our children, our health. But we know the opposite is true. Even if their science was on point, why go to all the trouble to patent and protect seeds? It’s a motive as murky as the misty trail of pesticides lingering over a field of GMO corn.

So, why do they do it? Why do they want us to be scared of healthy food?

If Profit, Power and Control aren’t answer enough, we must also consider that this is how things have been done for a while. Like Gandhi said, ridicule and resistance come before acceptance. Even as moral as the issues clearly seem to be, there really are no rules—defining what food should be is a very fine line. For some of us, eating ethically, organically and mindfully makes a lot of sense. For others, eating cheap, fast and at the expense of others is just as reasonable.

In many instances in our food industry, there are genuine people who truly believe in what they’re doing—even when that’s beating animals into submission, or telling a farmer he’s going to face a lawsuit for unauthorized planting of a GMO seed. Similar to The Boss giving his best performance night after night, or an athlete playing the game of his career on the Super Bowl field, people are driven to do what they feel drawn to. And as much as we might disagree with the tactics employed by our food system, we must remember, they’re people too, driven by their own motivations. And while those motivations may be greed and fear, like any motivation, it can change. In fact, it’s often those who’ve been deeply entwined in the corruption of an industry that become the most valuable voices of opposition. The fact is, for now at least, Big-Ag will continue to try and scare you. They’ll try to seduce you. Sometimes, they’ll probably even win. But eventually, they’ll lose.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: freezelight

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.