Let's change the way we talk about food processing

Thursday, 27 March, 2014

Speakers at the Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT’s) Wellness 2014 event in Chicago have called for a change in the conversation around food processing.

David Freedman, contributing editor to The Atlantic, and Trevor Butterworth, editor-at-large of Stats.org, urged food companies to change the way they talk about their work in order to enable the general public and the media to develop a clearer sense of the benefits processed foods offer.

“The public has run off the rails when understanding food and health,” Freedman said. He called for consumers to embrace science and engage in a more open conversation when it comes to processed foods.

Food processing fundamentally changed the history of the world, Freedman said, but many consumers are defining health narrowly, thinking mainly in terms of local and unprocessed foods. He says they disregard the fact that it is simply not possible for all consumers to eat only local foods if they want to eat a varied diet.

In the story of food, food processors are often labelled as the villains, Freedman said. He urged scientists to integrate themselves more into the media, providing journalists with more insight into their work. The only way to change the story is by providing better products that are both healthy and tasty, said Freedman. He called on scientists to have the courage to continue to communicate the benefits of processed and packaged foods.

Butterworth took the audience on an anthropological journey through the origins of food history, demonstrating how far humans have come from the days of scurvy, plague and famines. “Cooking is what distinguished us from the animals,” he said.

Thanks to the ability to process food, life expectancy increased and people grew taller. In addition, the industrialisation of food freed people - particularly women - from the drudgery of constant food preparation, allowing them eventually to enter the workforce. Everything is interconnected, he said, and the way we live is all related to how cheaply and easily we can access food.

Butterworth also called for a change in the way the food industry talks about itself. He spoke of the need for scientists to tell a more engaging story about what they do, suggesting that this could be accomplished by bringing in people who can talk about developments in an interesting way.

“The younger generation wants a journalism of solutions. You [need to] fuse the generation of who knows how to write with the generation passionate for good change. If you don’t do anything, you only guarantee more of the same,” Butterworth said.

The June 2014 issue of the IFT’s Food Technology magazine will feature a more in-depth article on the Wellness 2014 event.

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