Food is one of the most personal — not to mention necessary — choices people make each day. What we choose to eat and to feed our families depends on factors, including our preferences, culture, dietary needs, and budget. With more productive farms, most consumers in the U.S. and around the world can find fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy products that fit their needs.
Choices at the grocery store are important because no two shoppers are approaching the shelves with the same perspective, whether that be dietary or budgetary. Along with the nutritional value, that’s why it is so harmful when people and groups promote diets that cut out entire food groups, such as animal proteins.
Registered dietitian Nicole Rodriguez uses her platform to advocate for an “all foods fit” approach. “Plants need animals, and animals need plants,” she described at the Animal Agriculture Alliance Summit. She teaches her clients and her online followers about balance in food so they feel equipped to make decisions that work for them while also knowing they can be healthy.
Rodriguez hosts a podcast called “Food Bullying” about the topic of celebrating all healthy food choices along with Michele Payn, an agriculture and nutrition speaker with dairy farm roots. “I was shocked to see how many people had guilt about food,” said Payn of the messages she received when she wrote a book of the same title.
Many types of people can act as “food bullies,” said Payn, even people trusted for nutrition advice. She began working with dietitians to help reverse this trend and because she heard from dietitians that they wanted their clients to trust the science around food more. The “Food Bullying” podcast has helped hundreds of people claim food choices back after hearing how their foods are produced and what that means for them and their families.
Payn advised everyone involved in agriculture to uncover what unique connections they can bolster to support the truth of food and agriculture. “Each of us has an opportunity to reach across the plate,” she described. Dietitians and food professionals are a trusted source of nutrition information that can make or break how people view our products.
Rodriguez added that, “Dietitians want a seat at your table.” She encouraged food producers and companies to not only work with people who serve as influencers for certain foods or brands, but to provide dietitians with educational material that they can present in a way that fits their clients. When consumers understand their choices, they can make the best decisions for their needs.
“They are spectacular at talking about what we do if we give them the tools,” affirmed Payn of the dietitian community.
When we as farmers and agriculturalists are faced with difficult conversations that oversimplify food choices, Rodriguez recommended taking time to recognize where the person is coming from. What are their needs, what do they already know about the topic, and how do they feel about it? If you know your topic, you should be prepared to distill it down into the terms people need to hear, Payn said. And if you don’t know, be honest about that and refer them to someone who can answer their questions.
Food has become more complicated than it once was, but it remains a choice that people should have the ability to make. Sharing accurate information gives them the tools to do that. “People have a right to choose how they feed their families,” Payn summarized. “Food should be about celebration, not condemnation.”