Moms, “Food Fears” and the Power of the Internet

food ingredient fearsA great dissection of the corporate food lobby’s fear of social media and the Internet over at The Lunch Tray

Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, has published a new study in the journal Food Quality and Preference entitled “Ingredient-Based Food Fears and Avoidance: Antecedents and Antidotes.”  This study, co-authored by Aner Tal and Adam Brumberg, seeks to determine why people – mothers in particular – develop so-called “food fears” about certain ingredients (such as sodium, fat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and lean finely textured beef) and what the food industry and government can do about it.

The study’s ultimate conclusion, that “food fears” can be addressed by “providing information regarding an ingredient’s history or the other products in which it is used,” is hardly controversial.  But some other things about this study raise red flags, starting with the fact that what might be entirely legitimate concerns about particular ingredients are uniformly (and patronizingly) characterized as “food fears,” and that the study’s findings have been overblown and mischaracterized not just in the media but in Dr. Wansink’s own public statements about his data.

I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that the study was funded in part by the Corn Refiners Association, the trade group representing manufacturers of the very “food fear” examined, i.e., concerns about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  While the study never takes a position on whether that particular “food fear” is legitimate (and, by the way, I’m totally agnostic on the HFCS vs. sugar question), Wansink’s own statements in the media would certainly be reassuring to anyone worried about HFCS — and that alone is troubling given the CRA’s financial ties to the study. Here’s Wansink speaking to Today:

“We’ve been looking at a lot of these food misconceptions,” says food psychologist Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor or Marketing at Cornell University. “It’s kind of crazy. How do these things get started and get traction without really any evidence at all?”

But putting aside CRA’s involvement, I’m far more troubled by Wansink’s and the media’s characterization of the study’s findings.  Here’s the New York Daily News‘ take on the study:

“Fear of food containing controversial ingredients may be fueled by Facebook. A new study suggests that people who avoid additives like MSG, sodium benzoate and pink slime get most of their information from what they see on social media sites and elsewhere on the Internet.”

And here’s Todays summary:

“Soy causes cancer.” “Gluten may lead to autism.” “There’s yoga mat material in your sandwich!” “Sugar feeds cancer!”

Are your Facebook friends making you afraid to eat? New research in the journal Food Quality and Preference identifies who fears food the most —and it’s probably those of us most addicted to social media.

In other words, the more we share, the more we scare…

[continues at The Lunch Tray]

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  • emperorreagan

    A study published by professors specializing in marketing and consumer behavior funded by an industry lobbying group? Yup, that’s a valuable addition to the academy.

  • BuzzCoastin

    Fear of food containing controversial ingredients
    is easily solvec
    stop buying packaged food with more than 4 ingredients
    and stop eating anything with unpronounceable ingrediants

  • laurakfalconer

    My Uncle
    Joshua just got an almost new white Kia Rio Hatchback only from working
    part-time off a home computer. try this C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

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