Food Elitism and Activism: The Impact on the Retail Industry

Food Elitism and Activism: The Impact on the Retail Industry

June 5, 2013

Annette Maggi, MS, RD, LD, FADA
Executive Director, RDBA

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak as part of a panel on healthy food for kids at a Culinary Institute of America conference. The conference is designed to educate foodservice professionals on issues related to and healthy eating habits and encourage solution-oriented dialogue.  During the discussion, a fellow panelist, commented on what he feeds his children for breakfast – whole oats, kefir, fresh berries, homemade peanut butter.  His point was the impressive nutrient density of this meal, and its ability to provide satiety for hours.

As I listened, it struck me how far this meal was from the typical consumer’s reality.  My sense is the average mom wouldn’t know where to find kefir in the grocery store, doesn’t own a kitchen gadget she could use to make homemade peanut butter or can’t afford to pay the cost of fresh berries in Iowa in January. It felt like food elitism to me. 

Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and others often contribute similar recommendations that seem out of reach or unreasonable for many in the U.S. It seems that the only answer for healthy eating, in their minds, is to shop and purchase all whole foods and to only cook from scratch.  This mindset demonizes the food industry and suggests all packaged or processed foods – no matter the level of processing – are unhealthy. 

Food elitism broadens to food activism.  Topics of interest to food activists range from hunger to GMO labeling to animal rights to farming practices to obesity.  The challenge for credentialed nutrition professionals is that those speaking out most vocally often lack any training or education in the topics being discussed.  Their viewpoint is that they purchase food and eat food, and therefore have a voice. 

At the end of the day, the headlines on these topics and the discussion that swirls in consumers’ minds become front and center as the shopper stands in the aisles of your grocery stores.  This is where they must synthesize the information, make a decision and actually purchase food for their households.

This, then, impacts your role as a retail dietitian, as a scientist, an educator, a communicator, a motivator, a critical thinker.  At the Retail Dietitians Business Alliance, we believe this topic has such significant impact on your work and reputation with your many constituencies that we intend to address food elitism and activism in subsequent issues of RDBA Weekly.  What does it mean to be an expert in this information age?  How can you communicate science and pragmatism in the face of fear and emotion?  How can you partner with internal departments and vendors to promote a balanced message about all healthy options in the store to benefit today’s real consumer and company business?  Stay tuned for answers to these questions and more.