Food science knowledge should be communicated in a way that is both understandable by the public and doesn’t exaggerate the condition to prompt unnecessary public fear. This is my take over the few years of my experience as a food scientist.
As a food scientist, we focus and devote our role to collect, analyze and summarize the data and findings on our research question to provide a possible solution to manage or reduce the risk to consumer’s safety. It is also important that we are able to share information with the consumers. However, we put minimal effort on building followers on social media to share the food knowledge with the consumers. Rather, we depend on regulatory bodies and food-based organization to share the knowledge.
The question is can we relay this role of communicating science to food activist that can potentially spread the information faster than a food scientist does with the number of followers they have. Well, the easiest way to get attention is to create fear.
“Component X known to produce effect Y and this product Z contains component X.”
Everyone look at the posting including myself because I am curious. Suddenly, component X is listed in the unclean label list (perhaps product Z as well) regardless of the presence of scientific evidence. Better, you will see comments after comments of the other side effect of component X and questions for the company and regulatory bodies of why component X is approved in country A, not in the rest of country B, C, D etc.
As a human, we have the tendency to get worried and to avoid things that we have doubt on. Same goes when it comes to food selection and how food is made. As a consumer, we often think of the possibilities of a food company to make a profit at the expense of consumer’s health. In fact, we have to blame it on continuous food fraud that can and will still be happening- they are the bad apples in the food industry. There will be always some bad apples in every industry. Secondly, we also like to voice our thoughts, share opinions and perhaps, see some changes in how our food is made. Food activism is one way that consumers can take charge to voice their thoughts on how our food is made.
However, food activists are a great communicator of what they believe in but unfortunately, they are not the front-liners that deal with assessing the food safety and managing the food safety system. Their expertise is to share information in the way that they believe in. They may not have sufficient information to present their doubt. Their thought sharing is more of sharing what could possibly go wrong and more often, based on fear and doubt. This thought sharing process may lead to misunderstanding and belief that the shared information is backed by scientific knowledge when the information may not be. Not all food activist have scientific expertise, so consider what you are reading and take it with a grain of salt.
Remarks: This article is written based on my personal perspective on communicating food science.