For most Americans eating is just something we do several times a day. We have regular mealtimes, we eat when we get hungry, and quite often our dining is a social or family activity.
Only rarely do we stop to think about the what and why of eating.
As living creatures we require food. Our bodies cannot function without energy, nor can our bodies maintain themselves without ingesting the essential building blocks of protein and micronutrients.
Those simple facts are often overlooked in daily life, and increasingly they are confused by a welter of conflicting information.
To maintain good physical health it’s important to know why we are eating the foods we eat, and it’s equally important to know, at least in a general sense, how the foods we eat provide for our overall nutrition and health.
Understanding basic knowledge regarding food and diet seems to be a struggle for many people.
A scientific survey conducted by researchers at Michigan State University in July highlighted the fact that many Americans are less knowledgeable about food and diet than they believe themselves to be.
The University’s Food Literacy and Engagement Poll was conducted online July 6-8 and asked 1,059 U.S. respondents aged 18 and over a series of 10 questions to gauge their level of understanding regarding the food they consume.
Here are the questions and a percentage breakdown of the responses.
If you needed to, how often could you access fresh fruits and vegetables where you live?
Seventy-eight percent said every day, 14 percent said once a day, 4 percent said once a month, and 4 percent said rarely, never, or not sure.
Using a 1-5 scale, with 1 least influential and 5 most influential, how do food labels figure in your food purchase decisions?
Sixty-six percent rated labels very influential (4-5) and 10 percent rated them not influential (1-2).
How often do you think you consume genetically modified organisms or GMO’s?
Nineteen percent said every day, 25 percent said once a week, 10 percent said once a month, 14 percent said rarely, and 32 percent said rarely or not sure.
Using a 1-5 scale, with 1 being much lower than average and 5 being much higher than average, how would you rank your understanding of the global food system?
Thirty-eight percent said higher than average (4-5) and 14 percent said lower than average (1-2).
How often do you seek information about where your food was grown and how it was produced?
Twelve percent said every day, 22 percent said once a week, 19 percent said once a month, and 48 percent said rarely or never.
Using a 1-5 scale, with 1 being not willing at all and 5 being very willing, how willing would you be to pay more for food items if their production had a less damaging impact on the environment?
Fifty-one said very willing (4-5) and 20 percent said not willing (1-2).
Using a 1-5 scale, where 1 is not concerned at all and 5 is very concerned, how concerned are you about the safety of the food available in your community compared to other communities?
Fifty percent said concerned (4-5) and 22 percent said not concerned (1-2).
How often do you choose organic foods over non-organic foods?
Seventeen percent said whenever they are available, 15 percent said always for certain items, 33 percent said sometimes, and 35 percent said rarely, never, or not sure.
Using a 1-5 scale, where 1 is do not trust at all and 5 is completely trust, how much do you trust academic scientists, government scientists, and industry scientists when it comes to the health and safety of food?
Academic scientists: 59 percent trust, 14 percent do not trust. Government scientists: 49 percent trust, 18 percent do not trust. Industry scientists: 33 percent trust, 30 percent do not trust.
Do you think the following statement is true or false? Genetically modified foods have genes and non-genetically modified foods do not have genes.
Thirty-seven percent said true, 63 percent said false.
The survey provided a good set of questions and an interesting set of responses. The next question is, what should consumers do with this information?
Looking over the responses it’s clear that the general level of understanding of food in America is less than it could be, at least among the 1,059 respondents, and probably less than it should be.
One of the most useful things consumers can do with this information is ask themselves how certain they are of their own understanding of diet, nutrition, food production, and the food supply. If they can be honest with themselves, most consumers will realize that they have at least a few gaps in their knowledge. This survey can provide some good food for thought and a starting point for a bit of self education.
It’s probably worth pointing out that such self education should be, as much as possible, based on factual data rather than on opinion. The bad news is that there is far more opinion available than facts and data. The good news is that solid facts and data are available to everyone through the wonders of the internet and modern information technology.
Gathering good factual data about diet, nutrition, food production and food supply will take some work, but rather than thinking of self education as a chore of drudgery, perhaps consumers can think of it as a journey of discovery. Learning about the reality of these things can be enjoyable, fulfilling and satisfying. It can also help alleviate the anxiety we all feel when faced with misinformation and disinformation.