Last year at this time, I wrote a blog post called How my Food Philosophy Changed in 2017. I remember while writing it, how transformed I felt about my year in hindsight.
I felt gratitude for the opportunities both Dara and I had received throughout the year and it was hard to imagine how things could continue to evolve at that pace.
Well, they didn’t evolve at that pace. 2018 transformed my thinking at breakneck speed.
This year, I was lucky enough to continue on with hosting a series of workshops around food and farming in partnership with Canola Eat Well for Life. Their team, who represent Canada’s 43000 canola farmers, go way beyond teaching the ins and outs of canola oil and farming. Their mission with each workshop, is to connect Canadians with the wonderful and often misunderstood world of agriculture, and to inspire confidence in our food system and our hard working farmers.
It’s no small task in today’s climate of food fear and skepticism, and I continue to pinch myself when I realize they have trusted me, in part, to instil that confidence.
It’s these Canola Connect workshops where I’ve had the unique opportunity to connect with influencers in food, family and lifestyle (AKA regular Canadians) face to face. After two years and 11 workshops, I’ve had conversations with over 200 people who have come to the table with legitimate and honest questions about their food supply.
As I reflect on some of my biggest lessons around food throughout the year, I find myself coming back to these conversations time and time again, and thinking about their impact on my ever evolving food philosophy.
When Discussing Food…Get Personal.
Talking about food isn’t simple. Everyone eats, and most people have some fairly set-in-stone ideas about the correct way to eat, prepare, shop and talk about it. In a way, we’re all ‘experts’.
Add to that, food and food production is an extremely complex topic. One that is easily undermined by simple tag lines and opportunistic marketing which ignore the complexities and instead, appeal to our emotions.
While Canadians are interested in truth and transparency in food more than ever, we are are much more likely to respond to messaging that makes us feel good rather than messaging that gives us more knowledge.
Case in point: The ‘natural’ food industry appeals to our emotions by labelling foods with a friendly looking ‘Non-GMO Verified’ butterfly. While the label gives us no meaningful information about the safety, quality or nutritional content of our food, it can make us feel good about avoiding something that is perceived as a threat (but is decidedly not one). Consumers are now paying up to 60% more on these products that have no discernible advantage … just to feel good.
Chalk that up to human nature. Not only are decisions around food driven by emotions, we naturally look for mental shortcuts to explain complex topics. It’s a powerful combination that marketers recognize and capitalize on without scruples.
What this has taught me is, if I want to help people feel more confident about the safety and quality of their food, I need to appeal to their emotions first too. I need to make them feel understood. I need to validate their uncertainty, their fears and their desires.
It’s my way ‘in’.
Facts don’t change minds
These days, I lead conversations about food with empathy.
I admit, it’s hard. I still fight my burning desire to answer questions about controversial food topics with “that’s not true…here are the facts”. But slowly, I’ve learned that first, I must be curious and ask questions. Then, I must validate each and every point of view. Finally, we must reach a place of common ground, where we feel connected to one another, where we trust one another.
Then, and only then might the window of opportunity crack open. Then and only then, can I share the facts around what I know to be true.
As a food communicator, changing minds in a sea of emotionally charged misinformation is hard. But it’s not impossible. When I try to step back and appreciate that most humans want the same things in life – safety, security and happiness for themselves and their families, it makes the job feel a little less daunting.
Our joint Philosophy for 2019: Relax.
Dara and I continue to reflect on a perfect ‘tagline’ for How to Eat.
We sat down at our year end meeting recently and brainstormed over words and sentiments that we wanted to include. Words like fulfilled, happy, joyous, relationship and delicious all emerged as front runners. But in the end, we kept circling back to ‘relax’.
Just fu%^ing relax.
Given we’re a family operation, I’m not sure we want to work profanities into our tagline just yet, but the sentiment – just helping people relax about their food choices – is truly our mission, and discovering it was a revelation for us both.
Next year, we’ll continue our focus on helping Canadians relax about, well, everything when it comes to food. But these are top of mind:
Relax about buying food
I may sound like a broken record when I say this, but we have access to some of the safest, highest quality, affordable food on the planet. Most Canadians can get their hands on any food they dream up within a matter of hours. We are truly spoiled for choice and the privileged few, on a global scale, who can afford to scrutinize our food supply the way we do.
Our regulatory system is top notch and our food safety standards are admired globally. Our farmers and producers are families like yours and mine, who want the best for us and their own kids.
Be skeptical of marketers, labelling and fear tactics. But please, don’t be scared of buying the food you want, that’s more affordable, that’s more delicious or that fits within your value system. It’s all good.
Relax about preparing and cooking food
Home cooked doesn’t mean everything has to be from scratch. It doesn’t mean you can’t use convenience foods. It doesn’t mean you have to use a meal plan. It doesn’t mean you need to qualify for Master Chef to succeed. Home cooking is simply a means to get you, your family and friends around a table to enjoy food together.
Next year we’ll share more simple, family friendly recipes (yes, more sheet pans meals!), video demonstrations, and kitchen tips and hacks, with the goal of getting people to enjoy meals with…other people.
Relax about eating food
Having a fulfilling, joyous and stress-free relationship with food is something we wish for everyone. We will continue to reject diet culture and the shame and guilt associated with it. We will continue to steer you away from restriction and counting calories and toward feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction. We’ll be tireless advocates for relaxed eating. Because eating and food is the best.
Relax about feeding your kids.
The pressure on parents to reach parenting perfection is scary, and we see first hand how social media has exasperated the trend. When it comes to food and feeding kids, our message remains the same. Relax. They are born with an amazing set of intuitions when it comes to food and eating. We want to encourage parents to let go, and trust them. Autonomy goes a long way in giving kids a head start for a happy, healthy relationship with food.
Have you had any major revelations in 2018?
How has your viewpoint around food, nutrition or any old topic changed in 2018.