(Originally published on LinkedIn)
The old saying advises that we should never talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. But in 2017, what’s on the dinner table—and where it came from—are just as likely to emerge as hot-button topics.
Skeptical? Ask friends in your social networks what drives their eating philosophy and prepare to be inundated with buzzwords: organic, gluten-free, whole, GMO-free, paleo, clean. And between those life-changing testimonies about the food trend of the day, you’ll see the apologetic “We try to eat healthy, but…” posts from moms and fellow busy humans who turn to what’s convenient and budget-friendly to bring some balance and peace to their hectic lives.
Food choices add to #momguilt in a big way. And the topic of food has catapulted from our dinner tables into the back-and-forth of social conversations. As a strong supporter of farmers who keep our planet fed, I’m thrilled to see all the interest in food, but I’m longing for a shift in the discussion. How can we have meaningful dialogue around what we eat—and also ensure that the conversation, particularly on social media, remains civil and productive? Can we move from #momguilt to #noguilt?
A Lot of Information, Not Enough Facts
For starters, let’s cut through the marketing speak. Today, we have access to unlimited information about food and nutrition and more facts than our grandparents ever imagined. But with so much conflicting info, we’re more confused than ever about eating “right.”
We’re used to evaluating information sources as we consider political issues and positions, and we can apply much of that same logic to the food debate by asking ourselves critical thinking questions as we encounter food “facts.” Is this information from a source with an objective point of view? Does the writer or organization have specialized education, research, qualifications and experience to speak about the topic? Is the information grounded in science? If so, is it current science that’s been studied by more than one reputable organization?
Making Food Choices to Fit Your Family
It can be tough to decipher the real message behind the jargon—and it leads to confusion and misinformation. So many of my conversations (with mom friends in particular) center around this question of what we should be eating. We each want to put healthy food into our bodies and on our family’s dinner table, but the definition of “healthy” feels fuzzy and varies from family to family. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich can be a nutritious source of protein and fiber for a friend’s child, for instance, but it’s not a good choice for my son, who has a severe peanut and tree nut allergy.
Organic food is an area where I notice the most angst and uncertainty. Even the word organic itself seems to carry an automatic halo, but it’s part of a nuanced and bigger conversation about crucial factors like affordability (it’s usually more expensive), health (there’s no difference) and even environmental sustainability (yes, organic still uses pesticides).
Economics and access to fresh food are issues for many people already, so why create additional barriers? When we get hung up on “organic” and “non-GMO” labels rather than the nutrition of what’s inside, I believe we’re focusing on the wrong things. It’s more important to encourage eating a healthy blend of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. (Hat tip to my R.D. friends.) We should be applauding parents for making healthier choices that add fruits and vegetables, rather than guilting families (and ourselves) for choosing produce that doesn’t have the “right” sticker.
Convenience foods are another area adding to #momguilt. Sometimes convenience food can mean the difference between a home-cooked meal and hitting up the drive through, yet nearly six out of 10 moms said they felt “disappointed” when serving frozen, prepared or other types of convenience foods to their families, according to a Working Mother Research Institute survey. (#noguilt: My three kids love the occasional chicken nugget or pancake for dinner.)
As moms, we can help bring understanding to the dialogue, and we can start by being our authentic selves. I’m taking a pledge to shrug off the guilt on nights when my husband and I turn to meals that aren’t Instagram-worthy or made from scratch. Oftentimes meals are just #goodenough opportunities for #familytime—and that’s more than enough for me. #noguilt
Sara Miller is the Director of Global Communications and Corporate Marketing at Monsanto