You are a conscientious shopper. You stop by the greenmarket when you can or visit Whole Foods on your way home from work. You read labels and count grams of fat. When the price doesn’t seem too out of line, you reach for organic. But do you ever question why you eat the way you do? How you’ve come to believe that some things are better or worse for you than others? For your children? For the planet?
Simply put, we trust that the food that is available to us in grocery stores, in restaurants, in schools, and at home is safe, wholesome, and nutritious. Some research suggests the food industry is the most trusted industry among consumers. And that’s the way it should be.
But an occasional outbreak of food-borne illness, an unproven nutrition claim, or an environmental incident can force us to question some things we’ve come to take for granted. What’s more, we are bombarded with information we may not even understand, let alone care about, and sorting through it can be a burden. Sometimes we make decisions based on instincts, whims, or traditions, without considering their veracity or the impact they might have. Other times the information we need or want is hard to find. And besides, we think, isn’t someone out there making the best decisions for me and my family?
As Karen Karp of Karp Resources and I have discovered while traveling around the country on behalf of the James Beard Foundation to talk to groups of people in various facets of the food industry about the challenges they face, underlying many of our issues about food is a breakdown of trust in some way or another. Perhaps if we could understand how we build and maintain trust, we might realize that some things aren’t broken.
Understanding trust and how it influences our decisions about food is one of the main objectives of the 2012 James Beard Foundation Food Conference, being held today and tomorrow in New York City. We have an incredible roster of speakers and panelists from a wide range of perspectives. You can watch all of the happenings at jamesbeard.org/conferencelive.