Dear Americans: Stop Being Ignorant About Your Food

As I scrolled through Facebook the other day, I saw a link to an article headlined “Over 80 percent of Americans support mandatory labels on foods containing DNA.” I chuckled and clicked the link, thinking I’d be heading to The Onion. Imagine my surprise when The Washington Post loaded in my browser instead. The article’s lead made my stomach sink: “A recent survey by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics finds that over 80 percent of Americans support ‘mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,’ about the same number as support mandatory labeling of GMO foods ‘produced with genetic engineering.'”

As I read on, I thought that surely this study was flawed — they must have surveyed a non-representative sample, or the question must have been written poorly. I clicked over the survey’s results (linked above), where I learned that the survey was given to a pool of 1000 people. The pool was designed to reflect the demographics of the U.S. The method was sound, so I thought the problem must have been the wording of the question. Wrong again. “Do you support or oppose mandatory labels on foods containing DNA?” is a pretty straightforward question.

DNA: It’s already inside you! (image source)

The study wasn’t flawed. The results weren’t shady. Apparently, 80 percent of Americans simply do not know what DNA is. Almost the same percentage of people said they also support mandatory labeling of GMOs. The study also asked respondents if they had “read any books about food and agriculture in the past year.” Eighty-one percent of people said “no.” Three percent said, “I don’t know.” And yet, these same people are anti-GMO and anti-DNA. People: acronyms do not automatically make a food dangerous. Please, please educate yourself before you decide that something is evil.

I’m a huge advocate for knowing what is in your food, for not consuming the weird, potentially dangerous substances that frequently make their way into processed foods. But you must actually know what it is that you’re consuming. You can’t assume that some substance on the ingredient list is healthy for you just because the manufacturers claim it is, and you also can’t assume that something is dangerous just because you’ve never heard of it (and maybe you didn’t pay attention in seventh-grade science class). You cannot assume that because it has an acronym or a scientific-sounding name, or because the Food Babe says it’s icky, that something should be banned.

(Image source)

This type of ignorance is harming American agriculture, an industry taken for granted by far too many Americans. You may not want to admit it, but the notion of the small, local, organic farm, with the farmer who raises a little bit of everything and sells his wares at a cute little booth at the farmer’s market, is just not realistic to feed the entire country. The population of the world is continuously growing, and the population of farmers is slowly but steadily decreasing (see 2014’s Census of Agriculture). What worked in 1820 is not going to work forever.

If we want to keep eating (all of us, not just those of us who can afford the cute farmer’s market booths), we must be open to innovation. Should we view innovation with a healthy dose of skepticism? Of course. But it must be educated skepticism. As consumers, we must be informed, jumping neither to acceptance nor rejection without first doing our research. Our health and the health of our country depend on it.

15 thoughts on “Dear Americans: Stop Being Ignorant About Your Food”

  1. Wow. I cannot believe that people don’t know what DNA means. You have hit the nail on the head that we need to do our own research and not just believe what commercials, social media, and a few other things tell us.

  2. This should be a post everyone sees. I know most everyone knows what DNA is, but we have become so responsive to marketing that we don’t even make our own choices anymore. I wonder if, had someone given me this survey and told me to fill it out, if I would have answered that question. I didn’t recognize it as genetic code in this context, but I would have asked what DNA stood for. If I wasn’t told, I don’t know if I may have said yes. Though thinking “acronyms […] automatically make a food dangerous” really reveals a trap I’ve fallen into as well.
    Thank you for this PSA.

  3. Can I just say… YES YES YES YES YES!!!! Exactly. I saw that same thing and snorted and actually was not very surprised, With only 2% of Americans growing the food for the other 98% there are a lot of people too far removed from the realities of growing food. I get a lot disgusted sometimes by the mindless Food Babe followers, and all the other people who profit from their fear mongering. GMOs are simply what witchcraft used to be. Thousands of studies have proven them safe. A study done with rats that were bred to grow cancer does not count. I can agree that not all are ideal, but some are freaking genius and if we want to continue to feed a rapidly expanding population and avoid things like population control, farmers HAVE to continue to innovate. Land that cannot be used for crops, NEEDS to be used for grazing (87% of grazing land is not arable)
    With your title this was not what I was expecting to read. I kind of love you right now. It is really discouraging sometimes when there are so many things going against what you love.

  4. Um. What? I live in such a little bubble world where everyone thinks like me and talks like me and acts like me that I forget about the rest of the population. I forget that people do not exercise every single day. I forget that people struggle to get vegetables into their diets. I forget that people out there have no idea what DNA is. Then I read this and my bubble pops and I reawaken. I am going to show this to my mom. I think she might die.

  5. Oh yeah I posted this ! I agree with you so much. Meanwhile I feel like these same 80% of people are the ones who live on convenience snacks and fast food restaurants full of many more bad acronyms that DNA … And almost all of that is GMO…

  6. THANK YOU for this! Food Babe drives me nuts because of all her fearmongering and I hate that so many people just accept stuff like that blindly… which results in things like “I don’t want DNA in my food.” It’s laughable until you realize that people are actually that dumb… and then it makes me sad 😦

  7. I agree, so many just go with the new buzz words with out having any real idea about what they actually mean.
    Great point- we all would like to keep eating, not the just few who can afford the organic.

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