Don’t Trust Big Ag? Food MythBusters to the Rescue

Anna Lappé wants consumers to understand the truth behind modern food production.

Anna Lappé (right) with Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Rebecca Tarbotton. (Photo: Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

It's Food Day in America, and as part of the celebration, sustainable food activist Anna Lappé and 11 of the nation’s leading food advocacy organizations are launching Food MythBusters, along with their first film. The goal? To debunk pervasive industry myths around organics, farming and modern food production. We spent some time talking with Lappé about her new project and why she's counting on you to get involved.

Take Part:  How did Mythbusters come into existence?

Anna Lappé: As I traveled around the country talking about food and food systems, I kept hearing very similar questions about the viability of food and farming. Can we really feed the world? Is organic food really better for you? Does it make a difference? Are you just a food-nanny? I’d get some version of these questions, even from very different audiences. I realized that they echo the talking points of the food industry—the pesticide makers, fertilizer manufacturers, process food industry, the meat companies who profit from the current system. Their marketing and communication materials have explicitly published these seeds of doubt about the potential and viability of sustainable agriculture.

If we really want people to understand the benefits of organic agriculture, then we need to take on these persistent myths and help people understand the real story about food.

TP:  The first video addresses feeding the world. Are there others in the pipeline?

AL: Yes, we’ll be working on other videos. The project creates a whole set of tools: companion films, Q&A with experts, an action tool kit for people who want to host screenings, and online resources to help people explore the story behind these myths, including the myth that we need industrial ag to feed the world. 

A film that will hopefully be done in February is one close to my heart as a mom, and that’s the myth that skyrocketing sales of junk food and processed food is just a sign that this is what consumers want. People understand they’re getting marketed to, but they’ll be shocked to learn at what extent the food industry invades the minds of our kids, and how unregulated it is in the country, compared to others.

Another hot topic right now, after the Stanford study, is the myth that organic food isn’t any better for us, and may actually be dangerous. We’ll show people to what extent the food industry is actively trying to push the idea into public consciousness. Also, the videos won’t be tied to any specific action or campaign. We wanted to create films that will resonate and still be appropriate a few years from now‚timeless.

TP: Is some of this in response to the massive amount of funding we’re seeing corporations funnel into the effort to defeat the California Prop 37 measure requiring labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients? Are we seeing a mobilization of sides?

AL: It is in our own way. At the beginning of last year, we started seeing the press coverage of two new groups—U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, and the Alliance to Feed the Future—formed very explicitly to fight back for the public mind in the face of what I see is great information getting out there by movies like Food, Inc. and authors like Michael Pollan or Eric Schlosser. People are starting to have questions. To me, those questions are a great thing. To the food industry, it’s very threatening, and they’re circling their wagons.

TP: Are you hoping for activism? That people move from reading a story and clicking “Like” to actually getting out there and participating? And if so, what exactly would you ask a reader to do? 

AL:  We don’t want to only educate people—we want them to get involved. And there’s good evidence that many people want to do more than be a slacktavist. One of the things our project will do is to help them connect with people in their communities so they can become engaged with local efforts. We’ll help connect to that work. For example, on Food Day, the call to action will be to encourage people to work for California Prop 37. It will be a telling moment in how effective we can be as organizers and activists, when up against $35 million in corporate money opposing it.

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