Have you lost trust in the food system?

The September edition of the monthly food demand survey (FooDS) is now out.  In this post, I want to draw attention to two questions we added this time around which were suggested by my colleague Bailey Norwood.  

We asked a yes/no question: 

Can you think of a time when you felt that you lost trust in the food system?”

The good news that about 60% said "no" but that also means that, unfortunately, about 40%  said "yes."

For those people who said “yes”, we followed up with an open ended question:

Can you describe the exact circumstances that led to the loss in trust in the food system?

413 people typed responses.  I had a lot of fun reading through all the responses and trying to make sense of them. The first thing I did a simple keyword search.  

Below is the frequency of occurrence of different keywords among the responses, which I placed into different categories.

Some of the main keywords mentioned were:  GMOs (24), Mad Cow (24), recall (23), e coli (22), and price (20).  When you add the word "genetic" to "GMO" these two combined got a total of 34 mentions, by far the highest.  Biotechnology seems to be a big contributor to lost of trust in the food system.  That said (and as will be see momentarily), I think most of the statements people typed had something to do with food safety issues.  Here is the count of the number of times different words were mentioned.

Companies or Organizations

FDA (13), McDonalds (9), Monsanto (5), government (3), USDA (2) 

Technology Related Issues

GMO (24), hormone (26), pink slime (16), chemical (13), pesticide (11), genetic (10), antibiotic (9), clone (3), drug (3) 

Food Safety Related Issues

mad cow (24), recall (23), e coli (22), outbreak (18), salmonella (16), sick (15), food poisoning (13), illness (12), swine flu (6) bird flue (4) 

Miscellaneous issues

price (20), news (11), cost (10), documentary (6), China (6), Food inc (5), TV (3) 

Types of food

chicken (22), meat (17), beef (15) vegetable (15), lettuce (11), fruit (11), pork (4), spinach (4) cantalope (2), tomato (1)  

In addition to simply counting word mentions, I read each response and placed each one into one of eight different categories.

Below are the general categories, with the number of comments in the category, and a few representative responses.  I did not correct typos in respondents' answers.

Food Safety Related Issues (113 responses)

"during outbreak of e. coli"
"Hearing about diseases like bird flue and mad cow.  Tainted meat and produce."
"recently-yet another recall of bagged lettuce"
"The ecoli outbreak from a Taco Bell has made me think more of cooking at home and not eating out."

Technology Related Issues (74 responses) 

"hearing all the talk on tv about gmo foods."
"finding out about antibiotics and growth hormone use in livestock"
"When I learned that genetically engineered foods did not have to be labeled as such.  I felt very betrayed by by the food industry and the FDA."
"I used to buy ground beef but when I heard pink slim I stop buying it"

Issues related to food prices, market power or manipulation, or regulatory malfeasance (50 responses)

“I've never reallly had any trust in the food sys. I feel that the gov't and certain officals have a vested stake in the food industry and therefore can't be trusted to make decisions in the best interest of American citzens.”
“$6/lbs for bacon this is out of control”
“McDonalds food and realizing Monsanto owns EVERYTHING”
“The cost of staples like rice, flour and cooking oil. These items should be much cheaper to buy in bulk than they currently are. It's disappointing.”

Personal experience (mostly stories of food poisoning) (34 responses)

“I got food poisoning from a Mexican restaurant”
“My husband and I went out to eat at a restaurant, and the chicken he ate ended up being bad. He got food poisioning and was in the ER overnight with vomitting and dirrahea constantly. It was the worst thing ever!”
“found some hair in canned food”
“Had a blizzard and our grocery store had empty shelves after one day. Scary”

Animal Welfare Issues (25 responses)

“About 40 years ago when i visited cattle and chicken farms,  I was shocked at how the animals were treated and the filthy conditions that they lived under.  haven't eatent meat since. 
“Especially hate the way they raise chickens.”
“When I found out the actual  conditions of factory farms.”

General media (15 responses)

“I saw the documentary called "Food, Inc."”
 “I saw the movie, I forget what it is called, but it showed the farm process and the uncleanliness of the system. It made me lose hope in all the farms across the U.S. and question them.”
 “an article in the media”

Health or Nutritional Issues (10 responses)

“Food that is healthy and safe is more expensive than food that is unhealthy and questionable so those who are stuck on a budget have to eat sodium packed food low in nutrients for a cheaper meal i.e. ramen, hamburger helper etc.”
 “Nothing really tasted right as the time nor was anything really healthy.”
 “when i was overweight despite of healthy eating habits”

Other Issues (or all issues) (39 responses)

 “Introduction of too many chemicals, preservatives, hormones, GMOs, etc., increased introduction of fast foods, fewer organic fruits & veggies at most grocery stores. Inflation and increasing costs of organic & fresh whole foods. I never eat beef, seldom eat pork”
“When I heard about chicken coming from china.”
“the recent odd sizes of chicken parts. never seen small parts big parts, thought chickens grew the same size. don't trust red meat at all.”
“The love In making the food is gone they dnt make food with love anymore”
 “watched the documentary: food inc. or something like that. Just showed of how genetically modified food was used in the production of food.  /  / Also the documentary about McDonalds. It is a little old, but still the same thing applies. I have since cut fast food to a minimum...  “
“Also when farmers or workers in the farm are not paid what they deserve”
 “When I found out that horse meat was being substituted for beef in some cases.”

Interesting or curious responses

 “i read how they use chemical to breed their animals.”
 “When I first heard about the brain found in the chicken at KFC”
 “Finding out that I am 25 years old, perfectly healthy, but (highly likely) due to the GMO's in foods I had been eating, I am infertile.”
 “My dad became severely allergic to chicken, so we only purchased "organic" chicken.  Some places claim being organic, but he was still affected by it! Only from local, organic places did we find chicken that didn't cause him to break out into hives”
 “When the local stores stopped buying locally.”
 “when i heard kfc was making chickens without beacks”