Building Food Literacy


Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at The Conference Board of Canada’s Food & Drink Summit in Toronto.  The topic of my talk was Building Food Literacy Through Effective Health Engagement.

Food literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to ‘”obtain, process and understand basic information about the food they’re eating.” 

One would think that the ubiquity of nutrition information would make us extremely well informed on all matters relating to food.  In reality, quite the opposite is true.  In fact, a bounty of misinformation serves only to confuse consumers.  

Consider these common health debates that bombard consumers on a daily basis in headlines, advertisements and coffee shop conversations—sugar vs. artificial sweeteners, butter vs. margarine, dairy vs. non-dairy, gluten free, natural, organic, GMO vs. non-GMO, good carbs vs. bad carbs, and so on.

No wonder they’re confused.  

The key for marketers is to go beyond the health headline to help consumers make informed choices about what’s right for them—to build healthy food literacy.  

By definition, that means going beyond the 30-second TV spot, the slick magazine ad, the ignored banner ad, and the coveted social media “like.”

Building food literacy means delivering food and nutrition information through sources that allow for true engagement—and which consumers trust the most.—health influencers.  Tapping into the authority and influence of dietitians, fitness professionals, nurses and doctors allows marketers to go beyond the health headline and add real value.  

These professionals know what’s at stake. There’s not a health professional on the planet who would argue against the idea that food is the first line of defense in preventing chronic disease. At the Food and Beverage Summit, a representative from a prominent medical school reported that they were in the midst of overhauling curriculum to include more and robust nutrition education. 

Building food literacy is an ongoing process. We need to begin by ensuring that health professionals are appropriately armed with nutrition information. Then we need to leverage the trusted relationship they have with consumers to go beyond the health headline and get accurate and actionable food and nutrition information into their hands.