kitchen computer

In the last couple of weeks alone, consumers have flexed their collective muscles online to demand that the FDA label or remove “pink slime” from the meat served in our schools and influenced Coke and Pepsi to agree on something for once and remove a cancer-causing artificial color from their recipes. 

These are huge successes in the evolving story of the relationship between our online habits and our food culture. A new study released by The Hartman Group shows that Americans are relying on social media more and more when it comes to deciding what they should eat. Previous generations relied on mom and their cultural background to tell them what to eat and how. But the study showed that more and more, consumers are going online to decide what to eat. We’re looking up recipes for pho and perogies, whether mom ever made them or not.

Whether we’re looking for dinner inspiration by browsing recipes online, looking up nutrition data for a restaurant or product, or learning about food recalls, the Internet has completely changed how we approach our dinner table.

In general, this seems to be a good thing. The WHO has discussed using social media like Twitter as a tool to track food-borne illnesses, and many food and beverage brands have embraced Facebook and other social media as a method of building consumer trust in their brand. Studies show that big food corporations have realized that they have to be honest with consumers online in ways that they never had to before; fudget the truth even a little bit, and people online are apt to call you out on it.

But for food activists, the real power of the Internet lies in its ability to educate and mobilize people on important food issues. For example, the Just Label It campaign to persuade the government to require GMO foods to be labeled has already gathered more than half a million digital signatures on its online peition—nearly three times the number of signatures than have ever been sent to the FDA on any topic before. 

Activists like Robin O’Brien of Healthy Child, Healthy World believe that this is the path to creating real positive change in our food systems. As she wrote on her blog for Prevention magazine, “As consumers find their voices, engage their hearts, minds and talents, it is truly extraordinary to see what we can accomplish together… We are one action, one step, one phone call away from affecting remarkable change.”

image: Highways Agency