Food deserts are not the only challenge to increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income populations. Nutrition Today published new peer reviewed research looking at the attitudes about organic and conventional fruits and vegetables among low-income shoppers. One troubling conclusion was the impact negative messaging, particularly relating to pesticide residue, has. When asked about the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” list, 15% of respondents said they were less likely to purchase any fruits or vegetables. This was the largest “less likely to purchase” response to any question.
The study points out the limited access to organic produce in low-income communities, and this may be a contributing factor. Perhaps we need another classification for “organic deserts”. More research should be done, but it could help to explain why produce consumption is stagnating, despite the efforts to increase it. If fear and confusion are causing people to consume fewer fruits and vegetables, communications professionals have a responsibility to better explain rather than incite.
Previously I’ve written about positive marketing with regards to food labels. This isn’t different. While we extol the options for organic, local and seasonal, let’s not imply to consumers that it is the only choice. For some it is not a choice, and the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables have repeatedly been shown to significantly outweigh any negative effect. Instead we should communicate best practices for safe handling, such as rinsing produce at home. It may not get as many clicks, but proper storage advice will lead to better consumer experiences, less waste and greater consumption.
A bright spot in the conclusions is that most respondents said that they trust dietitians, physicians and scientists for health and safety information. These health and nutrition professionals have been an important audience for many of our clients and we have built relationships over the years based on trust. Media, government and industry also have a significant impact according to this survey. Trust, however, is lower.
The activists and crusaders who push for more organic and local fruit and vegetable consumption should take note. Negative messaging can be detrimental and exacerbate the challenges of growing consumption among all populations. More facts, clearer information and positive communication around the increasing choices for consumers should be our North Star.