Your Farm Voice: Erin MacGregor – Talking About Food is Tough

Erin MacGregor is a registered dietitian, professional home economist, food and nutrition communicator and co-founder of How to Eat, a food and nutrition communications business. She’s a proud supporter of Canadian farmers and is involved in a number of Manitoba Canola Growers and Canola Eat Well initiatives such as Learn to Lead and #CanolaConnect.

She is an enthusiastic advocate for honest and transparent communication about our food system. Through her writing and speaking engagements about topics including agriculture, biotechnology and food marketing, she aspires to help more Canadians understand where their food comes from, so they can make food choices based on facts, not fear.

Her favourite pastime is to sit, eat and laugh around a table with others. She lives in Toronto with her husband, her three year old sous chef and her dog, Fred.

Talking About Food is Tough

– By Erin MacGregor

If you find yourself working within Canada’s enormous food system, whether you like it or not, you are a spokesperson for Canadian food. And as a spokesperson, effectively communicating about food, whether your expertise is growing it, producing it, processing it, cooking it, or talking about it’s nutritional value, can be tough.

Everyone eats, and as a result, everyone has their own idea about the ‘correct’ way of doing so. Food choices are exceptionally personal and can be entwined with one or many of our value and belief systems. What we eat may be related to culture, religion, geography, career, or even the decade in which we were born. In a way, everyone is a food expert.

With this in mind, how do we navigate these differences so that our conversations about food become more productive? Particularly when the topic is one that carries controversy.

These days experts and consumers alike have strong opinions about a multitude of food related topics. From pesticides, to biotechnology, to plant-based eating, it seems more often than not, we’re talking past one another.

For me, years of working as a clinician in healthcare, a counsellor in the community, and as a food communicator through various media channels, has given me an enormous playing field to test my food communication skills.

While I continue to make missteps, my professional experience and ongoing research into effective communication have helped me hone my skills and develop a three step strategy.

Three Steps to Improved Food Communication

  1. Get personal.

Getting personal is about making a connection. Making a small effort to find common ground is a way to disarm.

Finding this connection can be simple. It can be as easy as sharing in small talk about where you live or what foods you both like to eat, or commiserating about Canadian winters.

To find this connection, simply show up being curious. Stow your agenda, even if you think you know what’s coming, and ask questions. Be present. Simply listening and making an effort to learn about what a person believes and values, and who they trust, will give you the framework needed for step 2.

  1. Validate and Empathize

“I can see where you’re coming from”

“I understand what you mean”

This, for many, can be difficult. Particularly if you are knowledgeable or believe strongly in a topic.

By validating, you are not necessarily agreeing with what a person saying, but that their feelings are valid. All feelings are valid, because they’re feelings. Not facts.

Empathizing or showing compassion opens the door for you to share your point of view.

  1. Relate your truth, but…

Facts don’t persuade people. People persuade people.

If you decide to take the step and share your knowledge or point of view, it’s important to present it in a way that appeals to their belief system. A convincing argument will depend on engaging a person’s values, not showing them logic.

Recognize that you come with a set of values too. The most effective communicators can change minds and opinions because they are willing to change theirs too.

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