Your Views on Food Information Credibility


Thanks to all of you who responded to our recent survey on credibility and trustworthiness regarding our food and the food system that produces it. You spoke up loud and clear, with firm points of view and some insightful comments.

Since we began Dirt to Dinner years ago, you have made it very clear how important it is to have timely, accurate, and believable information about food. But to be of value to you, our information must be credible. You want us to meet your standards and expectations. We must work constantly to make sure we understand what enables our posts and other information to do that. That’s what our survey wanted to explore.

The findings

Here is a recap of the top-line findings from our survey – and some of the comments you made about this important subject.

Our survey focused on a few simple questions:

  1. What are your major sources of information about food and our food system?
  2. How do you rank those sources for credibility and trustworthiness?
  3. What are the major factors you use in assessing credibility and trustworthiness?

We will take a look at your responses below. But first, let’s take a step back and set the stage with a few general observations about the big messages within all the numbers.

First, who you know counts most.

You told us that your greatest sense of credibility and trust comes from people you know best or people and organizations that you already know.

People matter more than institutions, like businesses or big or distant organizations. The closer the personal relationship to the source of information, the greater the trust and credibility. First-hand information from actual people is valued far more than indirect, impersonal pronouncements from faceless institutions.

Second, credentials matter. 

When it comes to understanding our food – especially things like health and nutrition – professional standing means a great deal. You trust scientists, educators, doctors, and healthcare professionals. Close behind, you once again value the opinion of people close to you, notably family and friends.

None of that is a big surprise…but the gap between the credibility and trustworthiness of those groups compared with other sources of information was significant. We’ll look into that below.

Next, the facts…

Science and objectivity that so often come with credentials are paramount.

Credentialed people are seen to be driven by reason rather than emotion. Facts count, and impartial analysis of those facts is critical to presenting informed judgments. Fairness and impartiality are cornerstones of trust. And once again, people close to you – friends and family again – are known well enough to provide a greater degree of trust than strangers.

…and the farmers.

You trust the people who actually produce the food far more than most others along the chain from dirt to dinner.

When it comes to food, farmers are in elite company. You indicated an innate willingness to trust people at the front lines of providing us with the food we need.  Farmers and ranchers rank competitively with scientists, healthcare professionals, and educators as preferred sources of information.  People who have actually lived within the world of agriculture matter more to you than those who haven’t.

And some things that just jumped out at us:

  • The more distant and impersonal the source of information, the lower the level of credibility and trustworthiness. Businesses and business leaders, advertisers, industry and special interest groups, and to a certain extent government institutions, fared relatively poorly in your assessment of their credibility and trustworthiness as an information source.
  • Search engines, social media and podcasts seem to be important, but not yet as important as other valued sources of information. Most source categories in our survey generated strong opinion one way or another about their importance in shaping credibility and trust. But search engines and social media showed a remarkable balance between being “extremely important” or “not at all important.”
  • For all the criticism heaped upon our modern media, you indicated that national and local media remain an important source of information for you. Cable television sources, however, fared very poorly in our survey for credibility and trustworthiness.  Once again, it appears that sources who do the best job of establishing some form of quasi-personal or ‘family-like’ connection with viewers fare better than loud, argumentative, and clearly opinionated talking heads.

The ‘Uh-ohs’

We tested the same issues with a slightly different focus to assess the consistency of opinion.

  • Some of the lowest rankings for trustworthiness on food-related matters include ads, media personalities, social media influencers, and government officials:

  • Some of the lowest rankings for credibility on food-related matters include celebrities and influencers, corporations, and environmental groups.

Compare the low-ranked sources of information with those ranking highest in trust in the above chart: scientists/researchers (77% trust), friends & family (71%), and doctors/healthcare professionals (68%).

…and credibility in the information reported from educational institutions (73% credible) and farm/trade organizations (74%).

Respondent comments

Many of you also had your own personal comments to make about the survey and what’s important to you about your information sources when it comes to food. Here is just a sampling of what you had to say:

Bringing it back to D2D

Thank you once again for helping us with our continuous efforts to make Dirt-to-Dinner better and better. Your opinions are some of the most helpful guides we have to identify the kinds of posts you value, the sources we rely upon and the standards we set for the content we produce. With your help, we’ll make our site the most credible and trusted source of information about food and our food system available anywhere. To view charts derived from the survey data, please click here.

Have a wonderful 4th of July!

– The Dirt to Dinner Team

5 Ways to Ensure What You Read is Scientifically Credible

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

Because of the internet and social media platforms, information spreads in a split-second, reaching thousands of users in minutes. However, this means that false news spreads just as fast. If you’re wondering how to know if what we read is accurate and credible, we’re here to help!

5. Check the references

Information that’s scientifically credible will have references to peer-reviewed articles. This means that multiple institutions have verified the research to be accurate. They’re also found in accredited medical journals, written by professionals with credentials in their related industry, or cite credible sources like government organizations and universities.

It’s a good idea to start here when trying to determine if something is credible. If there are no references cited, it’s probably best to ignore that article.

4. Is there bias?

Checking for bias is another critical first step when deciding if something is credible or not. One way to do this is to check if the organization is cherry-picking data. This means that they’re only using current and outdated data that supports their specific agenda and ignores anything that conflicts.

Another way to check for bias is to see if there’s a political pull. Any site can have an agenda, even if they don’t explicitly state it. Read the “About Us” page to see an organization’s policies, actions, campaigns, donors, and lobbies they promote.

3. Do other sites use the same facts?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if research is reputable. Looking at other websites to see if they use the same research is an excellent way to check. It can also help you determine if an organization uses credible, peer-reviewed research because this research will be cited repeatedly.

It’s also a good idea to see how an organization is using the facts. Are they describing them the same way they were described in the research, or are they using it to support their own agenda?

2. What does the article look like?

Every article should have a few things: an author, a title, and quality writing. If it’s not clear who wrote the article, it could have been written in-house to promote an agenda. The same is true if there are no references at all. Credible organizations will cite their information from scientific studies or other well-known, credible sources.

The quality of writing should also be good. That means no typos, wrong words used, poor grammar, etc.

1. How much do they spend researching their cause?

And, how much do they spend on marketing that information?

All non-profits must publicly disclose their financials on their website. For example, EWG’s Statement of Activities page states that 13% of their expenses went toward marketing and fundraising. But, if you dig deeper, their Functional Expenses reveals a higher figure where each subcategory has its own marketing expenses. This compares to only 2% of their expenses going to research and data.

For an organization that releases a list that leads people to fear certain foods, there is not much research happening there.

Check out the full Discerning Dozen below:

Avoiding conventional strawberries? Ask these questions first…

On the run? LISTEN to our post!

Many regular food shoppers anxiously await the results of the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list. Even if you don’t know what or who EWG is, you’re probably aware that conventional strawberries and other common produce items are supposedly loaded with toxic pesticides. With all the press this list gets, you might assume the research behind it must be scientifically credible, right? Well…

Developing Our ‘Reliability Radar’

Some of our everyday news sources, like social media, flood us with information. And unfortunately, much of it isn’t credible. Many websites try to cloud our objective reasoning by intentionally misrepresenting data to ‘sell’ a perspective, much like the sudden popularity of the celery juice diet that Hayley Philip previously wrote about.

So how can we build our analytical defenses back up? We’ve put together our own unique list — “The Discerning Dozen” — a compilation of tips to help you identify good science from pseudoscience. This way, you can be the judge when catchy news stories like The Dirty Dozen are released.

The Discerning Dozen explores four topics to help determine a site’s credentials: credibility, accuracy/transparency, bias, and quality.

In each, we’ll walk you through a few questions to ask about any article that will help you spot problems in the logic. We’ve even created an infographic to have handy for future readings!


Though challenging to read, studies from .edu and .gov websites lay the foundation for good research. Try to stick with sources that use respected institutions to verify their practices and reporting. 

  1. Is it written by someone from a credible establishment? Reports and studies from recognizable institutions (academic, governmental, and/or medical) often have the most detail and are peer-reviewed, meaning other institutions have verified the research. Accredited medical journals with .org and .com sites, of course, can be good resources, too. Newbies to exhaustive reports can read the overviews typically found on the first page to understand the big picture. Still need an interpreter? Check out; it’s a great resource for deciphering studies and has a simple, intuitive interface. is easy to navigate, too.
  2. Does it include knowledgeable industry experts and authors? Trustworthy reports and articles come from professionals with credentials in their related industry. These experts usually provide insight garnered from data, rather than opinion and specious claims.
  3. Which references does the report cite? Reliable research that’s not written by a credible establishment and doesn’t come from an industry expert should, at the very least, cite credible sources, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture or Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to substantiate any claims.

That’s a nice little circle of trust there, right? But as we know from life, few things are that easy…yes, there’s more to consider.


So the site ends in .org or .com and it’s not a medical journal. What’s the next step to check its trustworthiness?

  1. Is it cherry-picking data? This is when an organization only shows data that supports their agenda but fails to address conflicting info or cites data out of context, and/or relies on outdated data since nothing more recent aligns with their purpose.
  2. Do other sites use the same facts? Hopefully, you can find the same information cited by other credible institutions.
  3. How much do they spend on researching their cause – and how much for marketing? All non-profits must publicly disclose financials on their site; you just have to dig for it. For instance, on EWG’s Statement of Activities page, 13% of their expenses went toward marketing and fundraising – not horrible. However, Functional Expenses reveals a much higher figure: in addition to fundraising, each subcategory also has its own marketing expenses. Furthermore, only a paltry 2% of their expenses is going to research and data. That’s not much funding for finding solutions to a problem, is it?

Click here to download infographic.


Time to take a peek under the hood when the site’s validity is not easily determined.

  1. Do a domain double-check: Sites ending in .com and .org aren’t as regulated as the .gov and .edu sites of the world, so you’ll need to dig into the “about us” page for some background. Sometimes it’s hard to tell reputable foundations from organizations peddling questionable products or ideas. So be sure to read the bios of the management team and authors to determine reliability.
  2. Is there political pull? Any site can have an agenda, but not all of them explicitly state it. Advocacy websites, like PETA, are quite clear in their intentions. Reading the “About Us” page can tell you which policies, actions, campaigns, and lobbies they promote.
  3. Is it clear who wrote the article? This is a simple one we often overlook. If the author isn’t stated and/or doesn’t cite sources used for its research, then you can quickly determine it was written in-house to promote the organization’s stance.
  4. Is there only one answer? Does the author address alternative viewpoints on the topic? Good writers don’t omit or contest credible data that conflicts with their intent.


If you manufacture a product, you know about quality control – measures and precautions taken to ensure customers that everything is in good working order. This goes for websites, too…

  1. How’s the quality of the writing? Typos? Wrong words used? Time to check the author and his/her data.
  2. Don’t judge a site by its homepage. Does the site look rather simplistic? Or so polished and bursting with content that you feel like you found a goldmine of good material? No matter the design, the site is only as good as its underlying content, so vet it accordingly.

Jack Bobo: How We Choose Our Food

At D2D, we find Jack’s insights on consumers interesting and unique. He brings an informative perspective about our choices in the grocery store. Jack searches into the questions that drive our decisions in the marketplace, such as:

In the following interview with Jack, we scratch the surface on some of these curious topics.

D2D: How did you shift your focus from global conservation to understanding consumer food choices?

Jack: I was stationed in Mekambo, Gabon when I worked for the Peace Corp. in Africa. As I lay awake at night listening to the rain patter on the tree canopy, I vowed to protect these beautiful forests. Fast forward to my work with the State Department, it became clear that one of the biggest impacts on our environment is agriculture. My hero is Nobel Prize Winner Norman Borlaug who started as a forester, yet he saved more forests as an agronomist.

What is your personal mission?

The agricultural system has to grow 60% more food by 2050 using less land, water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Technology is key. Unfortunately, we love innovation almost as much as we despise change. There is no place we dislike change more than in the food we eat. This has led to a polarization of understanding about the role of science and technology in sustainably feeding the world.

I would like to de-escalate the tensions in the food system to save the planet. There is not just one answer and one production method. We need diversity of thought and diversity of methods. It is also important for the farmers to have the freedom to farm the way it works best for their land.

As I learned about science, agriculture, and the potential to solve these problems at the State Department, I was taken aback by the lack of public support for agricultural technology. I went on a journey to discover how to educate consumers on food science and agricultural technology. I spoke to thousands of people in dozens of countries. What I learned was: If you lead with the science, you may lose with the science. Science tends to polarize the conversation. This led me to study behavior science, psychology, and consumer trends.

Why do we, as food consumers, not trust research and science?

The lack of experience with food production has led to a trust lost between food producers and the public. Consumers are not convinced that companies have their best interest at heart. But this is not just food companies – there is a lack of trust in many organizations across the sectors. The internet has accelerated this because we get information and answers from different places. It can be liberating – like getting a second opinion – and on the other hand, make people more skeptical on any advice they are given.

“Consumers have never cared more, nor known less, how their food was produced.”

This has led to the desire for transparency. Where does our food come from and whom do we trust? Animal welfare, the environment, production practices, and food safety are all topics that the consumers wants to understand.

How does the consumer know whom to trust?

We only ask questions if we don’t trust and never ask questions if we do trust. Most people don’t ask the necessary questions.  For instance, are you concerned about local issues, global issues, or both? Are you willing to change your mind based on new information? What makes you trust an organization? Why do you not trust the information source? These are the types of questions to ask yourself before making a decision.

In your talks, you mention the difference between Hazard and Risk. Can you explain how that applies to food?

A hazard is something that can cause harm, and risk is something that does cause harm. A shark in the water is a hazard, but not if we are standing on land. Even if you are in the water, it is a low risk (1 in 3,748,067). Most consumers are hard-wired to know hazard. If it can hurt us, we immediately believe it will hurt us. Risk is a statistical concept.

Consumers mainly perceive risk by communication through various organizations such as businesses, governments, and NGOs. Governments are good about communicating real risks – like coronavirus. They do not focus on hazards. Through marketing and the internet, consumers are flooded with information on hazards that might hurt us.

Regulators think of risk like this: “Hazard multiplied by Exposure equals Risk”. My formula is now: Hazard times Media Exposure equals Perception of Risk. Let’s take Hint water as an example. It is non-GMO, gluten free, sugar free, sweetener free, preservative free, vegan, no MSG, nuts, soy, and the bottles are BPA-free. This leads the consumer to believe these items are in most of our foods and will hurt us. And, with all these perceived ‘risks’, we grow fearful of our food.

When you say that people don’t see reality as it is, what do you mean?

Often our brain sees things as we want to see them. It uses mental shortcuts to make decisions, but often that can lead to the wrong result. Take this chart below: you automatically think there are two hues of blue, when in reality, it’s all the same hue.

Also, there is confirmation bias, which is the root of polarization. We look for information consistent with our beliefs and avoid information that is inconsistent. Our brain also uses word association as a short cut. For instance, with the word ‘natural’, we think of positive thoughts, such as fresh, home-baked bread and honey. We don’t think of Ebola and Zika viruses – which are also natural. We tend not to support man-made things because our brain wants to think of things it understands.

In general, we don’t really understand food safety additions, such as food additives and food preservatives, so we tend to avoid them. For instance, many people avoid chemicals in their foods, but what many don’t realize is that foods are made up of chemicals, whether natural or man-made.

What kind of articles can we look forward to reading?

I will be writing on subjects about consumers. For example, how decisions are made; why we fear the food we eat; and how powerful words change our feelings. There will be a series of 10 articles on the Futurity website. Some of these ideas were covered in a TED Talk I gave last year.

Click here to be directed to Futurity Food

We look forward to summarizing Jack’s concepts on Dirt to Dinner in the future.

Interested in Jack’s perspective on another topic? Email us at!

Why are we buying so much toilet paper?!

Such behavior has become common amid the global spread of COVID-19. The empty shelves bear witness to the fact that consumers around the world are stockpiling hand sanitizer, canned foods, toilet paper, and other goods.

The Mob Mentality

A number of books have been written about the “wisdom of crowds” and how groups of people often arrive at better decisions than individuals. Unfortunately, crowds can also become mobs. When that happens, the decisions they make generally ignore their own conscience or rational judgement – thus are not in the best interest of society or individuals.

When people are stressed, it can be difficult to think rationally. As a result, we look around to see what others are doing. When we see people scrambling for toilet paper or spaghetti, we tend to engage in similar behavior. The funny part is we may be stocking up on foods that we wouldn’t normally eat, such as lots and lots of pasta and chips. When was the last time you ate canned peaches?

For this reason, it may not be a good idea to post your photos of empty shelves on social media. If you do, you are sending signals that goods are in short supply, which could stress your friends and family and encourage panic-buying that hurts us all.

Why Are We Acting Like This?

While panic-buying may seem irrational—does anybody really need 80 rolls of toilet paper?!it isn’t unreasonable for us to emulate the behavior of those who came before. After all, if everybody else is stocking up on toilet paper, it won’t be long before there isn’t any left for reasonable people. Better to grab the last couple packages while you can!

Behavioral economics and cognitive psychology can help us make sense of these behaviors. Information cascades and herd behavior describe how it sometimes makes sense to go along with the crowd even when you do not believe they are behaving rationally.

Understanding what is happening in the grocery store means recognizing that we do not shop simply to meet our physical needs but also to meet our emotional needs. “Retail therapy” occurs when we make purchases to manage our emotional state. Such purchases allow us to take back control in situations where we feel particularly out of control.

Where We Find Value

The coronavirus pandemic makes it particularly difficult for people to get control of their lives. It isn’t clear how long the crisis will go on or how bad things will ultimately get. In reality, sitting at home doing nothing may be the best course of action for most of us, but it does not contribute to a sense of control.

While panic buying may be irrational, other consumers behaviors make better sense. In particular, we are looking for longer term value in our purchases. This can be seen in the types of goods that consumers are buying and the shelves they are picking clean. Consumers are drawn to canned and dried goods that will keep for a long time as well as frozen foods. This was especially clear during the first couple weeks when consumers were advised to stock up.

This search for value also explains why some foods and brands remained on the shelves while seemingly similar products disappeared. In my local store, consumers focused on store brands over premium products. Pricey sauces and expensive oils remained on the shelves while lower cost versions were absent.

Planning for the Long Haul

As the coronavirus situation develops over the weeks and months ahead, we can expect to see further shifts in consumer behavior. I’ve seen some changes already at my local grocery store. While it may not reflect broader patterns, I noticed last week that the shelves of beef products were empty, while chicken remained readily available. This week, I noticed the opposite was the case. This could mean that consumers stocked up last week on beef and are now looking to do the same with chicken, or it could mean that they are shifting purchasing patterns to lower cost options in anticipation of the crisis lasting longer. Time will tell.

As time passes, economics and refrigerator space, will overtake consumer psychology in dictating purchasing behavior. Panic-buying of products with limited shelf life won’t make sense. Consumers will find a new rhythm for their purchases.

Many consumers will also begin to feel the financial pinch of lost earnings soon, if they haven’t already. Consumers unable to work will need to make their savings last longer. 27% of Americans have little or no savings, and the average American has about $183,000 in all bank and retirement accounts. Sheltering-in-place will impact tens of millions of Americans who have jobs but are not able to work, therefore not bringing home a paycheck.

Mapping the Road Ahead

Looking much further out, to a time when the worst of the crisis passes, we may see lasting changes in consumer food purchasing patterns. Consumers may find that some labels that seemed so important at the beginning of the year no longer seem quite so meaningful any longer. They may be reminded that “natural” does not guarantee safety, as the coronavirus demonstrated. On the other hand, it won’t be surprising if interest resurges in superfoods and functional foods, which can demonstrate real health benefits, perhaps helping them fend off the next COVID-19.

For now, pay attention to your behavior. Do you really need that extra roll of paper towels or toilet paper, or are you just stocking up? Pay attention to your own conscience and your own household needs rather than the frantic person pushing the grocery cart next to yours. Rest assured, the grocery stores will continue to be stocked with food and supplies.