I felt tricked the first time that my AirBnb selection seriously under-delivered. I trusted those professional wide-lens photos where the room was spacious and clean. Out the window, there didn’t appear to be a major hospital, but hello! Sirens! All night! The pictures didn’t tell me the bathroom was dingy and tiny, or that the roommate wouldn’t emerge from his(?) room but seemed to be in there, which was a little creepy, and they didn’t say the cats would a little too comfortable with the visitors (says someone who doesn’t mind being a “cat person”). I mean, for the most part, I’d learned to lower my expectations with AirBnb — this was no luxury hotel service, but it was trustworthy. Reviews spoke loudly, pictures were to be browsed but not totally believed, and okay, sometimes there are friendly animals who could use a bath. But, in general, you trust that you’re staying somewhere safe, with or without someone who won’t do or say anything too strange, and it’ll serve as a place to sleep, shower, and leave your stuff. Deal.
I could regale you with tales of every AirBnb I stayed in last summer from June to August, but that’s not the point (today – we can go back to that though! Good times!). The point is that the infrastructure of internet-based businesses has changed how quick we are to trust something, no industry spared. Nutrition included.
State of affairs: food news on the internet
I started a “Real Talk” series on Spright last summer because now that my job involved more writing and keeping a pulse on what the media was saying, I proactively realized what the media was actually saying. Instead of waiting for a friend or family member to ask, “What do you think about __?” and then going back to research the fad du jour, I was trying to find them first. And damn, what a shit-show the internet is these days, right? It takes you 0.00002 seconds to find any answers you want on Google, about 0.05 to find a research study that “supports” it, and about 1 second to read the abbreviated version available. Because, why dig deeper?
Writing those posts was a lesson in both patience and diligence for me. Turns out I wasn’t doing all the things I knew I should be doing very often, like read the actual studies (not news pieces on them). I quickly realized how untrustworthy even some of the highly regarded publications can be (looking at you, NYT).
High page views, click through rates, and conversions are prioritized over presenting you with any substantial information. An author’s celebrity (or appearance) is more likely to lure you than their credentials; a catchy title more likely to get your click than one that actually describes what the post is about (or why you should care, if at all). But not enough people question things anymore; instead they just trust it, because the internet says.
Who do you trust when it comes to nutrition information? Why?
There isn’t a right or wrong answer to that — except obviously credentialed professionals, such as dietitians — but I just want you to think about it. The next time you catch yourself reading, scrolling, or seeking food or health related information, catch where you’re going or what information you’re looking for. Why are they calling something “healthy”? What does that even mean? Why are they telling you to do or not do one thing? Is it complicated or simple advice? Who’s giving it? Do you feel like you’re trusting the words you’re reading? Why?
I’m not saying dietitians are the end-all be-all for nutrition news, we certainly aren’t. Researchers, journalists who dig deep, authors who make us think, and consumers who question things are all going to teach us something. I’m just saying that we have more information available to us now than ever before, but that doesn’t mean it’s all worth your trust or time.