Food Systems

food systems

This research was designed to explain the public conversation Americans are inclined to have about food, and the perceptual barriers that get in the way of their understanding of the larger food system. The reports offered below identify: (1) how communications choices can work against public engagement on these issues, and (2) how the case for protecting and reforming the food system can be reframed to encourage greater understanding and support.

Our Funders:

Support for FrameWorks’ research and message development on Food Systems was provided by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Research & Recommendations

A comprehensive strategic message memo, Framing The Food System: A FrameWorks Message Memo (2006) distills the research and explains the recommended strategies to communicate more effectively about government

How to Talk About Food Systems
(2008).  This Message Brief distills the research findings and framing strategies explained in the Message Memo, and offers a summary of key communications strategies on the issue.

Upside Down Fate: Analysis of a Priming Survey Exploring Views of the Food System (2006).  This report summarizes findings of a national telephone survey of 3,294 adults conducted to determine the effects of various conceptual frames on people’s understanding of the food system and their support for related policies. This survey concludes that communicators have a real opportunity to shape the public debate on the issues facing the food production system. Three main reframes are tested and shown to be effective, particularly when combined with the simplifying model.

Conceptualizing US Food Systems with Simplifying Models: Findings from the TalkBack Testing (2006).  Previous research has established that members of the public have no clear understanding or mental image of the Food System. To improve the public conversations about food systems, advocates must provide the public with conceptual tools that can help them think not like experts, but like “managers.” This report highlights new ways of talking about this issue that can move audiences to having more of a sense of collective responsibility.

The Food Chain: Linking Private Plate to Public Process, an Analysis of Qualitative Research Exploring Perceptions of the Food System (2006).  This report shares the findings from a series of six focus groups, held in different regions of the country. To move public support for this issue, communicators need to see this as an effort to educate the public. This involves: explaining how the food system works, how choices in production have consequences for human health, and how policy can be effective in improving the system.

Harmful and Productive Patterns in Newspaper Representations of Food Systems (2005).  Reporting by the news media creates a set of default understandings and expectations that act as a kind of lens through which Americans see the world. This analysis examines the ways in which the food systems are presented to readers, directly and indirectly, in the nation’s newspapers. Findings suggest that careful attention to some basic principles can make a tremendous difference in the audience’s thinking.

All Trees and No Forest: How Advocacy Paradigms Obscure Public Understanding of the Food System (2005).  This memo reports on a series of formal interviews with expert advocates involved in a wide variety of issues related to food systems. We consider the understandings that expert advocates bring to the subject, how those understandings shape their communications, and the likely impacts of these communications among the public.

Digesting Public Opinion: A Meta-Analysis of Attitudes Toward Food, Health, and Farms (2005). In this review of existing public opinion data, FrameWorks identifies what is already known about public opinion in relevant issue areas before exploring new avenues for communications. The overview is organized into three primary sections: Food and Health, which discusses public perceptions of health and the role that food plays in human health; Food Processing, which reviews public understanding of the dangers, benefits, and innovations in processing that affect food quality; and Farming, which discusses public perceptions of a range of farm-specific issues.

Not While I’m Eating: How and Why Americans Don’t Think About Food Systems (2005). This report explores the public’s default patterns of thought related to food systems. It is by means of these understandings (cognitive and cultural “models”) that people think, learn and communicate. The public’s default modes of thinking about food are explored and new methods for communicating are suggested.

Our Products and Tools


Talking Food Systems Toolkit is a comprehensive toolkit of our research on American Food Systems, containing Frequently Asked Questions, talking points, sample speeches and other communications resources on the issue. 

Talking Food Systems E-Workshop This highly visual E-Workshop will take you through the research findings on American Food Systems and test your framing IQ in a series of interactive exercises.


FrameWorks Institute

  Updated: 06/24/16