Bruce Ferrere, Senior Quality Assurance Manager, HP Hood

Am I a curmudgeon? I ask myself that a lot lately. But then I realize there is much that we all worry about, complain about, and just plain think about.

My latest woe is what I call “first-world problems.” We’ve all seen these in our daily lives:

  • Like when the coffee pot breaks and we get to complain that we have to stop at a coffee shop on the way to work.
  • Like when we hear customers and consumers ask for more organic foods in the market (or gluten free, or fair trade, or non GMO), and we have to hold back our anger because we know approximately one hundred thousand (100,000!) of earth’s residents will die today because of starvation and malnourishment.
  • Like when we insist on getting a bottle of water from the store instead of a drink from a water fountain (or “bubbler” if you live in New England)?

I don’t think I’m really a curmudgeon (well, not always, though I have introduced myself as such). But I do think that people spend their time focused on topics the wrong way. There is certainly a better way to improve the world than doing what many of us are doing.

Why is it we fret over so many silly things when we should be working to solve the world’s bigger problems?

Let’s compare some of these. (I know I’m preaching to the choir of QA readers, but hang in there, I wrap it back to us in the end.)

First-world problem:I don’t buy “processed” foods because food that is processed is bad for you. If this is you, please don’t eat bread. The grain was processed into flour; the flour was mixed (processed) with other ingredients, leavened, and baked (processed) in an oven. Please prepare to enjoy more food poisonings because you cannot drink pasteurized (processed) milk. And you can’t just boil it at home, because that means you processed it. And please plan for the waste involved in trying to consume all the foods that will spoil if they are not processed. Most fresh items are only available and fresh for a short time. Our ancestors recognized the value in drying, preserving and otherwise “processing” these fresh items so that they would be available in times of short supply.

And that apple you just bought in May was probably processed. It was harvested last September and washed to remove any soil (read: bird poop) and then stored in a controlled atmosphere to prevent it from ripening further.

Bigger issue to consider: Like the majority of Americans today, we live in a metropolis. Not much food is grown in a big metropolis.

First-world solution: Consider trying to solve the riddle of how to get food from the place it grows to the place it’s consumed, when it’s wanted by consumers, without processing it.

A first-world problem: when the coffee pot breaks and we get to complain that we have to stop at a coffee shop on the way to work.
©Scott Griessel | Adobestock

First-world problem: Not enough of the food I find at the local grocery store is certified organic.

Bigger issue to consider: Coming soon to a planet you may have heard of – nine billion (9,000,000,000!) humans to feed. How will we feed the world? Organic is only one potential method of farming that provides benefits and drawbacks. Other methods of farming also have benefits and drawbacks. No single method alone will provide all the answers needed in a world of nine billion people.

First-world solution: Consider that growing foods by organic standards alone will not feed the world, and get involved to find methods that will improve feeding the world.

First-world problem: There’s too much salt in my processed foods. The food industry is poisoning me.

Bigger issue to consider: The consumer controls the food industry, not vice versa. The food industry has listened to consumers and customers for years. It has learned what consumers want from what consumers buy. If consumers don’t buy it, the manufacturer sees that it is not a desired product and it goes away (or gets changed or improved). Also, understand that eliminating salt is not the answer. Both sodium and potassium are necessary nutrients in our diets, as are many other “salts.”

First-world solution: Both consumers and manufacturers need to quit blaming each other, and work together.

  • Consumers: get involved with your food supply; learn why salts are used and their benefits; but do continue to show your side by not purchasing what you now understand to be oversalted.
  • Manufacturers: understand the best use of salts and don’t overdo it to give consumers a reason to balk.
  • Everyone: Adjust your diet to consume a well-balanced fare and minimize your own salt intake.

First-world problem:An estimated 800,000,000 people in the world are obese.

Bigger issue to consider: About 36,000,000 people on Earth will die this year from starvation; 1,000,000,000 people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

First-world solution: As a society, we need to come together to build a better way to get food to those in need. Can we solve the first-world problem at the same time as we solve the bigger issue?

Circling Back. So what does all this have to do with those of us working in quality assurance and food safety? We are all involved in creating a better world through safe and nutritious foods. Because we work in the food industry, we become the target of those with certain agendas. But instead of simply going on the defense against such first-world thinking, let’s turn the conversation to the bigger picture and work with consumers and customers to solve the bigger issues.

I recently heard the phrase, “Science doesn’t care what you think.” I think that is a great phrase to open conversations with first-world thinkers. Science states a hypothesis and then sets out to prove or disprove it. Can we use the proofs that have been established as conversation starters? Then agree that scientists and non-scientists can collaborate together to create first-world solutions? If we can’t, we as a society are in trouble.

Let’s work as a multidimensional team and focus on the bigger issues.