Oklahoma State University professor Anna Zeide’s presentation on the history of the canning industry brought together several broad topics.
Zeide’s presentation served as an introduction to her book “Canned: The Rise and Fall of Consumer Confidence in the American Food Industry,” which is set to release Tuesday.
Over 40 people attended Zeide’s presentation, which began with the relevancy of canned food’s history.
“Food brings together all kinds of interests when you think of where food comes from,” Zeide said. “Big broad topics that everyone engages with on a daily basis.”
Zeide said her research led her to study business, technology, gender and history in order to fully understand the effects of canning on American society.
Zeide’s book began as a dissertation during her studies at the University of Wisconsin. During her research, Zeide said she became interested in transparency issues in the food industry.
“Claims of slanted scientific research, marketing to manipulate customers, resistance to government regulation and highly-processed, unhealthy foods interested me,” Zeide said. “What lead us to this moment? Who was responsible?”
Zeide’s presentation was focused on two main time periods and attitudes toward consumers.
The first, spanning from 1800 to 1930, was a consumer-driven culture among canning companies. Canning organizations invested money into advocacy for government regulations and food safety research in order to win the trust of consumers.
The second time period, 1930 to today, is focused more on gaining consumer trust through marketing and psychology. Zeide said companies now try to win over consumers by spending money on advertising campaigns and branding, rather than product safety research. This has led to a concern about company transparency.
A concern Zeide discussed was the questionable safety of Bisphenol A, which she said is used in most canned food. Many studies have linked BPA to cancer, reproductive disorders, ADHD and more, but Zeide said the canning industry is resistant to those claims.
When asked about the near future of the processed food industry, Zeide said her confidence in change is low.
“The ways of the food industry are pretty deeply entrenched,” Zeide said. “Alternative food movements are encouraging some tweaks, but aren’t making large impacts on the standards used in processed food. There is a large role for the government to play in the regulation of food.”