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Alumna’s Award-Winning Book Exposes, Combats ‘Food Bullies’

Russ White
Michele Payn, Kirk Heinze (photo taken before pandemic)

Bullying takes many insidious forms, some overt and others more covert—like food bullying.

“Food has become a battleground where spurious marketing labels and misinformation are used to cajole, manipulate, even shame consumers about their eating choices.”

So writes Michele Payn (’93 B.S., Animal Science; ’93 B.S., Agriculture and Natural Resources Communication) in her third book, Food Bullying:  How to Avoid Buying B.S., (Morgan James, 2019), recipient of the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) Gold Medal in Health, Medicine and Nutrition.

Credit Russ White

Armed with science, compelling personal stories, and a lifetime on the farm, Payn challenges the way we think about food.

“I believe deeply in choice, especially when it comes to food.  I wrote Food Bullying to help people first become aware of the subtle, sophisticated, often devious ways they are manipulated and then to develop strategies for making guilt-free food choices based on their own ethical, environmental and health standards.”

Payn, also a nationally acclaimed public speaker and consultant, began her business, Cause Matters, at age 30.   “When I was at Michigan State, I knew I wanted to work in the agricultural industry and I would someday launch a business.  But I never imagined I would do that at age 30.”

One of the salient themes running through all Payn’s  work is the importance of dialogue among agricultural producers, consumers, doctors, nutritionists and other key influentials in the food industry.  “Communication among knowledgeable professionals ensures that science-based information becomes the key component of food purchasing decisions—rather than marketing claims or testimonials from organizations with special agendas.” 

Payn grew up on a dairy farm outside Jonesville, MI and attended Litchfield High School.  “Because of frequent visits to the beautiful MSU campus for 4-H and FFA events, there was never any doubt where I would go to college.”  Her passion for dairy cows continues as a Registered Holstein Breeder on her farm in central Indiana.

The dual degree program was challenging, Payn recalls, but the blending of the animal sciences and communication provided the career preparation she sought.   Her advice to MSU students interested in working in the food and agriculture industry:  “Despite the recent tough economic times, people in the industry are resilient; we will get through this, and there will continue to be excellent career opportunities for Michigan State graduates.”

“One of many things I learned at MSU is that nothing builds strength like overcoming difficulty.   Keep your mind open to possibilities; don’t limit your dreams.  And avail yourself of all the wonderful opportunities MSU offers, especially the faculty and staff whose support and guidance will prove invaluable.”    

In addition to her commitment to family and career, Payn volunteers for a number of organizations, including Big Sisters, Boone County 4-H, and National FFA.  She is also past president of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Alumni Board. 

Payn’s work has been featured in USA Today, Food Insight, and Food & Nutrition Magazine, on CNN and NPR and many other media outlets. She is also the author of No More Food Fights! and Food Truths from Farm to Table, also an IPPY award winner in Health, Medicine and Nutrition. 

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