Food Without Thought

The other day I was in produce section of the co-op and noticed a beautiful blood orange that had recently been cut in half. “Let me know if you’d like to try some. Just had one and it was delicious.” I turned around to find a friendly employee smiling while unpacking bananas. Without thinking, I responded, “Sure, i’d love to!” The slice of orange was delicious, and I ended up buying some. As I proceeded to the bulk section, I found myself ruminating over my instantaneous response to the employee’s offer. I glanced down at the oranges in my basket and realized I had just fallen for a subtle marketing gimmick. By offering samples, City Market can get customers to eat more of what they sell. Similar marketing methods are employed everywhere; it seems anything food related is set up to encourage us to eat more, not less. Why? Turns out that there’s too much available food in the U.S. today. In Why Calories Count, Marion Nestle explains that rates of obesity sharply increased in the 1980’s as the result of changes in agricultural and economic polities that promoted greater food production. The result? The number of calories available in the U.S. food supply rose from 3,200 per capita per day in 1980 to 3,900 in 1990. The average adult needs only needs half of that amount, and kids much less (Nestle, 2012). With the proliferation of cheap, convenient foods in our society there’s no denying that the norms surrounding eating have shifted. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, today half the typical family’s food budget is for foods prepared and eaten outside of the home. I suddenly recalled all the times I’d mindlessly sampled food at the grocery store, eaten because food was in front of me, grabbed food on the go for convenience sake, or conversely, grabbed more food than I need just because it was available. The fact is, companies make money when we eat more, not less. It’s vital that we not let increasingly subtle marketing methods employed by food companies slip past our consciousness and into our bellies. We live in a society where 60% of adults are considered overweight and 1/3 obese. More than ever, we must critically think about our food choices and recognize that companies benefit from us getting larger. Ultimately, it is our choice whether or not we want to bear the brunt of overabundance within the food system.


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6 Comments on “Food Without Thought”

  1. David
    April 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    Extremely interesting article. I like the notion supposing that as the company’s sales grow bigger, so do our waistlines. It makes sense that the food companies would push overeating, because it’s better for their bottom line! I would like to see if companies have discussed anything along the lines of changing their target markets to the obese; and for that matter, if they’ve discussed the repercussions of obesity, diabetes, death, etc… and its effect on their sales.

    Interesting how the graph that depicts calories per person per day shows an increase of 25% over the past few decades; I wonder if obesity has increased at a faster, slower, or similar rate in comparison to this graph.

    Awesome article!

  2. Sasha
    April 6, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    This post is very informative. I knew the percentages had to be somewhere around there, however did not realize it was up to 60%!! Shocking and scary. I think this is something most people don’t think of and often get tricked by when grocery shopping. While it is good for the economy and business, it is definitely not good for our health. How can we influence the markets/shops to stop this? Is that even possible? Can we really blame grocery stores for our obesity or should we start taking some self responsibility?

  3. April 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    Thank you for the clarity of your posts. If only the food industry were as straight-forward, informative, and transparent! With regard to Sasha’s post, I think self responsibility is critical in this context, where we are privileged enough to have access to this kind of information and are able to see subtle marketing methods at work. I am glad you ate a sample of orange rather than a sample of something not as beneficial for your body ; ) Thus, knowing that this reality exists, that grocery stores are an institution with a goal to make money, I think it is important to acknowledge that a shift in the paradigm could mean focusing on what is being sampled (with regard to ingredients and/or companies & their practices) instead of attempting to dismantle an entire structure (i.e. it seems we are not going to move forward by banning marketing techniques such as sampling). I think you raise an important point with regard to mindfulness — we can be, to an extent, in control of what we consume.

  4. April 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Thank you for the clarity of your posts! If only the food industry were as straight-forward, informative, and transparent.
    With regard to Sasha’s post, I think that self responsibility is a critical point; we have the privilege of access to this kind of information, so we can take responsibility for our decisions as consumers. As you mentioned in your post, mindfulness becomes the challenge here as we bring our attention to subtle marketing strategies and our own habits as consumers.

    I think that in this sense a paradigm shift cannot be focused on the reality of grocery stores as part of an industry that attempts to make a profit, because this is connected to the greater reality of how our political and economic systems function. The solution doesn’t seem to reside in banning certain marketing strategies such as sampling, but rather in focusing on what is being sampled with regard to ingredients and the company’s business practices. I think it is a positive note that you were being enticed to try an orange instead of, say, a candy bar; then again I know nothing about the company selling the oranges (i.e. how they treat their employees, where they get/ grow their product, etc).

    A thought-provoking article. I look forward to reading more.


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