What’s being left out of the conversation on buying in bulk?

The bulk department of the co-op is a favorite for many customers, including myself. It’s a chance to save some money, save some packaging, and it’s one less trip you might potentially have to make to the store. Earlier this week I observed that there are several subtle marketing methods that affect consumption behavior. The discovery of the vested interests behind my food choices made me feel informed. When I went back to the bulk department yesterday, I was excited by my newfound knowledge. I felt in control and ready to dodge any food companies marketing attempt to get me to buy more.

Turns out,  it’s not that simple. Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, would argue the opposite. His research shows that the biggest influence of food is not logic or reason, but things that we aren’t even aware of. “The size of a package, shape of a glass, the words on a menu or label, our proximity to food, and other invisible influences” are what have the greatest affect on consumption (Why we eat more than we think, Wansink).

In one study looking at how much people eat when food is stockpiled, Wansink found that for the first week people that bought in bulk ate twice as much food in comparison to those that bought in small quantities.

This suggests potentially negative consequences for buying in bulk. Wansink argues that relying on our mental resistance to control how much we eat is far less affective than changing our immediate environment. That said,  customers at the co-op that filled huge bags of granola, chocolate chips, etc. will eat more, regardless of whether or not they intended to and how much self-control they have, simply because the food is stockpiled and in their immediate environment, making us take more at any given time within the first week of purchase. On the flip side,  customers that buy in smaller quantities (i.e. boxed granola) are likely eat less than if they had bought double or triple the amount.

Here’s the trick: if you still want the perks of buying in bulk, but don’t want to eat more,  make sure to transfer food to smaller bags or storage containers once you get home from the grocery store. Then, store leftover  bulk items in the basement or hard to reach place.

Luckily, we can control certain aspects of our environment such as how and where we store our food. Given that buying in bulk is cost effective and reduces our environmental footprint, I highly reccommend it, just next time consider applying these tips!

WP 4/5

U.S. Farm Policy and Consumer Behavior

The other day at the co-op I was paying particular attention to consumer behavior. Essentially, I was paying close and particular attention to the foods that consumers had in their carts and baskets. While a vast majority of people had a least 1-3 items from the produce section, there were the occasion few that did not. I found myself wondering about these occasional few. Did they already have enough vegetables and fruit at home? Do they normally incorporate fruits and vegetables into their daily diet? Are they not buying fruits and vegetables because other foods are cheaper and “more filling”?  These are some of the questions that came to mind.

After leaving City Market that day, I found myself focusing on the last question. That’s when I stumbled upon this chart:

After doing some research, I found one aspect that is often overlooked when looking at the question “why does a salad cost more than a big mac?” is the U.S. Farm Policy which encourages overproduction and driving down the prices of a couple major commodities (i.e. corn and soybeans). The result is food that can be derived from these low cost commodities are what’s made widely available to the consumer for a cheap price. This is why sugar and far are so prevalent today, because they can be derived from corn and soybeans. This also helps to explain why generally speaking unhealthy food is cheaper than fruits and vegetables.

I reflected back to the people I saw in the check out line that didn’t have fruits or vegetables, but had lots of boxed, highly processed yet cheaper products. I couldn’t help but wonder if the situation would be different if the prices for fruits and vegetables were lower. What do you guys think, does the price of fruits and vegetables inhibit you from purchasing them at the grocery store, or do you find a way to incorporate them into your diet while staying within your food budget? I know that I’m able to find a way to incorporate them without spending too much. For example, I often buy veggies from the reduced price section at City Market which consists of vegetables that may have 1 or 2 bruises on it but otherwise are fine. At the same time, I’m not financially independent as I still receive money for groceries and monthly rent from my parents. Anyway, would love to know any tips or suggestions you guys have for eating healthy foods while on a budget!

FN 3/19

New PBS show “Food Forward” Addresses Problems in our Food System

Fact #1: we live in a consumer culture.

Fact #2: We enjoy watching shows that create fantasy worlds for the audience.

The other day I posted about this, pointing out that consumer fantasy allows the Food Network, for example, to blend content and promotion which in turn generates profit for the network, but also closes off our ability to be exposed to a wider range of discourses about food (Ketchum, 232). Since no advertiser wants to promote their product on a show that addresses controversial issues surrounding food or health, the more deeply tied show content becomes to selling goods, the less likely we are to be exposed to any serious issues within our contemporary food system (Ketchum, 232).

While the Food Network hasn’t announced any new shows- I’m proud to say that PBS has. According to the Huffington Post, Food Forward might not teach you about hot new restaurants or ingredients, but you will learn about food issues that face a lot of Americans. In a press release emailed to the HP, Greg Roden (the show’s director) said:

Food Forward offers something different. Our program goes beyond celebrity chefs, cooking competitions and recipes to reveal the compelling stories and inspired solutions from Americans striving to create a more just, sustainable and delicious alternative to how and what we eat.

Sounds good to me. I wonder who’s sponsoring the show, how long it will last, and how deeply it will delve into issues within our food system.

Meat n’ masculinity

I read a post by Mariane Nestle the other day titled the ethics of meat-eating: A feminist issue?.  In it, she describes the recent fuss over the all-male judging panel selected for the New York Times contest calling on “carnivores to tell us why it’s ethical to eat meat”. According to Nestle and others, the all-male panel reaffirms our cultures investment in the identification of meat eating with manliness.When Michele Simon, author of the blog Appetite for Profit, asked the paper’s Ethicist columnist Ariel Kaminer why the panel was all-male “Kaminer replied that she couldn’t find one female expert in food ethics with a fraction of the name recognition of the men. She argued that the famous male judges would bring far more attention to the contest, and in turn get more people to consider the ethics of meat eating.” Simon then goes on to suggest a list of 10 worthy women that should have been considered for the panel (Nestle being #1 on this list).

Personally, I think Nestle’s should have been considered for the panel given her background in food ethics, however, as a feminist and huge fan of her work, I acknowledge my bias. What do you think: should women be included in this panel, or is all the fuss over nothing?

Food as Medicine

I had a remarkable discovery the other day at City Market. It started when I spotted a lady in aisle 2 holding two different brands of coconut oil. Clearly, she was trying to decide which to purchase. As she asked for some assistance from a worker passing by, the two got to talking. From overhearing their conversation, I learned that coconut oil is stocked not only in aisle 2 with other products for ethnic foods, but also in the health & wellness department. I headed over to health & wellness, and sure enough coconut oil was there.

After the lady left, I went up to Sam (the employee helping the lady) and asked why it’s stocked in two different departments. He explained that coconut oil’s one of the most versatile products, for it can be used internally and topically, therefore it is a prominent feature in body care and a lot of ethnic cuisine. Sam said that City Market has it in a couple of locations to cater to the customers needs, “to give those folks looking to use it in food and those folks looking to use it on hair an easier time locating it”.

After talking to Sam, I learned that there’s really no difference in the coconut oil stocked in the wellness department and in the grocery department– both are organic and unrefined. This sparked a broader thought about food and how its function is socially constructed. Generally speaking, as a society we see our “food” as separate from our “medicine”. But is it really? Is it possible that Hippocrates was onto something when he said “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine thy food”?

Does stocking the same food product in multiple departments remind people how versatile certain products can be? Or does it reaffirm the notion that our “food” should be separate from our “medicine”? What if grocery stores didn’t have a health & wellness department because everything sold genuinely contributed to our health and well-being? Which raises its own question: why are we selling things that aren’t good for us?

In City Market’s case, they sell a range of conventional products because they are the only grocery store downtown. Therefore, they have a contract with the city stating they’ll carry a certain number of conventional products to help out different types of people in town.

The coconut oil encounter led to a greater discovery that left me questioning how conventional medicine has gotten so far from the notion that food can treat and prevent many of our ailments. With more people on prescription medication due to increased diagnosis’ of chronic illnesses and serious diseases, our pharmaceutical industry is growing — meaning we’re actually getting sicker. At the same time, we have a food system that values highly processed, packaged, nutrient-deficient food that undoubtably contributes to overall poor health. There’s no question that as a society we could benefit from embracing the “food as medicine” philosophy, for it would inevitably place greater value on fresh, wholesome, nutrient rich foods. The question is, how do we do it? What kind of regulations, paradigm shits, etc. would need to occur?

FN 3/26

Modeling Behavior: Giada at Home

Giada at Home is a show on the Food Network that I became familiar with over spring break. Although Giada doesn’t go out of her way to use local, organic or whole foods, it reminds me of my time at City Market because they sell almost all of the ingredients used in the show, and also I love to cook!

In this clip, Giada prepares Spinach Bacon Grilled Cheese for her family. The clip opens with a scene of her and her family, yet she is the only one we see in kitchen preparing food. Giada is dressed up and appears to be wearing a significant amount of make-up. In this episode (and all others that I’ve seen) we never see Giada eat the food she makes. Social Learning Theory says that we learn how to behave by modeling others behavior. Social theorist Albert Bandara uses this theory to explain potential effects of mass media on people’s behavior, asserting that “children and adults acquire attitudes, emotional responses and new styles of conduct through filmed and televised modeling”.

Under this discourse, the video of Giada at Home models behaviors that could contribute to how the public identifies with: the role of gender in the space of the kitchen, standards for physical and bodily appearance in realation to food, overall family structure and division of labor between members of the family. The gendered identity brought out by Giada at Home is illustrated by a quote from the Essence of Cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies by Cheri Ketchum.

Within a tradition of women being socialized into being intimate care providers, this affirms a larger gender-stereotyped fantasy of social relations. These lone women also advised their audiences how to make meals that were sure to please others, a common selfless act that women are encouraged to engage in. For example, Sara Moulton of Sara’s Secrets asked, “Can you imagine how happy your child will be with these desserts?

Furthermore, Giada’s unusually petite size could contribute to young girls and adults feeling they need to be skinny, physically attractive, dress well and wear make-up in order to fit the role that Giada portrays (mother, chef, wife, etc.)  The fact that we rarely see Giada eat on the show may suggest that women should prepare food for their family, but not necessarily eat it, which raises many of its own questions. Given that 65% of women in the U.S. have eating disorders, the potential contribution this could have on audiences’ food practices could be highly problematic or  dangerous as women today are going to increasingly extreme lengths to look more like the unrealistic body types that are see on TV and through other media.

Another way entertainment media such at Giada at Home may impact health practices surrounding food is through consuming products (foods, appliances, etc.) that the viewer believes will make them “more like” Giada. Unsurprisingly, much of Giada’s success is attributed to her cookbooks, brand alliances and food products, and it’s not just Giada at Home, but the Food Network at large. According to Ketchum, the life-style oriented Food Network portrays ecstasy through consumption, creating new standards for entertaining, which gives people visions and advice on how to gain pleasures through consuming. For example, by buying Giada’s cookbook viewers may feel they’ve formed a connection to her which in turn creates pleasure.

While this is not problematic in itself, the article mentions that it’s dangerous to move toward a situation where content is even more closely tied to selling goods. Ketchum refers to this as “infomercials packaged as programming” and argues that the more this occurs the less likely shows are to seriously address any of the problems with contemporary food production and consumption (e.g., genetic engineering, the exploitation of a disenfranchised).

With entertainment media modeling consumption, unrealistic beauty standards and gendered kitchen work, I’m concerned. What changes need to be made so that cooking shows like Giada at Home provide a more accurate and diverse reflection of our contemporary food system and the myriad of identities, people, organizations that are part of it?

WP 3/23

Old-fashioned Deception

This week, while observing at City Market, I decided to switch up my position from a stationary window seat in the cafe and instead, stroll through the aisles. It was 7:30am, the earliest I had ever been to City Market, and everyone was still waking up. People, myself included, moved slowly and I saw a couple yawns.

As I weaved in and out of the aisles, I was amazed by the number of boxed, bagged, bottled and canned products that lined the shelves. As my eyes adjusted, I suddenly noticed that while the color, shape and size of products was interesting, what fascinated me the most was the messaging on the labels. Perhaps it was my stomach speaking, but before I knew it I was in the cereal aisle, crouched over my cart, looking at different cereal options. A few seconds later I began to wonder, what are these labels telling the consumer?

As I moved from organic to conventional brands, the internal dialogue continued. Even at a healthy foods store such as City Market, the ales still contain highly processed products with extremely mis-leading and deceiving information on the labels. What’s more, is that if I weren’t an informed consumer, I would have no idea that some of these products are sounhealthy. This got me thinking about eating as a question of personal choice. How are we expected to choose healthy foods if the information on labels isn’t accurate and reliable?

As I stood in the cereal aisle puzzled, my eyes settled on a big blue label at the top of a Lucky Charms box. The label stated that Lucky Charms is ‘Whole Grain Guaranteed, a good source of Calcium and Vitamin D’, among other things. This made Lucky Charms appear to be relatively healthy. But is it really?

According to the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) General Mills uses whole grain claims to distract consumers from sugar content. The report states that the company markets all of its Big G cereals as containing “More Whole Grain Than Any Other Ingredient*” with an asterisk that takes you to the disclaimer  “*as compared to any other single ingredient”.

The PHIA report points you to General Mills’ web page about sugar where they compare plain Cheerios (1 gram of sugar per serving) to Trix (10 grams of sugar per serving ) then ask:

From a calorie and nutrient standpoint, are both products a good breakfast choice?

Yes, they are. In fact, all General Mills cereals are lower calorie, nutrient dense choices.

Just because both cereals are low-calorie and contain whole grains, doesn’t mean they are equally healthy or even healthy to begin with! Don’t forget that Trix has 9 g more sugar per serving than Cheerios, and both are highly processed. However, without taking a deeper look at the cereals ingredients you would never know this. The marketing scheme employed by General Mills’ fools consumers into thinking that Lucky Charms (and all other Big G cereals) are healthy by emphasizing whole grain content in order to distract attention away from sugar content.

Given that it’s not just General Mills using dishonest marketing gimmicks to boost profit, should manufacturers be required to put health warnings on product labels? Imagine if instead of boasting whole grain content, the General Mills’ blue label stated that agricultural chemicals were used. Would this turn consumers off from buying it? Or perhaps nutrition labels belong on the front of food packages? Whatever it is, measures needs to be taken to ensure that food labels provide a more accurate reflection of the product and its health implications.

FN 2/20

Family Food Connection

It was 5:35pm today and City Market was packed. I’m sitting at a table in the cafe, taking notes, when I glance out the window and notice a woman jogging hastily across the parking lot toward the entrance of co-op with her son in tow, who looked to be four or five years old. About 10 minutes passed when I noticed the two at the checkout line.

The mom looked rushed as she unpacked different snacks, fruit, ice cream, paper plates, juice, utensils and wait– birthday candles! Immediately, I realized what was going on: she was preparing for someone’s birthday dinner or party!

Although I observed other things during my time at the co-op, I couldn’t’ stop thinking about the mom and her son even after they left City Market. I wonder what kind of cake they’re getting, I thought to myself. Seeing the mom and her son got me thinking about the close tie between food and family. My whole life, food has been an essential element to any birthday, holiday, family gathering, anniversary, party, graduation, baby shower and sad to say, but funeral. No matter what’s going on if family’s there, food is there. My Bubbie’s latkis, my cousins famous mac & cheese, and my aunt’s sweet potatoes are all nurturing treats, a part of my family’s traditions, and a great contributor to my food happiness.

In a sense, the woman at City Market was kind of comforting and reminded me of my own family preparing for birthdays, special occasions, etc.. Things are always a bit rushed and frazzled during the preparation stages (shopping, cooking), but once we sit down to eat and enjoy each other’s company we realize that it’s well worth the time and energy. There is something very special, warming and magical about eating and sharing food with family that simply can’t be found elsewhere.

FN 2/27 

21-day Vegan Kickstart – would you join?

I recently read a post on the Huffington Post Food blog titled Meatless Monday: Make 2012 The Year Of Eating Vegan. The article discusses a 21-day vegan Kickstart program that includes recipes, meal plans, an iPhone app and an online support community for becoming vegan. Both for fun, and because I feel there are some missing points in this post that need to be addressed, I decided to play devil’s advocate.

Quote #1: “Admit it, you’ve been thinking about it. Especially with the holiday excess leaving you feeling as puffed as a fugo.” 
Actually, I haven’t been thinking about becoming vegan- and not everyone overeats during the holidays! I found this opening line offensive and feel it perpetuates preexisting stereotypes surrounding eating habits during the holidays, instead of bringing to light positive aspects of becoming vegan- which is what I thought the blog post was about.

Quote #2: “Maybe you want to go vegan to reduce your carbon footprint. Or because you need to reduce your cholesterol.”
Who says strict veganism is the healthiest and most environmentally responsible dietary decision? Making food choices that are good for the planet and your health are more complicated than simply “going vegan”, yet the author does not mention this. The blogger leaves the reader feeling like all they have to do is join the kickstart program and their lives will transform- suddenly their food choices will be healthy and environmentally sound.

Not so fast. One of my best friends has been vegan for years, yet she dislikes most fruits and vegetable therefore her diet consists of highly processed foods that are often from halfway across the world, too. In my opinion, if you’re looking to lower your food’s carbon footprint you should consider buying local and organic before jumping into the “kickstart” program.

Quote #3: “It just became huge,” says Susan Levin, PCRM’s director of nutritional education. Over 150,000 people have Kickstarted their lives. You can, too.”
I’d be interested to see how successful the program actually is. They might have 150,000 members, but how many of them remained vegan after the program ended? The fact is, changing your diet overnight isn’t easy. Instead of presenting readers with a variety of ways to improve their diet, the blog post promotes a strict adherence to a vegan diet. In my opinion, this paints a very black or white picture in terms of food choices, and could potentially lead readers that go off the program feeling worse off than they did to begin with.

Overall, this article feels more like a marketing pitch than it does an informative blog post about veganism. The post opens by suggesting that a vegan diet has health and environmental benefits , yet never explains what these benefits are –the very reason I would assume many readers would be interested in joining the program. What do you guys think, are you attracted to the kickstart program? Why or why not? Would love to hear your thoughts!

*For the record, I am not a vegan

WP 2/23

10 Reasons to Eat Local Food

I recently read an informative blog post titled 5 Reasons Why You Should Eat Local Produce.  Here are highlights from the authors five reasons, all of which I agree with!

1. Freshness– top quality, nutrients not lost over long transit times, reduced carbon footprint

2. Variety– exposure to both familiar and unfamiliar vegetables, herbs and wild greens. Allows you to explore cooking with new foods!

3. Educate yourself and your Family– helps us reconnect to where our food comes from, it’s an opportunity to learn about where and how our food is grown and what it looks like in the field

4. Organic and great for you– organic and pesticide free food is great for you

5. Sense of Community– gives you the opportunity to slow down and meet people, talk to farmers and others in commmunity

Delicious local veggies from the UVM garden!

I really like the fact that the author points out sense of community, for I feel this is a huge benefit of eating locally that is often overlooked. The more we understand our food, the more we value it, which means less mindless eating! I was so inspired by this author’s blog post that I decided to add to her list! 

5 More Reasons to Eat Local Food:

 6.  Support the local economy– eating locally means your supporting the businesses, people (families) in your community. It keeps money circulating in our own country.A study done by the New Economics Foundation in London found that a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy.

7. Reduce the amount of fossil fuels needed to transport food– Eating locally is a sustainable choice because less fossil fuels are required to transport the food. A study in 2005 by the journal Food Policy found that organic food burns more fossil fuels than local food, thus contributing to air quality and other environmental problems. By eating locally, you are reducing our consumption of fossil fuels!

8. Keeps us in touch with the seasons– Eating locally means we’re choosing foods that are abundant and at their peak taste. Doing so also tends to save us money on produce that would likely be marked higher at times in the year when it’s harder to find. It allows us to learn about the food system, for example: what fruits and vegetables are in season where I live in VT? What fruits and veggies are season where my friend in FL lives where there is a completely different climate and growing season?

9. Know the story of your meal–  this is best summed up by one of my favorite quotes “A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.”     – Wendell Berry, from “The Pleasures of Eating”

10. Responsible land development– by eating local food you’re supporting local farmers and the owners of the farms and pastures. This in turn, supports responsible land development for it gives these smaller farms a reason to stay in business and remain undeveloped/untouched by larger farm operations and agribusiness.

As you can see, eating local foods has a plethora of benefits. By doing so, you’re making a healthy, sustainable decision to support body, community and local economy, all while eating amazing and delicious food! If you’re unsure of where to start with local food, be sure to check out the Eat Well Local & Sustainable Food Guide– just enter you’re zip code and you’ll have all the resources you need right at your fingertips!

WP 2/23