Tag Archives: food choices

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.

Advertisements

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

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

Surveying the Blogosphere

The blogosphere that I am joining is alive and active. Burlington, VT is a hotbed for local, organic and sustainably produced food, as well as discussions around the larger issues that exist within our food system. That said, the specific topics or niches that I found are that are currently being blogged about are: the local food system, sourcing food, educating consumers on how to make smart and informed decisions, outreach to community about food and food choices, farming, and nutrition – just to name a few. Overall, most of these blogs appear to be credible, and below I will discuss what led me to this conclusion.

  Above image: snapshot of City Market’s blog, Serving Up Vermont [1]

Serving Up Vermont is City Market’s blog and is run by Caroline Homan (City Market’s Food Education Coordinator) and Meg Klepack (City Market’s Outreach & Local Food Manager). Together, their job is to help source local food for the co-op and educate members about a wide variety of topics, including local foods and farming. Both women have a strong passion for food and local community. As a subset of the City Market website, I find Serving up Vermont not only credible, but a wonderful resource and example of how to successfully blog about topics regarding the local and organic food movement here in Vermont. I love that the blog is updated every couple of days and more importantly, that every post either has pictures, tips or delicious recipes. Serving up Vermont accurately reflects City Market’s mission, goals and direction therefore I find it mostly unbiased since the author’s outline their intentions (to strengthen the local food system and create better food security and sense of nutrition) right on the blog. However, it is important to note is that the authors of this blog work for CM (and are probably being paid to blog). This made me wonder- if one of  them disagreed on a specific stance that City Market, the City of Burlington, etc. took on an issue, would they voice it on the blog? What do you think? Should bloggers have the right to voice their opinion, even if it’s not in line with the company, organization, etc. that they are representing?

The Burlington Food Council is another blog contributing to the conversation of local food here in Burlington. According to the Burlington Food Council’s website, the group formed after a 2002 town hall meeting that intended to gauge the public’s sustainability priorities. Citizens voiced that they wanted more local, fresh and healthy foods at public schools and their communities in general. After this meeting, a group of volunteers and nonprofits worked together with Shelburne farms to receive a USDA Community Food Project Grant to encourage healthier food choices, and build capacity to meet community health needs (including improving school meals). The BFC formed one year later in 2003 as a way to connect nonprofit organizations, volunteers and government agencies and work toward the following goals: to build food knowledge and experience, to build food appreciation and access, to build local food systems. I find this blog credible because they’ve done extensive research including the Community Food Assessment that helped create an action plan for the school district and larger Burlington community. Based on the depth of work that the BFC has done, as well as their knowledge on issues regarding food, access to food, and community health, I consider them a great resource worth checking out.

The Campus Kitchen at the University of Vermont blog is a subset of the official blog of the Campus Kitchen Project and contributes to the conversation of food in Burlington in a slightly different way. The group helps to relieve hunger in Burlington by working with UVM Dining Services to salvage unused food and turn it into a nutritious meal to distribute to members of the community. In doing so, they provide a necessary link between the local food system and other social problems such as feeding the hungry. As mentioned on the CKUVM blog, the group is involved with multiple projects, including doing the majority of the cooking for Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf which according to CKUVM is a food bank, soup kitchen, and the largest direct service emergency food provider in Vermont (they serve one hot meal per day). CKUVM contributes to the online conversation of food in Burlington by providing a link between the social aspect of food and community involvement and food. Although the blog is informative, given CKUVM’S strong presence on UVM’s campus and in the community in general, I would expect their blog to be active and independent of other CKP initiatives. In reality, it is not. Due to lack of accessibility, I feel the online voice of CKUVM is minimal and can get lost amongst all the postings from different university’s that are involved with CKP. I feel this creates an inaccurate representation of the group given their level of involvement in the community. Perhaps the reason for having all schools post to one blog is tactical and helps provide a cohesive space for the organization,however,I just found it confusing and difficult to locate.

Sources: [1] http://www.citymarket.coop/blog/

WP 2/7