Tag Archives: media

Fruit, Vegetables Not as Nutritious as 50 Years Ago

In today’s world, food and health related media is everywhere, but according to a commentary published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, this has not brought clarity to or improved understanding of a topic of such obvious impact. Therefore, as communicators of food-related science we must be diligent in our communication to ensure that it is effective in serving both public understanding and the objectives of the communicators.

Dr. Weil, a well-established practitioner in the field of integrative medicine, does a great job of this. In his post How Nutritious is Your Produce?, he discusses research indicating that the nutrient value of fruits and vegetables in the U.S. and Great Britain has declined significantly over the last 50 years.

After reading Dr. Weil’s post, I decided to read the report myself. Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? highlights three types of evidence that point toward declines of nutrients in fruits and vegetables: (1) early studies of fertilization found inverse relationships between crop yield and mineral concentrations—the widely cited “dilution effect”; (2) three recent studies of historical food composition data found apparent median declines of 5% to 40% or more in some minerals in groups of vegetables and perhaps fruits; one study also evaluated vitamins and protein with similar results; (3) recent side-by-side plantings of low-and high-yield cultivars of broccoli and grains found consistently negative correlations between yield and concentrations of minerals and protein, a newly recognized genetic dilution effect.

Dr. Weil’s post appears to be credible for he represented the findings of the report accurately and in a way that is both informative and beneficial to the public and their understanding of food and health. Below I’ve highlighted why this post is an effective form of communication on food-science to the public:

  • Post includes the study’s limitations
  • Focuses on the most vital information (i.e. health implications), allowing the public to form the most useful net impression of the study’s findings
  • Includes hyperlink to the report published in the February, 2009 Journal of HortScience so that viewers can easily read the original research article.

Additional information from the report that I consider important to include are:

  • The fact that evidence for nutrient declines began to accumulate in the 1940s with observations of (environmental) dilution effects on minerals in many foods and diverse plants.
  • USDA’s data suggests that yields have increased more in vegetables than in fruits, which may help explain the findings of larger nutrient declines in vegetables.

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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?

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