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Welcome to this site, all interested in resilient farming!

Welcome to this site, all interested in resilient farming!

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Food heroes and heroines

As promised, I’m profiling three scientists who not only have somewhat contentious scholarship, but also would seemingly contradict each other – one low-fat proponent and another, a high-fat diet proponent, both offering insights into food choice and diet. One is wildly interdisciplinary (Wansink), the other, narrowly trained but with high personal motivation (Seneff). So from the biochemistry of MIT computer scientist Stephanie Seneff to ag economist Brian Wansink’s marketing studies that show how the U.S. is doomed to mindless eating, this next section reviews their work, especially powerful when they combine disciplines. The more well-known Robert Lustig, with his strong messages on fructose, is a third scientist I profile. All are critical thinkers – dealing with business and medical institutions which are empathetic enough to learn something (albeit slowly) from their work.

Brian Wansink

Overeating to excess is one of the seven capital vices – gluttony. Some treat overeating as an inalienable right – we even have institutions for it (Thanksgiving Day), as well as entire epochs, eras, and courts (thinking about King Henry the VIII and Hampton Court) that celebrated it. It’s one thing to overeat, it’s another to do it mindlessly. Yet we are not born overconsuming – there is, however, a narrow window. At age 3, children eat until they are no longer hungry – but by age 5, they begin to eat whatever volume is in front of them (B 22, 25,175)

We, in the United States, hardly do anything in the way of food education to start getting to know better tastes, much less becoming gourmands at it.  According to Cornell University’s Brian Wansink, we eat for volume, not calories – cues are essentially external (how much is on our plates), rather than internal (whether we are hungry, or full) (Wansink 2007). It seems impossible to be able to rely on oneself to stop eating in this “obesigenic environment” in which we live.[1] Regardless of weight or size, it seems that many of us have problems with paying attention to internal cues to stop eating.[2] Eating is mindless. What are the implications of this on how and what we grow, on the current food system? Enter: Brian Wansink.

Brian Wansink’s research, part food psychology and part behavioral economics (what people actually eat), is well represented in his research. I found his early book (Mindless Eating) by chance, in Barnes and Noble – it is a book that would propel him into fame and fortune (in the form of an endowed chair) at Cornell. Rumor has it Cornell paid his University of Illinois salary for a year (a debt he would have had to repay upon his return for his sabbatical of writing Mindless Eating in France) – Cornell couldn’t wait and willingly paid.

In Wansink’s “laddering interviews,” he shows how the value of feeling satisfied drives consumer purchases. This economist borrows heavily from other social sciences to provide multiple streams of data.[3] For me, a next step in this research would be to look at how food quality (as measured by percentage of saturated fat, so amount of butter in a mac n’ cheese dish) affects satiation, a feeling of feeling satisfied, and snacking. I’d also study questions about the near- hopelessness of reducing sugar in industrial food production. But, that’s me, not him.

[1] I realize thaty some strongly resent this word – obesigenic environment – for example, Julie Guthman in her work, Weighin In, mostly because it emphasizes obesity, which is culturally- and socially-constructed and, for researchers like Stephanie Seneff, seems to identify a disease which is actually a predictable body response to lack of certain foods in the diet.
[2] See religious representations of food.  B1 + B2  so rather than the loaves and the fishes, sermon on the mount, which is fairly prescribed…what he had to start with, we see the last supper images getting more grandiose…..where the relative size of the main dish, bread, and plate have increased over the eons BW looked at 52 prominent images of the Last Supper…serving sizes are increasing the eel, fish, lamb, pork also there, notwithstanding.  Of course Henry VIII, and elsewhere “vomit buckets” who was telling me this notwithstanding?

[3] See REFS B1,B2,B6,B7

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