The Art of Persuasion with Food Choice

While on business travel, I often look for opportunities to stop and smell the roses while in transit.  The other day while passing through Reagan International Airport, I saw these larger-than-life-advertisements:

 

Monsanto 1  Monsanto 2

 

Now, is that just “good information” or is that advertisement meant to be persuasive?  Actually the answer is in the question—it is an advertisement, ergo it is meant to be persuasive on some level.  Now I do not think that Monsanto is reaching out to Joe Q. Consumer asking him to part with his cash just yet, I would say this is an effort to get people to cozy up to the big M.  Perhaps even to see them in a light which shows how much they are doing for those in need all the while supplying the homeland with food by the metric ton.

 

CSPI

 

So I wanted to highlight three examples of persuasion (in relation to food) all from the same source and see if we can get more information.  Recently a friend loaned me six or so issues of the Nutrition Action Health Letter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  Usually in the front of that publication there is an editorial column by Dr. Michael F. Jacobsen, Ph. D. who is a co-founder and serves currently as the Executive Director for the publication—a very smart man indeed.  Here are three random column topic excerpts in chronological order:

 

1.    Title: The Price of Delay, October 2010.  Addresses the Salmonella outbreaks from battery egg production farms unsanitary conditions.

But between 1999 and 2009, the egg-safety rule languished due to the turf battles between the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and due to complete neglect during the Bush years.  At long last, in July 2009, the Obama Administration finalized the rule, giving egg producers a year to clean up their act.  But it was too late.  By the July 2010 deadline, eggs from the filthy hen houses were already sickening thousands of Americans (Jacobson, 2010).

Dr.  Jacobsen continues with other pertinent information relating to the investigation and then ends the article with a call to action and to notify your Senator and urge them to pass a new FDA Food Safely Modernization Act before they adjourn in October.

2.    Title: Spending to Save on Obesity, January/February 2012.  This article talks about America’s marked increase in obesity in the past 30 years, something that I am very interested in as a food blogger to be sure.  

Those billions of extra pounds translates into more diabetes, more high blood pressure, more heart attacks, and more cancer . . . and to an estimated $150 billion a year in increased medical costs.  The food industry says that the obesity is largely a matter of personal responsibility—no one is forced to eat fattening foods.  .  .  . Unfortunately, the personal responsibility line simply aint’t working—and it won’t work in a society that makes it sooo easy to overeat and under-exercise.  Blaming consumers is a convenient way to take the onus off industry, and it let companies market whatever junk they want wherever they want (Jacobson, 2012).

The column goes on to outline 1% of the above figure to fund anti-obesity pilot programs.  The sum is not arbitrary as the comparison is also made between what Kraft, McDonalds and Proctor & Gamble spend for advertising versus what could be what could be done with that same amount of money for better public health education.  The column ends with a strong persuasive tone for more innovation for public outreach to prevent the costs of bad choices on future healthcare spending.

 

3.    Title: True Colors, March, 2012.  The article makes a very interesting comparison between a (big) food company’s public relations and advertising (namely for kids foods, school meals, trans fats and salt) versus what actions they will take when their interests are threatened.  

In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed long-overdue improvements to subsidized school meals, requiring less salt, fewer fries, and more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.  That spelled bad news for sellers of pizzas, fries, Tate Tots and the like.  So they quickly got their pals in Congress not only to block the USDA’s plan to limit how often kids could be served potatoes, but to classify pizza as a vegetable (Jacobson, 2012).

Dr. Jacobson points out that the FDA could ban trans fats, but the industry pushed back and the measure was stalled.  This column concludes with actions taken to block taxes on soda, up front food labels, and stopping non-essential antibiotic use for animals with the deals made with food industry and Congress. 

 

I hope that I have not mischaracterized any of Dr. Jacobson’s columns here.  Although the synopsis of three individual articles seems random, I will use these to further investigate the role of persuasion over food choices.   I merely point out his work because he is a well known public figure and I wanted to get three data points to compare for the thrust of this blog.  He is making a persuasive case; actually he would not be writing any kind of interesting column if he were not doing so.   In short, he is trying to influence opinion because (I assume although I have not met him to confirm this) he really believes in what he does. 

 

Ann Marie and Wilson

 

Chaya and I have people that influence us as well.  This past weekend I was again on business travel through the DC area and I was fortunate enough to meet Ann Marie Michaels of Cheeseslave.com and RealFoodMedia.com at the Take Back Your Health Conference.  I have to admit that I was a bit nervous meeting such a big name in the real food movement, but I am happy to report that someone that intelligent and put together is very grounded and easy to talk to .   My questions for her center around how she continues to do so much outreach, education and yes, persuasion through her awesome blog even in the face of raw milk raids, homeowners getting citations for front yard food production and the illegalization of certain breeds of heirloom swine in Michigan.  Answer: She has thought through her convictions and really believes in blogging about people eating great tasting nutritious food.  

 

So why the fuss?  Why write a blog about food choice?  Because when I believe that I am correct and that my ideas are good, I want to appeal to the reason and intellect—aka persuasion.  If I believe that my ideas are good enough that I want to get a law passed, I am over riding that circuit in the brain—aka coercion.  A person convinced against their will remains unconvinced still to be sure.  

 

Who is Your Farmer

 

Ideas are not settled by physical contest like two dogs wrestling to establish dominance.  Both people can believe that they are correct, and debate on it and potentially walk away both believing that they are still both correct.  Ideas are special, and require more than “make believe” or blind faith to validate them.  For an idea to be valid, it must be falsifiable.  if I believe that I am holding a bowl of ice cream and it turns out that I am not actually holding a bowl of ice cream, then the claim is false because it can be and was in fact disproven.  If I believe that chocolate chip ice cream is the best flavor ever, it is not falsifiable statement, merely an assertion and is therefore relegated to autobiographical monologue escaping to the outside world–aka opinion. 

 

I agree with Dr. Jacobsen, food should be healthier, Americans should be slimmer (starting with me) and I want to see kids eat healthier lunches—we are totally in agreement on that.  However, I do not want to enact my convictions on someone else under the force of law.  

 

Why not?  Because that part of their decision making is not for me to control.  I am trying to win the battle of ideas, not the K Street lobby contest.  

 

Dogs Wrestling

 

Looking at the three above editorial columns together you have the USDA writing regulations, the FDA writing regulations, Congress writing law, private companies leveraging influence to shape the above three who do not always agree with each other.  I do not care for Kraft macaroni and cheese (Ann Marie has a much better recipe by the way), so I do not buy it.  I do not want to feed it to my children, so we do not have it in the house and is not on their menu options.  Those are my children, I get to make that decision on their behalf as part of the responsibility I have as a parent until they are old enough to realize the weight of their own decisions and assume responsibility for their own health and welfare.  This is a time limited function designed into the parent/child relationship.  The government does not have that kind of moral dictate to make the decision for me on my behalf.  It is impossible to have any semblence of freedom if laws are written to protect me from myself. 

 

I love what Joel Salatin says when he is asked what he would do if he were “King for a Day” to fix the food system:

 

 

 

 

The CSPI is a legitimate privately funded non-profit organization (SourceWatch.org) and I do not see any reason why they should not be able to make the case for the things that the strong convictions that they hold.  I cannot however engage in the contest to see people eat better foods by restricting their choices, raiding raw milk facilities, creating yards of red tape for farmers, outlawing breeds of pigs, implementing food education programs funded by taxpayers or by advocating subsidies of any kind.  Food is the commodity, it basically sells itself.  There is no reason why it should need to be price fixed through the back door.  

 

Last summer Chaya and I went to the wheat fields where the Mader Family has been growing Palouse Brand grains for five generations.  I talked to Sarah there as she was bottle feeding the sixth generation farmer in her arms.  She is a farmer’s wife, mother and works to market the commodities that come off of their beautiful fields in the Palouse.  Yet her words were weightier as she bemoaned the state of the food in public schools.  She pointed out that this was the reason why they started their Farm to School program.  Basically, any time you buy Palouse Brand Grains, 5% of the sale volume goes to public schools to give those children part of the bounty of our great country as their meal at ZERO tax payer expense.  No USDA, FDA, Congressional or ConAgra action required—just one very determined and philanthropic farmer’s wife doing what her convictions lead her to conclude is the right thing to do.

 

Palouse Brand

 

Let us leave the battle of ideas for food choice to the bloggers, authors, speakers, thinkers and the farmers. 

 

Wilson
Pro Deo et Patria

Photo Credits:
Monsanto advertisements by Pantry Paratus
CSPI logo taken from http://www.cspinet.org/index.html
Ann Marie of Cheeseslave.com and Wilson by Pantry Paratus
Who is Your Farmer T-Shirt by Pantry Paratus
Dogs Wrestling by 2dQMKb4
Palouse Brand Graphic by Palouse Brand Grains

Citations:
Jacobson, M. (2010, October). Spending to save on obesity. Nutrition Action Healthletter, 2.
Jacobson, M. (2012, January/February). Spending to save on obesity. Nutrition Action Healthletter, 2.
Jacobson, M. (2012, March). Spending to save on obesity. Nutrition Action Healthletter, 2.

About Wilson Foedus

WilsonWilson grew up learning how to cook from scratch from his Italian Nonny, which sometimes meant he couldn't sit on the vinyl slip-covered furniture until the homemade pasta was dry. He is a certifiable food nerd and believes that preparedness is part of healthy living.

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