Wrapping it all up!

It’s the end of my last semester ever, and it’s that time of year when everything starts to wrap up: classes end, finals start, last nights out with friends, getting ready to move on to the next big thing. I’ve always been told (and believe) that it’s important to reflect on your experiences, so the image above is the start of my reflection on this experience.

The image above is something called a word cloud. This one was made using Wordle, an online service where you cut and paste a bunch of text into a box, and then the website takes the words that you use the most and creates a “word cloud.”

Overall, I think that this word cloud gives a fairly good representation of my posts over the course of the semester. I feel that instead of focusing on my context and really honing in on it, I took a more broad approach, and found that my interests were much more varied than I had originally anticipated. I feel that this is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because it shows that this course had broadened my understanding of the relationship between food/health/media and exposed me to new ideas to think about and work with. It is a bad thing, or maybe a slightly less-good thing, because I wasn’t really able to become immersed in my topic.

The word cloud definitely reflects how my posts have evolved over the semester. In the beginning of the semester, I focused on the different dining options on campus, including the Marketplace and the Marche. This makes sense with the word cloud, seeing that “food,” “college,” and “students,” are some of the biggest words. As the semester progressed, my interests branched out and I started to think about gender roles and food, how media such as the Food Network plays into our understandings, and questioning my own food/health practices.

Overall, I think that this blogging experience has helped to broaden my perspectives on food/health/media. I have been able to read my fellow classmates’ posts and engage with them on the topics they are interested in, and then related that to myself and my context. I feel that in the future, I’ll be more on the look out of media that concerns food and health, and be able to look at it with a more discerning eye, and not just take it at face value.

To everyone who has read my posts over this semester, thank you very much. I really appreciate it, and I hope you liked what you read, or at least got you thinking!

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WP 5/8

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Who’s responsible?

Now that the semester is starting to come to a close, the subject in class has turned towards responsibility: social, moral, and corporate to name a few. I’ve always thought social/corporate responsibility is a funny concept. It’s oddly obvious: do the best you can to do good (that could maybe worded a little more eloquently, but you get the point). Yet for the food industry, this “doing good” may actually be doing more harm than anything else.

When you enter any grocery store now, you’re almost immediately overwhelmed by health claims on the front of packages: Low Sodium. Low Fat. Half the calories. Fortified with Vitamins. Immunity Booster. High in Fiber. 9 Grams of Protein! Woo hoo!

Too many labels, not enough time.

But who or what is giving these companies the right to label their products as such? Well it turns out not much. According to an article written by Marion Nestle and David S. Ludwig, the battle over food labeling has been going on since 1906, when the Pure Food and Drug Act “prohibited food labels from bearing statements that were false or misleading in any particular.” Labels that promote nutrition didn’t start to appear until 1995. Companies are largely responsible for creating their own standards by which to judge their products, and they aren’t standardized within the industry.

The lack of standardization means claims can’t be verified and are often taken out of context. This then leads to misunderstandings about nutrition and healthy products, and has the potential to cause seriously uniformed and misguided consumers.

I think that the government or one of its departments should play a role in standardizing the way in which companies are allowed to label their products. I understand that this would be a massive undertaking, but I think it’s extremely important for the consumer to know what is in the products that they’re buying.

For example, there is an argument going on right now in Vermont about labeling products made with GMOs.

Generally, I am a supporter of the consumer informing themselves. It’s up to us to determine what products we want to buy and in what quantities. With the vast number of products available, the odds are pretty good that acceptable alternates exist. However, I think that when labeling starts to become misleading and more of a public health problem, the government has a responsibility to step in and take care of the public.

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WP 4/27

Food Marketing + Social Marketing

Social marketing is the design, implementation, and control of programs seeking to increase the acceptability of a social idea or practice in a target group (Bloom and Novelli, 1981). Social marketing tactics persuade individuals to alter their individual behavior in order to improve their own health and welfare (Andreasen, 1995; Hastings,2007).

This excerpt was taken from the 2010 Journal of Business Research. Now, social marketing is a term I’m quite familiar with – I think about it almost every day at my job. Marketing gets a bad rap as being sneaky and underhanded, but social marketing could be the light at the end of the marketing tunnel, so to speak.

I had never really thought about marketing food through a social marketing lens or connected the two together, but it makes perfect sense. Changing people’s behaviors towards food and their interactions with food could dramatically change our food culture.

I’d argue that college students provide the perfect opportunity to really push social marketing objectives. Students coming into college are more or less independent for the first time in their lives. They’re being exposed to an entirely new set of people, all of whom have completely new ideas. Granted, they probably have some carry-over from their upbringing, but for the most part this is the time where people develop and establish their behaviors that will stick with them for the majority of their lives.

So why not push healthy eating habits such as including more fiber, protein, and whole grains in their diet in order to maintain a more healthy weight? Or marketing the behavior of eating multiple smaller meals throughout the day, instead of three big meals.

I think the other advantage of social marketing and college-aged students is that many students are trying to figure out who they are and want to make a difference in the world (this may be a little UVM-centric, so forgive me for the generalization). Social marketing appeals to this mindset, because it can potentially change behaviors for the better, therefore helping make the world a better place. And if any generation is going to take a concept like social marketing to the next level and really make an impact on society, it’s going to be this (my) generation.

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FN 4/16

Cleaning products and the Food Network?

Yesterday I spent an hour watching the Food Network. Now you may be saying, “Amanda, this isn’t news.” Well, I’m here to say I didn’t really watch the Food Network, I watched its commercials.

Based on Harris, Bargh, and Brownell’s (2009) article, I categorized the commercials into four categories: nonfood advertisements, food advertisement that prompted snacking and/or fun product benefits, food advertisement that promoted nutritional benefits, and food advertisement that mixed snacking, fun and nutrition messages.

I decided to exclude the commercials that were Food Network commercials promoting their own shows. This left me with 40 commercials over the course of the hour. Out of these 40 commercials, 23 were non-food, 11 were food ads with fun benefits, 3 were food ads with nutrition benefits, and 3 were food ads with both nutrition and fun benefits.

What does that have to do with cooking and food?

These numbers were totally and completely different from my expectations. The vast majority of the non-food ads were cleaning products, which I found to be very interesting. I wasn’t overly surprised about the ranking of the other three categories.

Based on the findings of the Harris, Bargh, and Brownell (2009) article, adults and children both consume food when exposed to food advertising. However, during my hour of television, only about 15% of the ads were related to food.

The abundance of non-food ads may not have an effect on unnecessary snacking, which could be considered positive, but at the same time I think it is important to consider the program. The food programs that I watched during the hour showed, frankly, really delicious looking food and even though I had already eaten dinner, I found myself craving food. This makes me wonder if instead of advertising, the Food Network focuses on the timing of its programming, i.e. showing preparatory shows before dinner, delicious looking food around dinner time, and dessert shows after the dinner hour. This could have serious health implications, potentially influencing people to eat more food that may or may not be the best choice in terms of nutrition and health.

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WP 4/6

 

A little bit of this and that

This post is kind of a conglomeration of different food thoughts that I haven’t been able to really flesh out further or relate it to anything else.

1). I am going to be moving into an apartment after I graduate with my boyfriend and our two friends who are also a couple. We all went to high school together, so we’ve all known each other for at least 6 or 7 years. I was home this weekend and talking with my boyfriend (we’ll call him J) about cooking and how we all have different ways of approaching food and eating. For instance, one of our friends who is going to be living there too (let’s call them B), likes to cook a big meal at the beginning of the week and then eat the leftovers throughout the week. B is different from J and me in that we prefer to cook a couple different things throughout the week. I think it is going to be very interesting to have the four of us negotiating food and cooking in the apartment and how that may or may not affect our relationship with each other.

2). I have mentioned in a previous post that I am incredibly guilty of mindless/bored eating. When I was home this weekend, I noticed that my parents have the similar habit. They will get out a few different foods around lunch time and just snack on them, rather than put together a meal and sit down. The same thing happens if someone makes a pan of brownies or cookies. If they’re out on the counter, odds are they’ll be over half gone by the end of the day. It’s not because anyone is hungry, it’s just because they’re readily available to be eaten. This really showed me that habits and attitudes towards food can be passed down through generations and can be very strong and pervasive.

3). At home this weekend I went out to dinner with one of my girl friends that I hadn’t spent time with in a while. While at dinner I noticed something interesting about our orders. I had a flatbread with chorizo, red onions, rosemary and marinara sauce (yes it was delicious). She had a grilled chicken caesar salad. I might be over analyzing, but I felt that what she ordered was more “healthy” than what I ordered, and I almost felt that I should have ordered something different. I thought this was interesting because it says something about  how other people can influence our behaviors towards food.

Does anyone else have similar experiences with random food thought #3? If I had to bet, I’m not the only one who has been in a situation like this before.

 

Cooking or convenience

So it’s Sunday evening, and my dinner has been rather unsatisfying: fruit salad and an Asian chicken salad, both from on campus.

Now I can’t complain too much. Even though food choices on campus are somewhat less on the weekends, my proximity to them can’t really be beat. Plus, I wasn’t willing to get in my car and go buy something at the store, or better yet actually cook something.

Yet as I was walking around looking for something for dinner it occurred to me that I truly miss cooking for myself, mostly because I feel more in control when I cook for myself. I like knowing what is going in my food, and I like being able to choose the portions that I want to eat.

Right now, I feel that living on campus severely limits my ability to cook and be in control of what I want to eat. There are absolutely options on campus to choose from every day, and I have to give dining services credit for the wide variety of options they offer. But sometimes, I just crave something that isn’t available. For example, just a day or two ago I was craving shepard’s pie and it was nowhere to be found. If I had a kitchen, I could have satisfied that craving.

Cooking gives me an opportunity to explore and try something new (literally and figuratively). Maybe it’s a new recipe, or maybe it’s just something I haven’t made in a long time. When I cook, I’m happy, which then benefits my overall health. I learn new things when I cook, and it also gives me the opportunity learn more about what I’m actually cooking: where did these vegetables come from? Does this soup stock have preservatives in it? I think that by cooking our food personally rather than leaving it in other people’s hands gives us the opportunity to improve our mental and physical health, and really, what’s the downside to that?

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FN 3/26

“Cooking for College 101”

Full disclosure: I’m a Food Network junkie. I love Chopped and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. When I have my TV on (most of the time as background noise because I seem to work better that way), Food Network is generally my go-to channel.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri

I know a lot of other college students (or recent grads) that are Food Network enthusiasts as well, but none of the shows on Food Network (to my knowledge) really feature college students cooking and navigating through a kitchen that doesn’t have pre-cut vegetables and spices measured out into nice little ramekins.

So what did I do? Went to YouTube – a very college-like solution.

Here, I found a video of a college student who created a video of herself cooking. The video is called “Cooking for College 101” and after watching it, I found it to be a pretty decent video.

The video featured a female college student and over the course of the 15 minute video, she cooked an Asian Stir Fry. There were a few main things that she emphasized in the video: low-cost, easy to cook, and not time consuming. All three of these things (I’d argue) are very important and high priorities to college students.

Her behaviors differed a bit from the typical food/cooking show. In most of the shows I’ve seen on TV, a lot of the ingredients are already pre-cut and pre-measured so all the host really has to do is mix them together and cook them. Also, these same shows really seem to focus on the cooks themselves: their mannerisms, their expressions, etc. However, in the video, they focused on showing the host actually cutting up the ingredients and putting them all together, and really focused on her actions rather than her smile. One thing that I particularly liked was the cabbage she cut up wasn’t perfectly uniform and she used a statistics book to crush some peanuts.

Best use I've ever seen for a statistics book.

This video definitely adds a positive contribution to the context of college students and cooking. The video gives students an opportunity to learn by watching and, maybe, doing which is essentially the social learning theory in action. I also feel that it shows students that they can cook for themselves, which could lead them to make healthier food choices as well as save them some money. Speaking as a college student, there’s nothing better than being able to save a few bucks by cooking!

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WP 3/23

Gender informing food/drink choices?

Let me first say that I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this post as a sweeping statement based on people’s gender/gender roles. This is just based on what I have seen on campus and my assumptions of people’s performed gender.

UVM’s male:female ration is something around 40:60. There are definitely more women around campus than there are men. This also makes it slightly easier to conduct observations around campus and notice various things.

Over the last week or so, I’ve noticed some very specific things on campus that have to do with food and gender. Women on campus (seemingly) eat healthier than men. I often see women with salads, yogurt, fruit, veggies, and water during various meals. I also noticed that women tend to have smaller portion sizes than men. The men on campus seem to be drawn more towards the unhealthy, larger-portioned meals. For example, I noticed a lot more men in line and sitting near New World Tortilla and Brennan’s on campus than I did women. The food at both of these locations is served in larger proportions.

Now again, I’m sure there are many men who eat very healthy and many women who do not. But these observations made me start to think about how we perform our gender through our food choices. I found this article when doing a little more research into the subject, and thought that it brought up some interesting points about how women perform gender through cooking and how food choices are much more deeply considered.

Does anyone have any suggestions about other readings that might elaborate further on the topic? I feel like it could be a very interesting area to study and learn about..

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FN 3/19

Four thin mints = one salad

Let me set the scene for you: It’s the Thursday before spring break. Less than 24 hours stands between me and a week of relaxing, sleeping, and spending time with the people I love. I won’t lie, it’s been a long few weeks leading up to this. Lots of work and trying to find a (real) job has not put me in the best place mentally. So this afternoon when I walked by the table of cute Girl Scouts, I gave up any pretenses of will power and bought a box of Thin Mints.

It was a tough choice between Tagalongs and Thin Mints. Samoas come in 3rd place.

Needless to say, they were (and still are) delicious, and perked me up a bit for class. As class went on, I started to think about what I was going to have for dinner when I met up with friends later in the evening. This thought was then followed up with something along the lines of “well I should probably eat a salad or something more healthy since I just ate half a dozen thin mints.” So why did I ch

This thought is something that I hear vocalized on campus at least once a day, predominantly by female students. So why did I choose the thin mints, and why do people choose Mac & Cheese for dinner instead of a grilled chicken salad?

People don’t necessarily make food choices based on nutrition. Though I haven’t done the research, I’d venture a guess to say that it is a 60/40 split between reason and emotion. Reason might say that if you have something more decadent for lunch, you should balance that out with something more nutritional, even if it’s not your first choice. Yet emotion might say the exact opposite: I’m going to eat what I want, because I care about how it makes me feel.

After doing a little more reading, I’m definitely not the first person to have this line of thought. The Oxford English dictionary defines comfort food as, “food that comforts or affords solace; hence, any food (freq. with a high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or with home cooking.” In a journal article from Food & Foodways,  Locher et. al. examine how individuals use food as comfort when they feel stressed or sad.

The following is a quote from this paper that I felt particularly resonated with me:

“Foods are distinct from other objects that people may use to derive comfort because they are incorporated or taken into the body; thus they thus have physical, as well as psychological and emotional effects.”

I have a serious sweet tooth, and I did feel better after I had those thin mints. I have a lot of control over that, compared to the relatively small amount of control I have over finding a job. So maybe people choose mac & cheese over a salad because it makes them feel like home. Maybe their grandmother had a killer recipe and mac & cheese is a kind of flashback. Or maybe it was the first thing they saw. Regardless, emotions are important to consider when looking at a person’s food choices.

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FN 3/5

From the kids’ table to the grown-up table

In this vast context of food, health, and media, there are a million and a half angles to take, defend, attack, or create. In this particular context, I’m interested in what college students are bringing to the table. I sometimes get the impression from people that the opinions of college students are inexperienced/uninformed, but the college student featured in this Washington Post article is definitely bringing something to this context and including her peers in the process.

The article talks about Audrey, a GW college student, and her idea to create a food magazine geared toward college students. On the College & Cook website, there is a note that talks about why they decided to start a magazine, and this is what stood out to me the most: “We’re sick of being stereotyped by easy mac & cold pizza. We’re worried about record child obesity & the underfunded FDA. We’re food allergy conscious. We’re College & Cook & we hope you enjoy our magazine.”

I believe that this is a great example of college students bringing their opinions to the table and providing other college students to engage with the general public and with the food/health/media context. Gwendolyn Blue writes in her article Food, publics, and science that food often gets overlooked in the media because it is “mundane.”

Though the magazine is in its infancy, College & Cook magazine represents a major stakeholder in the food/health/media context: college students. We are the generation that is going to be affected by the changes being made to our food systems, etc. As I mentioned above, the website says, “We’re worried about record childhood obesity and the underfunded FDA.” This shows that college students care and want to be a part of a greater dialogue surrounding food and health.

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WP 3/2