A Lesson from Teenagers

January 10, 2012 in Foodland, General, Nutritionism, Psychology of Food by Joyce Bunderson

One day during the holidays, I was on my treadmill reading an article; when all of a sudden a sentence caught my attention. The sentence was in the article, Masters of Persuasion, by David Yeager, published in Today’s Dietitian. It is available online for free, if you decide you want to read the entire piece.

Yeager begins his article by describing parents saying, “Eat your vegetables.” Then he contrasts the powerful advertising messages pronouncing, “Order the triple size bacon cheese-burger with fries.” Certainly, this contrast between the ineffective voice of parental persuasion and the slick advertizing messages is  not a ‘newsflash’ for any of us, but what followed was interesting and I believe we can learn from it.

Yeager goes on to explain how the parents’ nudging to eat more veggies, only leads to the teens pushing back with what they want to eat. He asks, why? The fascinating compound answer: “They simply don’t like to be told what to do. But there’s one thing teens dislike even more than being told what to do, and that’s being manipulated into doing it.”

It’s a pleasant reminder to me that this teenager reaction is something we parents of teenagers have learned. But Carolyn Cohen, M.Ed., a teacher at the Institute for Collaborative Education in conjunction with Teachers College, Columbia University has taken a giant step beyond parental tactics by developing and disseminating a curriculum called FoodFight (www.foodfight.org). This curriculum is making a difference, where differences are not easy to attain.

First, the curriculum examines the social, political, and economic underpinnings of the U.S. food system. It teaches the students how marketing and advertising influence their food choices and purchases. It seems that the critical point of success is not initially to discuss nutrition; rather, their first step is to present how we are subjects of marketing, advertising, and political subsidies.

They have learned that in educating the students they have ‘lifted the veil off the mechanism behind the advertising and marketing industry’ and it speaks to the students because they see that they’re being manipulated. And secondly, the students come to realize that as a demographic group, they wield real economic power.

Only after the first step information is taught, then the students are taught nutrition facts. The researchers have done some surveys after completion of the program and have found that the students’ consumption of water, whole grains, fruits and vegetables increases and statistically significant decreases in their consumption of soda and processed snacks. They’ve even discovered that many of the teachers have begun to eat more healthfully.

How can we benefit from this?

  1. We can encourage teachers and principals of our local schools to join the movement and begin using the curriculum with our local teens.
  2. Not waiting for local adoptions of the program, if we have teens at home, we can benefit directly from the strategy and tactics of foodfight.org. We can attempt to provide some of the same information that FoodFight is providing. Overweight and obesity, which are impacted by the types of foods promoted by the marketers is certainly one of the most pressing issues of our time. This is a health crisis; and the powerful and well-financed food advertisers are influencing many teens. Learning this, they can become strong advocates for change.
  3. If we don’t have teens in our home, can we benefit from what the researchers learned from the teens? Many of us adults also dislike the manipulations done in the name of corporate profits of mega industries. If you’re a long term reader of this blog, you already know that we have tried to keep you up on what the food industry and its’ marketers are trying to sell us (often impoverished processed junk fudes). The money saved by taking out the costly, real, perishable ingredients is then used to fuel massive advertizing campaigns. We have in the past and will in the future continue to help all to recognize the rampant nutritionism that we, targets of this deceptive advertizing, have been lured to accept over many decades. We at Dr Grandma’s will continue to encourage the consumption of real whole foods, which supply thousands of real nutrients that contribute to health.

The following are posts that may serve as resources related to the marketing of impoverished foods and of the nutritionism tactic itself:

Are you still in a ‘New Year mode of thought’? Maybe consider making a decision to reduce the number of processed foods, fast food and/or restaurant meals. Maybe consider learning to cook a new dish that includes vegetables. How about involving your teen in designing menus?

Best to you during this month of evaluation and renewal.