Responsible Consumption

Everyday we are bombarded with advertisements to encourage us to consume a particular good from a particular company.  Whether it be online, through our televisions, in prints we read, on the radio, or whatever medium it may be, we are surrounded by hints towards consumerism.  Although sometimes these advertisements may create an urge to consume, the truth of the matter is we still contain the power of choice.  This power of free will is something that all of us contain, but some do not choose to act on.  Because of this, the debate around who is responsible for health outcomes is a prevalent one. 

I am sure you have read and heard about many studies about television commercials having consumptive effects on people, especially children, but I junk-food-bouquethave a problem with these studies.  The majority of these studies, such as “Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior”, all include lack of parental supervision.  Yes I agree that the 45% increase in snacking by the children when submitted to snack commercials is a very real fact, the fact that kids were able to snack with out supervision, I believe, is the problem.  Children unfortunately are not thoroughly educated in smart and healthy consumption, so their only hope is responsible parenting.  When allowing their kids to watch something that is proven to increase appetite, why would you provide your child with a bowl of goldfish instead of a plate of orange slices?  I see very little room for excuses here.  Providing your child with unhealthy snacks will no doubt lead to unhealthy consumption.

Companies exist to sell things and be successful.  Obviously they are working hard to convince people to buy their product, regardless of their health outcomes.  As long as consuming these products does not put others around us at risk, I do not believe that a ban or tax is justified.  I do believe that healthy food options should exist in the same numbers as fast food options, but unfortunately at this time that is now how it is.  “Why We Eat More Than We Think” does a great job of identifying the consumer as the problem.  We are the ones putting ourselves in the situation to consume by purchasing the product and choosing our portions.   “We can’t control where there’s a McDonald’s on the corner, but we can control whether we have potato chips sitting on the counter or ice cream in the freezer…”  Bad food is not our only choice, people just lack the education to choose otherwise.  “You can’t just tell them that they shouldn’t eat chips or candy or meat.  You have to convince them that there’s an alternative.”  I think this is the walk away message, we must educate people about healthier alternatives.

Hustlin’ in the Kitchen

This week I was introduced to Thug Kitchen by a teacher of mine, and was instantly hooked.  Thug Kitchen is an attempt to attract those who are not interested or unaware of the ease of making good and healthy food.  As Ron Finley said in an earlier post of mine, “We need to make it sexy.”  What he means by this is that by making our mission seem cool and attractive to the masses, we can open doors to a population that is currently in the dark on these topics.  Everyone enjoys good food, why not be able to provide yourself with healthy and tasty food in the comfort of your own home?

My blogging thus far has been focused on bringing fresh produce to the counters of people who are normally unable to obtain things like these, but this only gets you so far.  People need to know what to do with this produce once it arrives.  Blogs such as Thug Kitchen is a great source for information, while still entertaining and interesting those who may otherwise not take the time to cook or read recipes themselves.  I am not saying that using profanity is the way in which we are going to get people into the kitchen, but I think what the author is doing here is great.  The dialogue he holds with his reader is intended to make something that is often times serious and directed at a certain type of person and turn it on its head.  Using slang, profanity, and a comical dialogue he attracts people outside the typical kitchen bubble.  When explaining what Thug Kitchen is all about, he writes “EVERYONE DESERVES TO FEEL A PART OF OUR COUNTRY’S PUSH TOWARD A HEALTHIER DIET, NOT JUST PEOPLE WITH DISPOSABLE INCOMES WHO SPEAK A CERTAIN WAY. WE AIM TO EDUCATE AS WELL AS ENTERTAIN, MOTHER F*****.”  Although this may turn many traditionalists off, I think it is awesome!  Why not break out of the box of what is deemed acceptable?  If this means attracting and inspiring newcomers to eat healthy, grow more local produce, and return to a localvore lifestyle, than I say F-it.  Bring on the profanity.

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Victory Gardens

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Post WWII Americans prided themselves in their ability to provide and support their families without the relying on outside sources in order to get by.  Growing produce for your family in your backyard or in a community garden was very common and helped keep America healthy and in shape.  This remerging trend has taken the urban landscape by storm.  As you have seen in the posts that I have made and in cities all over the country, the importance of growing fresh local produce is coming full circle to the post war Victory Garden Era.  These Victory Gardens “accounted for 44% of the fresh produce in the U.S, harvested by nearly 20 million Americans.” (Huffington Post)  This is a very impressive number compared to the 20% that we currently produce for ourselves. (sustainablog.org)

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With all of the new projects and initiatives attempting to bring gardening back into the American culture we can reverse this increase in imported produce and provide out country with fresh and tasty produce.   This Huffington Post article is attempting to bring this possibility back into the minds of Americans.  Charles Birnbaum presents us with numerous projects happening all over the country, such as a new luxury high rise is Manhattan with a vegetative roof, or Michelle Obama’s installation of the first ever White House garden.  These projects are surrounding us and have the potential to reinvent our agricultural production capacity.  In a time of high fuel costs and the scare of global climate change, the ability to produce for ourselves and our families in our own backyard is an increasingly valuable opportunity.

Farming Social Media

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Urban Farm Magazine is one of the leaders in the sustainable agriculture publication world.  “Here at Urban Farm Magazine, our mission is ‘to promote the benefits of self sustainability and to provide the tools with which to do it on any size property.”  I visited their Facebook page this week to see what they were up to and try to get some ideas for a new post this week, but instead of getting some ideas from things they were posting I decided to review their use of social media.  In a class I am currently enrolled in, we have been discussing the use of social media outlets, and what it takes to be productive and successful in marketing yourself.

According to www.business2community.com  “How Businesses Can Evaluate their Social Media Campaigns” article, there are three major factors reviewing your social media outlets.  1) Number of Followers.  Urban Farming Magazine has over 16k followers, which is quite the following.  Being able to build brand awareness and brand loyalty is one of the most important factors of a business, and with this many people behind their brand they are doing just that.  2) Engagement.  Although the majority of the posts that occur on their page are not intended to sell anything, they are successfully creating dialogue between themselves and their followers.  The majority of their posts have at least 50 likes and at least a few comments, showing that their followers not only enjoy what they have to say, but are willing to communicate about it.  Keeping followers interested and active is crucial in creating a successful campaign.  3) Analytics and Traffic.  Although I cannot speak on this portion of their campaign, I can say that with the number of followers they have obtained and the amount of discussion and interaction on their page I can imagine that this step of the analysis would come back positive.

I think that their current strong points are their diversity of post types, their ability to create conversation, and their do it yourself encouragement.  From recipes to growing tips, Urban Farm Magazine has it all covered.  They provide opportunities to learn and opportunities to grow for all levels of people looking to get involved in a more sustainable lifestyle.  Also they are able to create communication between people, which encourages people to continue to visit and also allows people to help mold their future campaign towards what people want.  Lastly they are educating people, making their page not only a place to come see what is happening, but also a place to learn.

The return of crafted food

I came across the Mast Brothers in Todd Selby’s book “ Edible Selby.  This book follows Selby’s exploration through the world of craft food.  The Mast brothers are from Minnesota and grew up with an urge to get their hands dirty and try new things.  This desire brought them down the road of chocolate making, which has turned into a well-known and respected chocolate shop in Brooklyn, NY.  Although not everyone is ready to spend $20 on a chocolate bar that they have handcrafted, from the chocolate to the hand printed and hand wrapped finish, they have created a story behind their product that is hard to resist.  “The chocolate itself represents more than a candy bar, it represents a new way of handcrafting food.  An old way, that is now new again, and I think it is spreading like wildfire.” Rick Mast.  Keeping a working relationship with their cocoa bean producers in Belize, they have connected the source with the product understanding how and where all of their supplies come from.  Knowing that these brothers sailed to and from Belize to pick up their beans and deliver them back to NYC creates a sense of appreciation for their hard earned final product. 

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This video, although hard to ignore the finely groomed hipster beards, presents these two brothers in a personal and intimate scene.  The music and simple setting draw your attention to the idea in which they are hard at work trying to implement in the city.  The theme of the video follows the ideas behind Mast Brothers Chocolate, returning to the simple ways in which we use to create things.  Low impact inputs and high quality outputs are their focus, rather than consistent outputs with high levels of inputs.  The stylized editing of the video makes the product in which they are representing one of high quality and eloquence, crafted by hands in which make the product more than just a taste, but rather a story. 

My question for you- Is the extra money worth the story and effort that is put in to this chocolate?  Would you rather spend $1.50 at the grocery store for a Hersey’s bar which has been created from start to finish by machine, or $15 at Mast Brothers for something that has been handcrafted from the beans to the wrappers? 

Decisions Decisions

Food media can be presented in numerous forms, making it ever so important to understand how to decipher the purpose behind the media you are being presented with.  I have identified three purposes of food media, all of which have different motives and end results for the viewer.  Identifying the form of a message allows you to decode and act upon the content in an efficient and effective method.

Informative Food Media.  These forms of media present information in a way meant to educate and inform people of a concept, method, item, etc.  Shows such as PBS’ “Food Forward” educate viewers on sustainable food options.  Informative media’s purpose is not necessarily to sell something, but rather make the viewer a more knowledgeable consumer.

Entertaining food media.  This media offers exciting and drama filled interactions where food serves as a prop more than a focus.  These fast pace cook-offs are much like other television challenge shows, but with the setting is in the kitchen.  These forms of media don’t attempt to sell or inform, but rather occupy viewer’s time and keep them hooked.

Persuasive media.  These forms of media intend to sway the viewer’s attention towards a specific product or brand.  Comparing this product to other competitors items, creating a “cool” image for the product, and idealizing the item you see are all ways in which producers attempt to gain your support.  This form of media is how producers create consumers and how brands create loyal customers

Although all these different forms exist and provide different purposes, at the end of the day it is still the viewer’s responsibility to act as they feel necessary on the message presented.  If viewers have the desire to act on the media without considering the end result than that is their own fault.  Companies exist to make a profit, if their persuasive media techniques convince people to act on their product, than they have successfully sold their good.  This is extremely relevant to the ongoing debate on child obesity.  In the article “Childhood Obesity, Junk Food, TV: Who’s Responsible?” Richard Zwolinski discusses a debate occurring in Australia on whether or not to ban junk-food advertising on television.  Our societies ever-growing reliance on technology and television has disintegrated our ability to make reasonable and responsible decisions on our own, and has instead lead people to act on the face value of what they see.  Weight-loss author Michelle Bridge in “Is Junk Food Child Abuse” says “So if we know that parental responsibility for a child’s weight starts even before conception, how can we justify the notion that their responsibility is in any way diminished during a child’s early life?”  I believe that regardless of what attractive images companies are presenting to the youth, the decision on whether or not to act on that product still lies in the parental figures hands.  The money to buy junk food surely isn’t coming on a regular basis from the child consumer, but is instead provided by the parental figure.  If you don’t want your children being unhealthy, don’t buy them unhealthy products.  I stand by Michelle’s stance on the topic.  For every piece of persuasive media that exists, an informative one is there to counter that same message.

Making wise decisions on food requires an educated consumer that can look past the allure that persuasive media portrays.

Deciphering the wwweb

With the internet as easily accepted and relied on as it is, we must be sure to continually operate the web through a series of checks and balances.  Through this method of deciphering the internet we can be sure that we are increasing our chances of reading and understanding reliable and accurate information, rather than adding inaccurate or blatantly incorrect information to our collection of knowledge.  In order to do so, we need to apply a consistent and working checklist of guidelines when using the Internet to obtain information for ourselves and for others.  With these guidelines, we are entering the Internet blindly and potentially collecting falsified information that could potentially harm others or ourselves.  Because of this, I have created a brief list of guidelines that I apply for myself when entering the realm of the World Wide Web.

1)   Who is your source: Anyone can post, create, or publish their opinions on the web.  You must know that the majority of writing that is seen on the web is of opinion-based authorship.  Although reading opinions is not discouraged, you should understand that there exists another site with contradictory opinions.  Take what you read and know that it is probably only half of the argument.

2)   Where are you reading it: Is the article you are reading from a reliable website? Is it a blog? Or is it a Wiki?  All of these forms of the web have different potential outcomes in reliability.  This is important to consider, and probably the easiest to determine.  Who is contributing, is it sponsored by an outside source, can anyone edit it?  Questions like these are extremely important when inquiring about information on the web.  Janet Helm of nutritionunplugged.com helped readers with this by establishing the Nutrition Blog Network.  This network presents all blogs by registered dietitians, allowing people to go to one place to find all their reliable information in one place.

3)   Make your own decision: Just because you read something online does not mean that it is necessarily the best personal choice for you.  Remember that you need to make decisions that are applicable to you.  People that are writing articles on the Internet are commonly devoted to a lifestyle much different than your own.  Although some things may be able to be applied to your daily life, other aspects of the article may be far to bold to fully adopt into your day-to-day activities. Also many times these lifestyle choices are introduced in order to sell a product.  Keep this in mind.  Amelia Winslow of eating-made-easy.com discusses the constant shift in diet trends and trying to keep up with the latest diets is nearly impossible.

If we apply my 3 basic guidelines to this article I found on good.is we can put them to work to read into the article.  Who is your source?  Good.is, according to their site is “a global community of, by, and for pragmatic idealists working towards individual and collective progress.”  Good is a NGO funded publication that presents readers with new and exciting information in the entrepreneurial community.  It consists of collection of authors who write for Good.  Where are you reading it?  Although Good is a collection of authors, the majority of these authors post elsewhere.  It is important to follow links at the end of articles to see what the original source of the piece is like.  Make your own decision.  Ro Kumar writes about transforming your yard into a self sustaining garden to provide for you and your family.  The reality of everyone devoting their time to growing farms in their yard is very low.  Unfortunately not everyone is the economical situation where they can devote their money and resources into home agriculture.  However, parts of his suggestions are very applicable.  Being able to fish out the parts of the article that you can put to work is an important analytical tool.

 

Quoted article:

Food Literacy from Blogher

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