Why You Eat What You Eat Part 1
Are you buying real food or are you buying seductive packaging?
Posted Oct 01, 2014
We eat first and foremost for survival. But in modern times, we no longer eat just to satisfy biological and nutritional needs. Today we eat to satisfy our senses and sometimes to satisfy emotional needs. We eat for fun; for many people, eating is a form of entertainment. We celebrate with food, and at the same time use food to cope with stressful and emotional situations. In the United States and other developed countries, most of us can afford to buy enough food to eat well for any occasion and we often mark the important moments in our lives with food.
Food and eating are promoted in ways designed to get us to eat more and more. Advertisers and marketing executives know what you like when it comes to both food and food packaging, and they’re very good at giving it to you so you’ll buy their product. It’s not necessarily a conspiracy with evil intent; it’s just part of the business of selling food in a free-enterprise system.
When marketing executives do their jobs right, they sell more than convenience. They convince through ads, packaging and promotions that you will be happier, healthier, skinnier, sexier, brainier, more popular, or more successful if you eat or drink their products. And even if you don’t have some of those traits, you can appear to have them.
That’s how some advertising and marketing schemes can sabotage your attempts to have a healthier relationship with food. If you are concerned about what and how much you are eating, you might want to make it your business to understand some of the promotional strategies that drive some of your decisions to buy and eat certain foods.
For instance, sales, especially “buy one get one free” types of sales, might encourage you to buy more food or more of a certain type of food than you normally would. Notice that you don’t usually see “2 for the price of 1” sales on fresh fruits and vegetables or meat, unless those foods are past their prime. Most of these promotions are for packaged and processed foods, many of which are not considered healthful.
Besides appealing to your wallet and busy schedule, marketers use health claims, specific colors, and implied promises on their packaging to send silent messages that influence your buying decisions. The messages may or may not be true, but they are designed to whet your appetite for specific food products.
You may purchase a food product because of the social message it conveys. Carrying a label that says “organic,” “gluten-free,” or “sugar-free” conveys a message to the world that you’re serious about fitness and can make you feel like you’re following a healthful diet, whether that message is true or not. Brand identity can play a similar role in your food choices; buying foods and beverages that come in stylish packaging or with celebrity endorsements sends a message that, like the products you use, you’re cool, sexy, desirable or fun.
Many factors affect how much you eat, from the size of the food container to the size of your plate. Studies at Cornell University Food and Brand Lab have found that the larger the food container and the size of your plate, the bigger portion size you will serve yourself (and others). Other studies from the Food and Brand Lab found that hungrier shoppers buy more high-calorie foods, though not necessarily more food overall.
More thought goes into the size, shape, color, and language of food packaging than you could ever imagine, unless you work in the field of advertising, marketing or promotion. Food manufacturers invest a great deal of time and money learning what motivates people to choose one product over another. It may be wise to spend a little more time (and possibly less money) mulling over your choices and weighing the long-term benefits of processed food products vs. whole foods in your diet.
If you buy and eat a lot of processed convenience food products, there are reasons that go beyond time and money. Food manufacturers and packagers know that most customers make split-second decisions in the supermarket about buying one type of food or one specific brand, over another, so they spend billions of dollars trying to figure out what will motivate you to choose their product. Promotions, advertising, packaging and marketing of these products are all designed to entice you to buy more. And you do.