It’s been awhile. In my time away from the blog I began developing a food a nutrition program. Let me explain. It all started with a weird news story someone sent me about a seventeen-year old British girl who collapsed after a steady diet of chicken nuggets. (Indeed, she had eaten almost nothing but nuggets for the last fifteen years, with nary a fruit or vegetable in the mix.) The story led me to a video of chef Jamie Oliver attempting to educate a group of young kids on the poor nutritional value of chicken nuggets. The effort was featured on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a show with the ambitious mission of changing the way Americans eat in a two-step process. First, Oliver educates the American public on the dangers of processed food. And second, he teaches parents, teens, and even cafeteria workers how to cook healthful meals from scratch.

You may have already seen the clip below, since it’s gotten quite a number of plays on YouTube. Oliver introduces the segment by saying how he’s designed this brilliant experiment that has never failed him in the UK. Basically, he shows how chicken nuggets are often made not from whole chicken breasts, but from a pink goop that results from ground up chicken carcasses. This goop is then pushed through a sieve to separate all the hard bits out, and then a bunch of additives are then mixed into the “batter.” This mixture is then formed into little patties, which can be breaded and fried. Seeing the process firsthand is usually enough to put people off nuggets forever. Well, as you’ll see below, the experiment is an utter failure with the American kids. After eewing and yucking their way through the demonstration, after the nuggets are all fried up, they are still eager to eat them.

If we seek to change people’s eating habits for the better, it’s important to ask why the experiment fails.Well, as one kid put it, “I’m hungry.” The video got me thinking about how all of us—not just little kids—make our food choices. Oliver appears to treat his audience as rational beings who just need to understand the difference between “good” and “bad” choices, and to be shown that making smart nutritional choices can be convenient and economically viable. But in reality, things are much more complicated. There are plenty of sensible adults who know what they “should” eat, but don’t. (I know a surprising amount of people who don’t, for example, eat any vegetables.) For those of us who do go out of our way to maintain a healthful diet, well, there’s the matter of conflicting information on just what that should look like. And let’s face it. Even the healthiest people give into temptation now and again—and that’s not a bad thing.

My next few posts will touch on some of the ideas I’ve been tossing around on how to teach a food and nutrition seminar. The program is designed as an alternative to classes that mandate specific diets. Instead, I want to develop a series of workshops that take into consideration the myriad factors that affect our food choices, including cultural and personal tastes, and the political and socioeconomic issues related to food production and consumption. I think it’s also important to discuss how eating certain things make us feel, both physically and emotionally, since a lot of foods and beverages that are deemed unhealthful make for highly pleasurable meals.

My aim is first for participants to become more aware of their eating habits and the impact of their diet on their well-being (their mood, physical health), and then for everyone to come up with an approach to food that is not only healthful, but also enjoyable and sustainable. The point is to complete the program with a set of tools that will enable participants to sift through and evaluate lot of conflicting information in order to decide what makes sense to eat and drink with regard to their dietary needs, personal tastes, budget, and lifestyle. Having people come up with one’s own “eating philosophy” is, I think, much more effective than simply telling them what to eat.


Brian Lee Yung Rowe · February 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Interestingly enough the biggest criticism of modern economics is the same assumption that humans are rational agents. This has led to the creation of newish sub-fields such as behavioral economics and neuroeconomics. I wonder if these disciplines can shed light onto why people continue to opt for poor quality food.

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[…] of my fascination with the chicken nugget issue is that it raises the question not only of what we feed our kids, but who decides what they eat in […]

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