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PSYC 123: The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
- Culture and the Remarkable Plasticity of Eating (Presentation by Ashley Gearhardt)
Ashley Gearhardt gives a guest presentation about the relationship between food and addiction, and how emerging clinical research suggests that eating maps onto a model of addiction. Professor Kelly Brownell reviews how culture affects eating, from what’s acceptable to eat to how to eat it. He reviews cultural differences between the American and French food cultures. He then suggests how American values are changing through recent movements which are concerned with the story of food and the features of food before it is consumed.
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The Psychology, Biology and Politics of Food
PSYC 123 - Lecture 6 - Culture and the Remarkable Plasticity of Eating (Presentation by Ashley Gearhardt)
Chapter 1. Introduction
Professor Kelly Brownell: Today we’re going to talk about culture and how remarkable eating — how remarkably eating is affected by culture. Before we do that I have an announcement and then I’m going to introduce Ashley Gearhardt who’s going to be talking about food and addiction. A student group asked me to make an announcement about a movie that’s being shown this week in Silliman College, in the movie theatre in Silliman. It’s called Silly Flix, and it’s a movie about people say I’m crazy, a fascinating documentary of one man’s journey with schizophrenia, so it’s Tuesday September 23rd at 4:00 in Silliman College. If any of you are interested in this I urge you to go see it.
Now before we talk about culture I’d like to follow up on an issue that we have alluded to in the class but didn’t get to talk about in the last class we ran out of time and it’s the issue of food and addiction. It’s a very interesting issue, one where a lot of science has come out just recently and one where the whole field’s attitude about this particular topic is beginning to change. It’s a very important topic. I’ve asked the teaching fellows in the class if they’d like to do parts of lectures throughout the class. Ashley Gearhardt who is one of your teaching fellows, a graduate student in psychology is doing work on the issue of food and addiction — in fact, came to Yale having worked in the area of addiction for quite some time doing some very interesting work. And then since she’s been at Yale has taken on the issue of food and addiction, in particular, working specifically with me and with a colleague of mine in psychology, William Corbin. She’ll be doing about fifteen minutes of the lecture on food and addiction and then we’ll turn our attention to the issue of culture in food. So Ashley, please come up and join us and we’ll get started.
Chapter 2. Guest Lecture on Food and Addiction with Ashley Gearhardt [00:02:10]
Ashley Gearhardt: I have to say I enjoyed the Batman movies this summer because right now I feel like I have my little tool pack here on each side and I’m ready to scale buildings and take down villains. If you have any trouble hearing me throughout the lecture feel free to just let me know as I get used to my multi-pack here.
I’m going to be speaking with you today a little bit about food and addiction, and I’m going to give you an idea of what we’re going to be covering in today’s lecture. First, I’m going to talk to you a little bit about what is addiction and how do we define it in the field? What would it mean to be addicted to a substance? Next, I’m going to talk about food. What is the problem with food? Why would we think perhaps eating may map onto a model of addiction rather than just the idea of consumption? Then finally I’ll talk to you a little bit about the research that is coming out that is talking about what is the link between food and addiction? What evidence do we have to perhaps make the claim that this is a behavior that starts to be out of the control of the person consuming the food?
First, how do we define substance dependence? If you go into a therapist and you think you have an issue with let’s say alcohol or marijuana, or tobacco, how would they define whether or not you were dependent on the substance or whether you were just abusing it? What we think of when we talk about substance dependence, is that it’s when a substance is consumed in a compulsive and habitual manner, and it results in both biological and behavioral changes that have a negative impact on the quality of life.
If you think about this a little bit, the consumption of substances is actually quite widespread. Alcohol consumption alone is consumed by 90% of the people in American culture, but yet we only see approximately 10% of people over their lifetime ever developing substance dependence to alcohol. So it’s not just consuming the substance that can define addiction, but rather really these impacts that it has on life. My tool here is failing so I’ll have to get closer. Why do we think that food could possibly follow this model of addiction, of biological behavioral changes that really impact life? Well thinking of some of the problems that we see in today’s culture when thinking of food, we hear a lot more about binge eating which is the most prevalent eating disorder nowadays affecting about 10% of people. Binge eating is associated with a loss of control around food consumption, where large quantities of food are consumed in a short period of time. The subject or a participant consuming the food feels out of control while they are consuming it. Also we see bulimia nervosa, another eating disorder that’s well publicized, and we see those patterns of binge eating followed by periods of purging.
We kind of have a dualistic society when it comes to our ideas about food. Not only are you bombarded everyday by cheap, accessible, high fat, high sugar, palatable foods that you can just pick up at any supermarket; but you’re also told to be thin, be very skinny, and to fit this kind of perfect version of beauty. We see that sometimes coming out in these binge and purge cycles to try and keep weight down, but why also kind of giving into the temptation of these very calorie dense foods.
Finally, as we’ve talked about more in this class, is the rising obesity rates. We see both overweight and obese individuals skyrocketing around the world, and as of right now, obesity has topped alcohol to become the second leading cause of death, of preventable death, in the United States. This doesn’t look like it’s going to really stop anytime soon even though we’re throwing lots of research and public health money into really solving this problem.
Thinking about this, we have the rising obesity epidemic and these different eating disorders, and this isn’t for a lack of trying or a lack of desire to be thin and to eat healthy. I mean we see — we’ve got Atkins, we’ve got Weight Watchers, we have all these different quick fixes coming to promise that they’ll help you stay thin or they’ll help you get thin. And still this billion-dollar market continues to exist because none of them work. If one of them worked we’d be able to just take that and this struggle would be over. But it continues to grow, and grow, and grow. It’s an entire industry based on helping people try and cut down, unsuccessfully.
Now I’m going to talk to you a little bit about what is the evidence there for food actually being addictive. We see the evidence coming up in three camps: we see biological evidence which is where the majority of the research is at this point, but it provides some really interesting questions. Also, we see evidence from a clinical area, people reporting that when they see clients. They see similarities between traditional substance dependence and people trying to get their eating under control. Then finally I’m going to talk a little bit about our society as a whole, and how it perhaps gives some clues that we might be addicted to food as a culture.
First, I want to talk about what is the biology of addiction. What does this look like? We identified through neuroimaging studies and animal models the brain’s pleasure pathway. What you see is you see an area that begins in the ventral tegmental area, it goes through the nucleus accumbens, and it goes onto the frontal cortex. What we see that’s really important about this specific area is that it’s rich in dopamine neurons. When you’re looking at the brain of someone consuming a drug of abuse like cocaine or see it consuming something like a milkshake, you’ll see that this area of the brain lights up in response to this very rewarding and pleasurable activity.
We’re here with our friend the rat. The poor rat he’s just — we’ve been using him to be addicted to food and this is really, really where our framework is coming. You can see this guy, he’s a little chunky, and he’s gotten some time to really be exposed to a lot of sugar. Some research coming out of Princeton has found in these animal models that by giving rats access to potent amounts of sugar they’ll develop tolerance. They’ll maybe start consuming thirty-five milliliters of sugar a day, but within a week or two they’ll more then quadruple their sugar consumption. They’ll be able to tolerate it much better and their body will adjust to it.
We see that if we take away the sugar, if the sugar’s out of the cage, or you give medicine that blocks the effects of the sugar, the rat will go through withdrawal: their body temperature will change, they’ll become more agitated, they’ll be more aggressive, and they’ll start having body tremors.
We also see neurobiological changes: we see changes of the brain adapting by this flood of pleasure in the dopamine pathway by really shutting down some dopamine neurotransmitters; and sensitization in the opiate system of the brain, which gives you kind of a big up for a pleasurable thing consumed. It’s where morphine and things really get their effects.
Finally, we see behavioral changes. I think some of the most interesting research out there when looking at these rats that have become addicted to sugar, is their relationship with other drugs of abuse. Once you have addicted a rat to sugar it will be more likely to consume amphetamines, alcohol, cocaine in greater portions and to become addicted to it, quickly. Also, even more surprising, is that if you give them a variety of things with sugar included — so sugar, cocaine, and alcohol — they will choose the sugar over the cocaine and the alcohol. This suggests there’s something really reinforcing going on here.
What do we make of this as a field? Well, Avena, Rada, and Hoebel are three people doing this research in Princeton, and their summary of this is that: Rats with intermittent access to a sugar solution can show both a constellation of behaviors and parallel brain changes that are characteristic of rats that voluntary self-administer addictive drugs. In conclusion, this is evidence that under some circumstances sugar can be addictive.
What we’re seeing in these animal models are what we used to see when we were trying to figure out what was going on with alcohol, what’s going on with cocaine, why are people not able to just decide that they want to consume it in moderation? We see both the behavioral and the biological changes really mimicking that that we once saw when we were getting a better understanding of drugs of abuse.
You may be saying, well yeah that’s great, you have these rats, they’re in cages, it may be the difference between being in a certain cage with sunlight or not, but does this really translate to humans? Well, this is where the research is really becoming new. We’re really a beginning field here where the research is starting to compile; but even with the very short of period of time that this has been actively researched, we see some human biological evidence.
First we see some neuroimaging research coming out of The National Institute of Drug Abuse and Nora Volkow is a very famous researcher who was really known for identifying the dopamine pathways as something very important in substance abuse and dependence. What she did is she took cocaine addicts and she put them in the scanner, and she scanned their brains specifically paying attention to the dopamine pathway. What she found is that people who became addicted to cocaine and consumed more cocaine had less density of dopamine neurotransmitters and receptors. So they weren’t as sensitive to the drugs effects. They would consume more to really get the impact that other people naturally had.
In looking at this, to translate this into excess food consumption and obesity. She took a series of obese individuals and she scanned their brains and she found the exact same pattern of results, that the dopamine transmitters were altered in these individuals, and the more severe the obesity the more the brain was altered, and really seeing a correlation between these two parts of the brain, and excess food consumption.
We also see that we use drugs sometimes to help people block their cravings and the pleasure that they get from alcohol, specifically a drug called Naltrexone. Naltrexone works by blocking the opiate — opioid system in your brain. Now what’s really surprising about this is Naltrexone — this alcohol drug — was administered to a group of binge eaters, both obese and normal weight binge eaters. When administered Naltrexone they lost their preference for high fat, high sweet foods. Their consumption of these foods went down. So it’s really surprising that you can use a drug that is traditionally used for alcohol abuse, and affect consumption of food with it. A little bit more evidence that perhaps there is some similarities going on between drugs of abuse and food.
There’s some big areas where we need more research, and one of those areas specifically is tolerance. Can anyone think of a reason why exploring tolerance in adulthood or even in like late childhood would pose a problem? Yeah?
Ashley Gearhardt: That’s exactly right, you’re very, very right. What we see is that you’re — you’ve consumed a lot of sugar, a lot of fat by the time you’re sixteen years old.
What we do see is that young infants, when given concentrations of sugar, react to it in the same way that they’ll react to doses of morphine. You can actually conduct surgery children just — surgery on small children and minor surgery. By giving them a dose of sugar it will block their pain, but what we see is that by eighteen months when children have started to consume more solid foods, often foods higher in sugar, this affect has gone away, it’s disappeared.
Now there may be other answers for this, but to me this suggests that perhaps this is a tolerance affect that’s coming of age very, very young and that children are really where we’re going to need to look at whether or not we develop a tolerance to sugar and different fats.
What we see across the entire human race is that there’s a preparation for sugar. There’s an anticipatory response that we see with people who do heroin or alcohol. So if you’re a heroin user and you go into a hotel room for the first time that you’ve never been into and you decide to use the drug, your chances of overdosing are increased. The reason why is that the body starts to identify cues that are associated with consuming that drug, and it starts to prepare the body to handle this really jarring physiological change that will be the consumption of heroin or alcohol. We see something similar with sugar, that when you’re around queues that are associated with you consuming calorie dense foods that the body starts to prepare by insulin release, to reduce the glucose in the blood. That way it can handle these large shots of sugar you’re taking in your body. What’s important here is to see whether perhaps more drastic tolerance changes are associated with addictive behavior.
Finally, we do see some changes in binging pattern when it comes to looking at clinical populations who are bulimic or have binge eating disorder. The longer that they’ve had the disorder and they’ve been binging, the greater quantities that are consumed over a larger period of time and more frequently. Once again, these are studies that haven’t specifically been done to explore tolerance. We need more studies that are methodologically designed to look at the concept of tolerance. But they do suggest that perhaps there’s a reason to look at it.
Also withdrawal is another area that hasn’t received much research attention but really has some evidence to suggest that it’s worthwhile. We’ve talked a little bit about Dr. Atkins in this class. Dr. Atkins and his bestselling book warned people that when they started to consume a low carb diet and cut out the sugar and carbs that they may — that it may cause fatigue, faintness, palpitations, headaches, and cold sweats. These systems he chalks up to carbohydrate and sugar withdrawal. We see lots of antecdotal evidence of this where people report that when they go on diets they feel unwell, they feel physiologically odd, they also find themselves kind of being obsessed with the food that they’re cutting out. But there haven’t been any rigorous empirical studies of this.
Finally, we see some health problems associated with reducing food consumption. This is a little bit to do with what I talked about earlier with the body preparing for glucose. What we also see is that when you see those cues and your body begins to prepare for the glucose of the food that you’re going to consume, and you don’t actually consume it, it makes you crave the food. We see this with alcoholics walking down the street, seeing a bar that they used to drink at, or an advertisement for their favorite beer. There will be physiological changes and they’ll begin to crave the alcohol because the body will want it to normalize the changes that it just undertook. We see this across humans as well that when you restrict food, whether you’re lean or obese, you’ll have a little bit of this glucose withdrawal which can end up, in some cases, being so severe that it results in hypoglycemia which can result in fatigue, fainting, and sometimes even death.
What are some other questions that we need to answer in this area? Well, first: what might be addictive? There — we don’t really know, I’ve tossed out sugar, I’ve tossed out fat but we haven’t explored this in a really methodologically sound way because we’re still not sure whether food is addictive. It could be sugar, it could be fat, it could be the combination of those. We also, as you saw with the pop tart slide, how foods with fifty-two different ingredients, some of them I know I can’t pronounce correctly, there’s chemicals in there we don’t really know the effect of what they have on the food or the way that you consume it, or the way that your brain processes it. Finally, we see ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup that provides such a potent punch of sweetness that it may be really wrecking the homeostasis of your body and making you crave sweets in a different way than you have before.
Clinically, what we see is if you see someone coming in for eating disorders is that often, in my own experience and other clinicians’ experience, is that they’ll report that they feel like they’re addicted to food. They’ll describe themselves as foodaholics and oftentimes you’ll see people who have just received treatment for alcohol or other substance dependence will gain a lot of weight, and will actually use food in a similar manner that they once used alcohol or cocaine.
As we talked about before, cravings for certain foods are pretty widespread, but craving is really a word that has been — really comes from the addiction literature: an overwhelming desire to consume something even though you may be trying to resist it. That is something we all use when we talk about what we crave, but it’s an addiction word. Thinking about it, thinking about our society as a whole and the rise of Diabetes, cancer, other obesity related health disorders and weight bias, we see people continuing to use food and consume great quantities of it, even though there’s some pretty severe negative consequences, some of which can result in death, but the food consumption really hasn’t slowed down to match these increased problems.
Finally, in the final two points, is that when we are treating someone for an eating disorder is at the end we’ll often do a course of relapse prevention. The relapse prevention we do with people that are trying to stop binging is really comes from the literature from alcohol, marijuana and cocaine; of helping people kick addictive substances, where we help them identify different cues, different times of the day, different trigger foods for that — and things like that for them to avoid to be able to maintain their newly developed control over their consumption.
Finally, we see the behavior patterns such as binge eating. Binge eating, in and of itself, is defined as a loss of control of food consumption, which is really when you think of substance dependence. It’s a loss of control over your ability to consume alcohol or to consume a drug in a moderate way.
On top of this is that there’s lots of programs already out there that are based on this idea that food, sugar, or carbohydrates are addictive. If you look at these two books that have been out there for quite a while, you see the Carbohydrate Addicts Lifespan Program, you also see Sugar Shock! How Sweets and Simple Carbs can Derail Your Life. If these sort of phrasing didn’t really respond to people, if they thought that’s nuts, I don’t get that at all, that just is not my personal experience or anyone’s these books wouldn’t sell and they would really stop being used. But we see that on top of these books there’s full and patient rehabilitation programs and outpatient programs that are developed on food addicts: food addiction, food addicts in Recovery Anonymous, disordered and addictive eating, Food Addicts Anonymous, food addiction program. People will pay thousands and thousands of dollars to enter treatment programs that are based on the idea that they are addicted food, and they receive treatment as if they are addicted to food. But really, the research hasn’t been done yet to fully support whether this is appropriate, and whether these treatments are effective.
Let’s talk a little bit about a societal implication of this. As you can see here, even the food companies will really use terminology associated with addiction to remind you that you have cravings for things like cookies. This is a strong need. When you walk past that you really, your body, everything really wants it, so come meet your maker, come give into the craving. You could think of different phrases such as Pringles, you just can’t eat one. You’re going to lose control of your ability to stop your consumption.
These are things that I like to think about sometimes, that if you imagine a day in your life where you’re walking through Gourmet Heaven and pass the vending machines and into a convenience store; take all the candy bars, and chips, and everything that you see everyday and turn those into little alcohol bottles. Imagine walking past those little alcohol bottles every single day, constantly being bombarded with it, bombarded with billboards, cartoons on you know, yeah alcohol with Tweety-Bird on it and think if it was socially acceptable to come bring your few little bottles of alcohol and chug it here in class because that’s pretty normative. If we find out that food is addictive that might have some pretty big implications for how our society deals with and views food.
Finally, I’d like to talk about the implications of what if food is additive? What if this research comes together and the picture that’s already starting to gel really becomes solidified, and as a society, as policy makers, as people, we start to kind of acknowledge that you know personal responsibility is important but maybe these foods are engineered to take that personal responsibility away from me; to hijack the brain and the behavior in a way that makes it unlikely that I’ll be able to consume this in moderation, at least for some people.
First, it talks about a little bit about our difficulty in changing the obesity epidemic. As I said, if this is really engineered to make you not be able to just have one or to have overwhelming cravings, it’s going to be really difficult to really install in people personal responsibility for that just reason. If you think of alcohol for a long time, it was just considered a defect of personality — that you weren’t strong enough to be able to consume alcohol in moderation. But as the research went on we found that demonizing the person who was having the alcohol problem wasn’t an effective public health message; that we really needed to look at it and the patterns that it has on all people perhaps.
Additionally, it might suggest a need for legislation. How do you feel having something that could possibly be an addictive substance or change the brain in an addictive way being fed to kindergartners or being much more accessible for people in a lower socioeconomic class? Having unequal accessibility to whole foods, good foods; it doesn’t really seem like something that is going to change overnight and that it might take some big push from some big power people to balance out this environment.
Finally, the idea of the need for education; how many of you guys had DARE some sort of substance use program growing up? I actually won the DARE essay, it was telling of where I was going to end up. What if we took — if we find that this addictive, and we take children at their youngest age and we kind of teach them moderation, we teach them how to eat these foods, that it’s not okay to just consume it with excess and to the point where you lose all abandon? That might have some pretty big impacts on both your biology and your behavior, and this isn’t something we start to change when you’re eighteen or twenty years old, but start early.
Finally, my last point is this really needs more research. The area really needs some more attention from prominent researchers and Kelly has really been wonderful in getting the field excited about this. I’m making a call to all of you, I’m looking for research assistants. If any of you want to join in on this research, feel free to come talk to me or shoot me an email, so thank you for your time today.
Chapter 3. Culture and the Remarkable Plasticity of Eating [00:27:30]
Professor Kelly Brownell: Boy, if I think back to the time I was a graduate student, I can’t imagine having done anything as poised and comprehensive as Ashley did, so let’s please thank her again. I’m also really happy that she got to talk about an important area, where research as I said is starting to come out in more and more detail and it’s very interesting. I would expect that if you start watching the newspapers and things you’ll start to see more and more on this issue of food and addiction and the implications getting played out, so we’ll see where it takes us but it’s a very interesting field.
Let’s move on and talk about food and culture, which is the second topic for today. Before we do that, just a few logistics about the concept sheets. You received an email that mentioned a little bit more about the concept sheets. We’re going to pass them back on Monday of each week and then collect them on Wednesdays. On Mondays of each week, the teaching fellows will put out on the stage here before the class the folders with the concept sheets in them. They’ll be in alphabetical order by parts of the alphabet within each folder, and you can come and pick up your concept sheet and if you don’t get here in time to do it before the class, then they’ll be outside after the class.
Then on Wednesday of each week you turn in the concept sheets that are due that week. As the teaching fellows mentioned in the email that they sent out, the concept sheets can cover information from the previous two classes. For example, this Wednesday’s class where you turn in a concept sheet, you can talk about material from today or the previous lecture in that particular concept sheet. If you have any questions about that, please let us know.
Okay as I — those of you who were here for the first class noticed that I asked for volunteers of people who had — in the class — people who had interesting experiences with food, either coming to the U.S. or going from the U.S. to other places. Several students were kind enough to volunteer for that and I’d like to show you some video clips from them because they capture they some very interesting parts about food and culture. Okay, so let’s do this one first [video clip].
Okay, that’s one very common experience, when people come to the U.S. from other countries they notice a number of things about the American food supply and several of them are — were captured here, but the more prominent one was the portion sizes. The other thing that people are amazed by in the U.S. are choices, as I mentioned before, how many versions we have of different foods in a supermarket. This is one experience from a person who came to the U.S. Let’s look at a second one here [video clip].
Here’s another example of how — what people will eat within a culture is determined in part by what they have access too and the relative cost. The fact that in the United States you can buy one eggplant for what it might have cost to buy a whole bunch of them in China can give you some idea about why people may eat more of that particular food in China then in the U.S. So price is certainly an issue. Here’s the final clip and this is somebody who has gone from the U.S. to somewhere else [video clip].
Okay, so another example of how culture shifts eating, in this case, so let’s please give a hand to your three brave classmates who stepped forward to do this. I appreciate them and they — that exemplifies some things we’ll be talking about in the class.
One the readings that you had today was from Margaret Mead, a very well known sociologist, one of the best known sociologists in the world of her time, and she wrote about a variety of issues pertaining to culture, but including them were food. This particular quote I think captures some issues about how people consider food as a commodity or a profit making opportunity rather then something that’s morally important for the world’s well being. So only by treating food unitarily as a substance necessary to feed people, and only second to the needs of commercial prosperity, can we hope to meet the ethical demands that our present situation places upon us.
She talks in that essay, and I’ll come back to this on Wednesday, about hunger being a political issue rather then a supply issue. And how there’s really no reason that we can’t feed the world, and the statistics justify that particular stance. The fact that food gets viewed as a commodity, as something that people just have to have access to rather then something that’s necessary for life, can be enjoyed, can be part of the family fabric and things like that, gets lost in this commoditization of food that really has happened in our culture and she captures it in that quote, so she’s a very interesting thinker on this particular topic.
I showed you this slide before in one of the earlier lectures, but if any of you are particularly interested in the issue of food and culture, this particular two volume set is just terrific because it has a number of papers that deal with food and culture issues.
Chapter 4. Cultural Drives on Eating and the French Paradox [00:36:19]
Culture drives a number of things that are important to understanding what a culture tends to eat. Of course what’s acceptable and what’s not, what tastes good, what’s disgusting, is built into what we learn from culture. But we also learn things like how fast should we eat, what time of day do we eat, when is it okay to eat, who we should be eating with, what sort of things we should talk about when we eat, and even things about, in some cultures, who has priority once the food is on the table. In some cultures the men get priority because they’re considered the working, the doing the physical work of the family, and so therefore they deserve priority over the food and they eat first and whatever’s left gets divided among the rest of the family. These things will change within a culture but they’re very striking differences across cultures.
One interesting figure in here is a psychologist at The University of Pennsylvania named Paul Rozin, and of course one of the papers that were assigned this week was by Rozin. He’s written a number of things on this issue of culture and food. He’s been particularly interested in how people within a culture get trained to like some foods and dislike others, and he’s talked about the issue of disgust in that context. I’ll give you some amusing anecdotes of studies he’s done on that. He’s also the one that has written most extensively about something called the French Paradox, and if you haven’t heard of that I’ll describe it in just a minute.
I’d like to do a little experiment here. I need two volunteers to come up on the stage, who would like to help out with that? Okay, come on up. Anybody else? All we need is two. Okay I saw a hand back there, come on up. Now we need the cups, okay this little experiment — would you mind holding that? Has to do — come on up here you guys so that everybody can see.
All right, clean cups right, in the bag? I just bought them this morning on my way to work. Now this will show you what we consider to be acceptable and not acceptable. I’d like each of you to take a cup, and then what I’d like you to do is spit into your cup, go ahead just spit right into the cup. Okay, so each of you guys have done this? Okay, now what I’d like to ask is would either of you be willing now to drink that? Why not?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay, so once they’re out they don’t go back in, is that right?
Professor Kelly Brownell: Okay, so it’s culturally disgusting. Now it’s interesting because what’s in that cup was just in your mouth, right? The cup is clean, right? So there’s no reason that that should have been contaminated between when it came from your mouth and entered the cup, and no reason it should still be contaminated now. But you consider it acceptable one moment but unacceptable the next. That’s just a quick example of how strong these feelings are and how we define these things socially. There’s a little waste basket over there, thank you guys, let’s give them a nice hand.
That’s one example, but we also — Rozin has written a lot about how we consider food to become contaminated. Let’s say you’ve gone out, you bought a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and they’re sitting on the counter in your kitchen, and next to them is an apple. Now would that contaminate the Krispy Kreme doughnut? Would that make you any less likely to want to eat them? Well probably not. But what happens if there’s an apple with a bite out of it and somebody else took that bite? Then would that change how much you’d want those Krispy Kreme doughnuts? Think about the proximity, what if it was ten feet away? Well then it probably wouldn’t matter. What if it was ten centimeters away, then would it matter? What if you had taken the bite out of the apple? And so we have all these interesting rules about when food is acceptable to eat or not, and this issue of contamination and disgust becomes interesting.
Now Rozin, Rozin has done studies and I’ll show you several examples. All these sort of studies are going to be things where you say well of course he found what he found, but it’s actually pretty interesting. What he would is to give people food, not doughnuts but I’m just putting them there in this case, and then have a dead cockroach nearby, but a cockroach that had been autoclaved. It was completely sterile, incapable of contaminating anything. So the question is would people actually eat less of the food when there’s a cockroach near it? When there wasn’t a cockroach near it, even though they had been assured that the cockroach wouldn’t do any contamination? Well the answer is of course. Of course, because those are such strong cultural values.
He did several other amusing things as well. For example, he made brownies in the shape of something else, and then he looked to see how much people ate of brownies that looked like this versus brownies that were conventional brownie shaped. Of course people ate less of this.
He also did a study where he poured apple juice into a sterilized bedpan and then asked people if they would be willing to do that? Well the people are of course no more willing to do that than our two student volunteers were in drinking their own spit. Again, these show cultural things that happen in various, various cultures. Now somebody from another culture didn’t know what a bedpan was, may not have that same sort of aversion. So these are sort of — well of course it makes common sense type findings but it’s interesting how strong these things and how quickly these aversions kick in and how powerful they are.
Now as I mentioned, Rozin has done some very interesting cross-cultural comparisons and he’s been especially interested in the difference between France and the U.S. Why those two countries? Well, he hypothesized that people in the U.S. have a whole different relationship with food then do people with — in France. At first glance, you’d think that the diets in France would be more unhealthy than the diets in the U.S. because they tend to be diets that are high in calories, high in creams, a lot of wine drinking and things like that. There would be reason to believe that that diet might be less healthy then what you find in America; but of course you find less heart disease in France then you find in America.
So he wondered why, and he wondered why when people are eating what most people in the world would consider more interesting food, that is in France compared to the U.S., people would eat less of it rather then more of it like they do in the U.S. He collected some data on this and it’s really pretty interesting.
First, to look at the difference in our food availability culture, he compared how many — what percentage of items in a supermarket were reduced fat versions in these three categories: ice cream, milk and yogurt. In the U.S. 25% of them, of the ice creams were reduced fat, zero in France; milk there was a difference and yogurt there was a quite a difference as well. The French are caring less about fat than people in the United States, or there would be more of a market for it.
He also looked at the percentage of subjects in the U.S. versus France who claim they’re eating a healthy diet. You get differences like this in the males, and differences like this in the females. People in France believe they’re eating a healthier diet; well in fact, they are eating a healthier diet, so it’s partly based in what they know about what American’s might be eating and what they’re eating. But it’s also the perception of your relationship with food. If people in the U.S. are at war with their food, which we are to some extent, and people in France are at peace with their food it constitutes a whole different psychological relationship and it affects how people eat.
He also looked at the main eating time in several restaurants in the U.S. and in a restaurant called Quick — in France its equivalent to Burger King — he found that the average minutes were fifteen point three in the U.S. and about a minute more in France. In McDonald’s there was even a bigger difference, thirteen minutes average in the U.S. McDonald’s and twenty-two minutes in the average visit in France.
Now not only, and you’ll see some other data on this, not only are people in the U.S. McDonald’s there a shorter period of time but they’re eating more during that time and they’re getting larger portions while they’re there. Think about that relationship with food. Whereas, even if you’re in a fast food restaurant in France you’re being served smaller portions, you’re taking more time with it, and you have a different relationship with food than you do in the U.S., which is thirteen minutes, a huge number of calories per minute, large portions, let’s get it down as fast as we can, and get out the door.
Restaurant portions were different, and this is what I alluded to. In the U.S., the average portion in McDonald’s when they did their study was 256 grams, a lot less in France. Now these are significant differences if you think about it, if you look at the percentage difference here, these are not trivial differences. The difference is even greater here between the Burger King version restaurant in the U.S. and France, and the Chinese restaurant differences were really quite striking.
How can the people in French go there and get less food, take more time to eat it, but enjoy it more? What does that say about their relationship? So here is — herein is the French paradox that Rozin talks about. The paradox is that people in France are eating less, they’re taking longer with it, but they’re enjoying it more, and they have less disease coming from it, even though it’s a richer diet if you just look at the typical foods people eat.
Rozin has talked about basic differences and values between France and the U.S. In this captures a lot of what American food culture is like, and the fact that it’s not like this everywhere in the world. First the moderation versus abundance ideology. Think about what a trip to an American restaurant is these days. If you go to the restaurants that are most common around the country, the chain restaurants, of course you get the fast food restaurant types where you can super size things, get large portions, bundle things together into meals that are called value meals, and that means a lot of food for a little bit of money, so it’s all about value, it’s all about how much you get in a meal.
Then think about the chain restaurants where you go and sit down more often. The Chili’s, the Outback’s, the TGI Friday’s, Applebees, all these sort of places and there are lots of them around, then you basically are prepared for a very large meal. As I think what I — I think I might have mentioned earlier in the class, there’s kind of this social ritual isn’t there when you go to these restaurants and get the huge portions, where you have to pretend to be surprised that you get the large portion when it’s served to you. But of course you knew exactly what you were ordering. You go to a fried seafood restaurant, you order the captain’s plate that has four different kinds of fried seafood, it’s heaped about this high, and you order that and then when it arrives you say, oh my God I can’t believe there’s so much food on that plate. Of course you know what was on the plate. And of course you know you’re going to take some home in a bag and maybe eat it later, so that’s a typical version of an American visit to a restaurant.
It’s considered a success if you get a huge amount of food, but not for too much money. That triggers in Americans, in the mind of most Americans that they’ve had a successful journey to a restaurant and they want to go back to that restaurant. That makes it commercially successful. Now it partly depends too on the service, it partly depends too on how good the food is, but the food in the United States is pretty uniform in taste. There’s not a lot of difference from one restaurant to another, in the quality of a hamburger, or the big plate of French fries or things like that. So really the amount becomes an important arbiter of whether people consider restaurant visits successful.
In France it’s not the case. As I think I mentioned before, the doggy bag is a peculiarly American concept, and if you go to most other countries not only will they — the term doggy bag not translate but the concept doesn’t translate, because they’re used to serving you the amount that you need at that meal, and you’re not going to take any home.
Now given science that I’ll talk to you about later, that when people are served more food they eat more food, you can see why we’ve got problems in the United States. Not only with the health consequences of food but with our relationship to it. Rozin also — then this focus on quality and quantity is a corollary of that. He also talks about collective versus individual food values. People in France are more likely to think about what food means to their family, what food means to their culture, what food means in a social context, than Americans where food is what you do, on your terms, and it doesn’t necessarily even have to involve other people at all. The number of people who eat by themselves in the U.S. is larger than it is in other countries. People that eat standing up at a kitchen counter, people that eat in their automobile, people that eat at their desk with nobody else involved over work, is more American than it is true in other cultures, where the meal, the eating still becomes a social event and becomes part of the social fabric of the country.
The speed versus conviviality is part of this too. How many of you have heard of the slow food movement? Okay, the slow food movement is an interesting movement we’ll talk about later. One of the people who started the Yale Sustainable Food Program, Josh Viertel, had just been hired to be the President of Slow Food, USA, so you’ll hear more about this as we go along in the class.
Built into this idea of slow food is that food should be something where you understand where it comes from; you know about its story if you will come back to that — you know how it’s prepared, and if you’re fortunate, not if you’re forced to but if you’re fortunate you’re involved in its preparation. The act of eating then becomes a convivial event. You’re spending time with other people, enjoying their company, and through this appreciating what the food means, and then you’re involved with the clean up as well.
A slow meal doesn’t mean that the stop watch clicks out a different time. It means that you have a different relationship with food, and this connects with values that are discussed in Michael Pollan’s writings and writings by other people as well.
Then there’s the pleasure versus the worry orientation. The number of products in the United States that have had health claims on them has gone crazy. It’s low in this, it’s high in this, it’s good for this disease, it’s good for that disease. These health claims mean that people are worried about their food, and they want health-they want foods to solve their worries. They want the food to reduce my risk for heart disease; reduce my risk for cancer; give me more fiber, whatever it happens to be is built into these health claims, and its part of America’s worry orientation with food.
The numbers of people in the United States who are happy with their relationship with food, feel at peace with food, and have a healthy relationship with food is much smaller than it is in other countries, and so you have people who have frank eating disorders. You have bulimia, anorexia, binge eating problems, and then you have the obesity problem, those people have difficulty with food by definition. What about the normative person who doesn’t have one of those clinical problems? If you look at people in the United States — we’ll talk more about this when we discuss eating disorders — there’s hardly a person in the country who’s really happy with their body. Some people are happy with their weight perhaps, although many are not, but even in the case where they are they don’t like their nose, they don’t like their knees, they don’t like how big their butt is. There’s always something wrong, always something wrong in the United States.
It’s what the psychology researchers have called normative discontent. That means that if we’re trained to be unhappy, trained to be ill at ease with our own bodies, led to believe by marketing that if we only buy the right device, we only get the right surgery, we only eat the right kind of food, that we will have the perfect body. You can imagine what that does to the relationship with food. How then food can become an enemy rather then a friend. Some people believe that in the United States we have a perverse relationship with food, and that’s not true around the world.
Chapter 5. Shifting the Values around Food in U.S. Culture [00:54:20]
Some people, Pollan, Alice Waters who I’ll introduce you to in a minute, and others have said we can have a wonderful relationship with food. Food can be a beautiful affirming part of our life, but we have to change the way we think. Cultures can shift, so we know that food patterns within a culture are strong, difficult to change, but not impossible to change, and a number of factors can signal changes of values around food in a culture.
Certainly things like climate change and starvation that that might produce can change food behavior in a profound way. We’ll cover that more on Wednesday. Things like war and people becoming refugees, changes the food patterns in very large numbers of people. If you add up the number of people in the world today who are refugees, who are living outside of their home environment, where then they have to eat different kinds of food either because they’re in a different culture or because of the dire financial conditions they’re in, this leads to changes. And sometimes those changes will persist in cultures. Migration leads to blending of cultures. If you look at the food culture in the United States, it’s such a mix. I mean even in New Haven, which is not a particularly large city, Malaysian restaurants, Mexican restaurants, Spanish tapas restaurants, Thai restaurants; you can go on and on, and on and there’s a wide variety of things. So the blending of cultures in the United States leads to some differences — changes in what people eat. Social values change, and we’re going to talk more about that now, and then of course the health and environmental concerns that we’ll talk about in great detail when we get into the lectures on sustainability are really very important issues as well.
Let’s look about — let’s look at changing American values. There’re two separate but connected movements that I’d like to talk about. One is sort of a positively oriented thing which represents optimism about food and return to earlier values, and the other is more skepticism and alarm, and I’ll give you some prominent examples of these.
First, Wendell Barry, a well-known author and also a farmer, award winning author but also a farmer, has written extensively. He was really one of the first to take on this issue that you see Michael Pollan write about more now, about our relationship with food and where it comes from, the land it’s grown on, who grew it, what sort of things went onto the food as it was growing, and the like. He was one of the very first, really pioneers, calls in the wild when nobody else was paying attention to this, paying attention to this issue of where food comes from and what it means for our culture.
Other people have picked up that banner and carried it high and have done it in a very effective way. One of the people is Alice Waters. Alice is from Berkeley, California. She’s a very well known chef. She runs a high end terrific restaurant in Berkeley called Chez Panisse, and has written a number of books, the most recent one is this — the one you see here called The Art of Simple Food. Alice has — and probably not many of you know this — but has had a special impact on Yale. She had a daughter, Fannie, who was a Yale student who’s now graduated. Fannie is the one who in Chez Panisse, the restaurant in Berkeley, the first floor of the restaurant is sort of a high end restaurant, the upstairs is a little less expensive but also very good and it’s called Fannie’s and she named it after her daughter Fannie.
Fannie came to Yale to be a freshman. Alice at the freshman reception that you and your families may have gone too at the President’s house, cornered Rick Levin and talked to him about the importance of doing something on sustainability at Yale. This coincided with a student group that was interested in these issues becoming larger and having more of a voice, and President Levin listened. From that conversation and from the student activism on this was born the Yale Sustainable Food Project. You’ll be hearing more about that in the class. Alice, during the time where Fannie was a student, those four years and then also after, stayed very actively involved in helping promote the Yale Sustainable Food Program, giving it visibility and bringing a lot of attention to it as it deserved, because it was quite a unique program. Alice has been one important figure in this field, and toward the end of the class we’ll come back and talk about a program that she has done in Berkeley, California called the Edible Schoolyard which was really quite unique and had a big impact out there.
Then of course there’s Michael Pollan who has taken these values and carried the banner high as well through his bestselling books. The beauty about Michael Pollan is that he’s a brilliant writer, puts together this information in very interesting and unique ways, and thinks very carefully before he writes a book about what goes into it, so he spends a lot of time doing research that makes for such interesting reading in first, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and then In Defense of Food. These are individuals who capture this return to values. This idea that if we go back to nature and we pay attention, as our forbearers had too, on where food comes from, how it’s grown, we get more involved in raising our food, in touching it, in preparing it, and understanding it, our relationship with it gets better and healthier. That’s the premise there. No science to back that up because it hasn’t really been studied, but to me it makes all the sense in the world.
It’s signaling this positive shift in return to earlier values that I think we’re seeing more and more in the United States. The concern about the environment, the concern about where food comes from and its impact on the health and well being, not only of the people who eat it but the people who grew it, and the societies — the environments in which they’re raised, means that people have a broader concern about food rather than just as a commodity, let me get in and out of McDonald’s in thirteen minutes and get those calories down. That’s a shift in a positive direction.
Pollan argues, in this context, against what he calls nutritionism. You will have read this by now, but I’d like to go back and capture the key points from this. He says in the book that he borrowed the term from an Australian sociologist. To Pollan it means several things. It means taking foods and reducing them to nutrients, so we’re not paying attention so much to foods anymore, but foods become a vehicle for delivery of nutrients we think are important. How much vitamin, whatever, does this food have? How much fiber? How much Trans fat if it’s viewed in a negative way? And so food becomes an opportunity to deliver nutrients, almost like a pill becomes an opportunity to deliver medicine.
This nutrionism, this ideology about nutrition, takes people away from thinking about food as food. Foods then get targeted to conditions. If you look at a box of Cheerios it will talk about how you can lower your cholesterol by eating this particular thing, so the food becomes a prescription, it becomes a medicine as much as anything else. He said there are significant down sides of this that we miss with the food provides and we completely miss out on the joy of eating, and what that also can mean in a social context. Here’s a quote from Pollan. It’s a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal then on a carrot with a perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs are screaming about their newfound whole grain goodness.
Now when we talk about marketing later in the class we’ll talk about this whole grain claim in particular. We’ll dissect what does it really mean, how much better for you was — is this particular food than before it had more whole grain in it, and is this in an absolute way a healthy food or not? Well certainly Pollan argues the company is making it sound like it’s a healthy food, whether it really is, is another matter. He talks about the health claims and how again we begin thinking about the delivery of nutrients being more important than the food itself.
So that means that this kind of sugary cereal, which I can’t imagine many nutritionists would say we should be eating more of, all of a sudden carries on a whole different level of meaning because it delivers whole grain. That changes the way we interact with food in this perverse way that Pollan talks about. That’s all part of our culture and he’s arguing for changing that.
Now these health claims and this idea of foods as nutrient delivery vehicles has been around for a long time, but relatively recently have people been rebelling against that. That’s the optimistic change in values that I think Pollan, Alice Waters, and Wendell Barry represent. We’ll be hearing from some people later in the class who share those same values.
Chapter 6. Alarm-Oriented Responses about Our Relationship to Food [01:03:51]
There’s also a more alarm oriented philosophy that I think has sort of invaded the country. You guys will probably know about Eric Schlosser, an author and Morgan Spurlock, a filmmaker, and they produced these two bits of work. You have Fast Food Nation, came out in 2001 and Supersize Me, came out in 2004. How many of you have read Fast Food Nation? Okay a fair number, how many of you have seen Supersize Me? A lot of you have, Morgan would be happy to hear that I’m sure. Very interesting fellow by the way. These two things represented alarm didn’t they? Because Fast Food Nation scared you, Supersize Me was funny in a lot of ways, but it also scared you that if you eat too much of these foods, what are you doing?
Well first there are these workers who are working at very low wages in these restaurants, under conditions that Schlosser pointed out weren’t very good. Schlosser then went to some of the farms where the animals were raised that go into the food at a fast food restaurant, and raised alarm and concern about that. It was kind of scary picture and people would look at that, read that book and say, I’m never going to eat fast food again because it’s unfair to the workers, the animals are being raised in terrible conditions, it’s not nice to them and this sort of feeling of disgust arose in a lot of people as a consequence of reading that book, and changed the way some people felt about fast food.
Then following on that, Supersize Me comes out. For those of you who didn’t see it, Morgan Spurlock put himself on I think it was about a month’s worth of meals at McDonald’s. He talked about how terrible he felt, he visited doctors, and doctors were very concerned about the health changes he was experiencing, and it was basically a movie written around — derived around that experience and it was very powerful as well.
So these are alarm oriented, concern oriented things that are coming out, coupled with this movement toward a more positive view of things that represented by Pollan and Alice Waters. The shifts that you see from things like Fast Food Nation and from Supersize Me, the ideas aren’t new because other people had written about each of these things in the past, or had discussed them, but they became popular because the time was right.
The culture was ready to hear these messages, the culture is ready to go see Supersize Me; the culture is ready to read Fast Food Nation; it’s ready to go grasp onto Michael Pollan’s books and Alice Waters’ writings, etc.; and these are signs of a cultural shift that’s happening right now, right here at this point in America. Happening elsewhere in the world as well, but focusing on America for the moment, you guys are sitting in the middle of a real important change in our relationship with food.
We went for many, many years where we sort of in this funk, I would say, where we didn’t care about the food, we wanted as much of it as we could get for the least price, we didn’t care what got put into it, we didn’t care how it was processed, we didn’t care who grew it, we didn’t care what impact it had on the environment, we didn’t care about anything except consuming as much as we could for the lowest possible price.
That’s different now. People care a lot about those things. The likelihood is that you care about these things a lot more than your parents did at your age. You can come to your own conclusion about whether those are positive changes, but the fact that the changes are occurring I think is really quite indisputable.
So what do these changes represent? Well, from Fast Food Nation, in particular, people are concerned about what the food does to us. Is it good for us or not? We’re concerned about how it’s made. Is it fried, is it processed, is it genetically modified? We care about who worked with it, who grew it, what impact they have on the environment, the working conditions of the people who feed it to you in restaurants; and it also represents distrust of the food industry. There was a time, there are polls all the time of Americans about how much do you trust certain industries and certain professions and things, and for a long time the food industry scored very high on those kind of rankings but they’re not scoring as high any longer. So the number of people who believe you can trust what the food industry tells you has gone down and that’s a consequence of a lot of science coming out on this, concerns about practices such as food marketing, but also prominent things like Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me. So this is a real shift.
Overall, the shifts represent more of a concern about the story of food and the word story is important, because we are more concerned, as we should be, about features of the food before it gets to our mouths. The story in our mind doesn’t begin from the time we pick up the food and put it in our mouths, but it starts way earlier in the chain. These are things that are quite new on the scene, and these are profound shifts and we’ll talk about the implications of those shifts as we go through the class.
We’ll talk about the environmental cost, we’ll talk about food and health and happiness, we’ve talked about that to some extent already, we’ll talk about who grows it and how it’s grown and what that means. As I said, in an earlier class, you probably didn’t come to Yale expecting to learn anything about farming, but you will. You’ll hear something about farming in this class because it’s important to our understanding of food and our relationship.
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