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The Complexities of Food Choice: Virginia Murphy

Watch Virginia Murphy explain the significance of food choice as it relates to nutrition and health.
Welcome back to this teach out on food sustainability. I’m here with Virginia Murphy who’s a lecturer in the social theory and practice program in the residential college within the college of literature, science, and the arts as well as the faculty director of the East Quad Garden. In this segment, we’re going to talk about the complexities of food choice. So thanks for coming back again. » You’re welcome. Thanks for having me. » Yeah, so let’s jump in here. So food is something that is obviously highly personal, and something that each of us interact with on a daily basis.
Can you tell us a little bit more about kind of these obvious moments of where we might have a lot of choices or perceived choices, or how does that kind of manifest in our daily life? » Yeah sure, so food is such an intimate choice that it surprises me when we unthinkably eat food. We pick up something because it’s convenient or because it’s cheaper. And yet, food reflects our culture. It reflects often our socioeconomic status, our likes, our dislikes. And I think that when we think about our food, we have to do so a little more intentionally than we normally would. But that’s to say that’s personal food choice.
I think on the whole, we don’t realize how marketed we are to. The food industry employs a really sophisticated and a program that is also very well-funded. And there are some categories that I think most people don’t know about. One is something called a slotting fee. So for instance, a manufacturer would pay a retailer to have a certain product placed in their store. It might be a new product that they haven’t tried before. But most likely it is something that’s established that the manufacturer wants to sell more of. And so that slotting fee puts the product at eye level of the consumer. So you’re twice as likely to choose that particular product.
And another thing is what I like to call the pastoral fantasy, which is images of chickens or a red barn, or cows on packaging which connotes to the consumer that that is clean and healthy food. When in actuality that image may have nothing to do with what’s in the package. » Interesting, so it sounds like there are a lot of systemic choices that happen before they even kind of reach that moment were we, as the individual consumer, kind of has agency over our food. » That’s correct. Yeah. » Yeah, and another example of that, I think, is egg cartons.
For instance, the only phrase that is regulated by the FTC is certified organic, which essentially means that 95% of the ingredients that go into a feed product are organic or pesticide free. But the other things that we see on there, such as cage free, or access to the outdoors are meaningless, because they are not regulated. And if you want to be careful, and you want to choose an egg, for instance, that is ethically raised, there are third party auditors that you can look for that stamp on the cartons that something was ethically raised, or humanely raised, but it’s not mandated by our government. » Interesting.
So, you have students you work with both in the classroom as well in the East Quad Garden. » Right. » How do you help these students think through, kind of these layers of complexity when it relates to choice? » Yeah, surprisingly few students arrive on campus with any knowledge of these issues. And I think a lot of them are shocked to discover that we abdicate so much of this choice to a corporate entity that has marketed to us for a really long time, think Kool-Aid as a kid, right?
And what I do is I assign work for them and this assignment is to take $3 to $5 and walk to the farmer’s market and buy food and talk to the farmer and find out how that farmer grew that food and come back to the classroom and tell us what you did with that food and what was it? Did you try something new? And I think that opens up for them a whole new opportunity to choose new foods, or healthy foods, or local foods. » Great, are there any other considerations with food choice that our learners should be aware of? » I think that when making food choices we have to think simply frankly.
I think that a lot of times we get caught up with thinking there’s too much information, or there’s not enough information, or there’s conflicting information about food. And I like to have a little thought experiment where I say, would I give my child a piece of fruit knowing that it’s just been sprayed with the a pesticide? And if I wouldn’t do that knowingly, then why am I unknowingly putting this food in my body? And so, that prompts me to learn a little bit more about the food choices that I make for me and my family. » What about examples of kind of absence of choice, thinking about something like the Fair Food Network?
Yeah, so, we have to think about that too. I think we don’t do a good enough job considering people who don’t have proper access to healthy and nutritional food and don’t have the choices to make good, sound nutritional food choices in their lives. So the Fair Food Network here and actually, they’re a model for a national program as well, offered something they called double-up food box. And what that is, is that you can take your money, your SNAP benefits to a farmers market and you get twice the product or twice the money’s worth for your fruits and vegetables. And just like i said earlier, in a sustainable context, it’s a relationship that benefits both.
The farmer gets more money and the consumer gets to go home with twice as much nutritional food. » That’s great. So what recommendation do you have for learners that wants to take back some of the agency when it comes to food choice? What would you say to them? » I would say be more intentional and use the thought exercise that I use myself, which is would you eat something that you knew had just been sprayed with a pesticide? And just do a little more research, I know we’re all busy but it doesn’t take that much time to choose something healthy. » Okay, well thank you so much, Virginia. » Thank you.
And thank you for joining us in the segment about food choices. We look forward to continuing the conversation in the discussion forums. Thanks.

Food is something that is highly personal and something that each of us interacts with on a daily basis. There are obvious moments in which we make a food-related choice, such as when we decide what to eat, where to buy our food, or how to dispose of food waste, but there are also many that we may not be aware of. In this segment Virginia and Benjamin talk about the complexities of food decisions and what we can do to overcome these challenges on a daily basis.

Virginia Murphy is a Lecturer in the Social Theory and Practice Program in the Residential College within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. She is also the Faculty Director of the East Quad Garden. Full bio here.

Discussion: Each expert identified a food-related action they recommend to help address climate change. Which resonated with you? Why?

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Sustainable Food Teach-Out

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