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12 Jul 13 06:32

When I was in high school, I took part in a taste experiment where participants were asked to identify the flavor of instant desserts which had had some colorant added. As I recall, almost everybody misidentified what they were eating - green chocolate was thought to be lime, yellow strawberry was thought to be banana, etc. Color, it turns out, strongly affects our perception of flavor.

A recent study published in food sciences journal Flavour shows that our experience of food is also heavily influenced by the tools we use to consume it. Yoghurt tastes thicker and richer when served with a light plastic spoon, food tastes saltier when eaten from a knife and so on: http://www.flavourjournal.com/content/2/1/21

It's a slightly frightening thought that we could be persuaded to eat less (or more) simply through our choice of cutlery, particularly when we consider the array of tools food marketers already have to persuade us to buy and eat more, from adding extra sugar to manipulating our heuristic responses. For example, this study, worryingly sponsored by Elsevier, demonstrates how pricing promotions (like "buy one, get one free" aka bogof) can encourage people to purchase far more than they want: http://academia.edu/1600468/Retailer_branding_of_consumer_sales_promotions._A_major_development_in_food_marketing

That raises huge ethical questions about how food is sold and the liability of the companies that sell it. As the New York Times reported last year, lawyers who once formed class actions against the tobacco industry are now setting their sights on big food (currently focusing on labeling): http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/business/lawyers-of-big-tobacco-lawsuits-take-aim-at-food-industry.html?_r=4&pagewanted;=all&

The UK government has already banned the use of BOGOF in selling alcohol and is reportedly considering plans to extend the ban to all food stuffs and to oblige large retailers to expend a fixed percentage of their marketing budget on promoting healthy foods.

That sort of intervention makes me uncomfortable but as the global obesity crisis widens it seems inevitable that we will see further regulation to rein in food marketing and encourage healthier eating.

Lawyers of Big Tobacco Lawsuits Take Aim at Food Industry

www.nytimes.com

More than a dozen lawyers who took on Big Tobacco have filed 25 cases asserting that manufacturers like ConAgra Foods and PepsiCo are misleading consumers and violating federal law.


Category: Funding longer lives: Health/medicine, Food security: Diet/alternatives, Other


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