A recent NPR story notes that increasing access to fruits and vegetables is not enough to compel healthy eating habits.
A great story that highlights the problem with supply side economic thinking… supply doesn’t create demand, at least not in the rational sense that people try to argue it does. While there are many urban landscapes in which there are few, or none, local places to procure healthy food, simply opening a store does not solve the problem.
The more pervasive problem is the need to change behavior. Similarly, extolling the benefits of good health is insufficient to compel broad changes in behavior patterns, otherwise America’s obesity problem would merely be attributable to insufficiently distributed information. Mass media that glorifies athletes makes this a particularly absurd, or at the very minimum not very persuasive, counterfactual to anyone that wishes to defend the free market argument that it is the free flow of information that would compel the rational decision making.
The conventional solution is to promote cooking demonstrations, as the NPR story notes. While this clearly addresses a lack of education or information… it fails to address a chasm that remains between improving accessibility to healthy food and the utilization of knowledge to prepare healthy meals.
The convenience of mise en place.
Mise en place, or French for ‘put in place,’ refers to portioning and preparing all the ingredients to a recipe prior to beginning the actual process of cooking. Cooking shows notoriously demonstrate that having the vegetables chopped and the spices already portioned allows one to cook seamlessly while talking to the camera. While many offer demonstrations and recipes to educate consumers on ways to utilize fresh produce, most overlook the convenience factor that has fueled our fast food culture.
One need only look to the plethora of cookbooks that offer information regarding both healthy and delicious food, so why do Americans remain so unhealthy?
The processed food industry figured out the third component is convenience… Convenience that exceeds merely the location of the nearest produce stand or grocer. Lunchables, taco dinners, and Hamburger Helper are all examples of how the processed food industry has understood the behavioral component of convenience that has, thus far, largely eluded advocates of healthier living.
If the local store is going to offer a cooking demonstration, then offer packages of the ingredients collected for the consumer to simply grab and replicate at home. The package can be the open baskets of most grocery retailers… the fresh produce hanging out the top, the spices, and a printed recipe. If a customer already has the necessary spices, then have a nearby table for them to remove the spices from the basket… such that they simply grab the ‘dinner basket’ and may continue through the store to grab any additional needed items.
The key to changing behavior is creating memorable experiences… grocers, sell the Monday night dinner for 4 or Saturday’s date night dinner… in addition to the constituent ingredients. If the local produce stand becomes a strategic outlet for creating a better life of enjoyable eating, that is also healthy, then you change behavior patterns and become the preferred purveyor of experiences, not simply a retailer of ingredients.