SCOTT MCDONALD: Good evening, everybody. Nice to see you all. Thanks for coming out on your Wednesday night. It's a great program we have for you tonight. I'm Scott McDonald. I'm the house dean here at Beta House. This is my house. And, well, welcome to it. It's nice to have it full.
We've got two great writers and speakers with us tonight, and I'm not going to spend much time introducing them. The fact that you're here shows that you already know who they are. Mark Bittman has been with us all week.
This is the second public event in his visit with us. He'll be here also tomorrow night, Thursday night at 7:30. Just to keep you on your toes, it's 7:15 tonight, 7:30 tomorrow night. And he'll be talking about issues from his book, Food Matters.
A bunch of people in Ithaca, especially on West Campus, have been reading Food Matters in preparations for Mark's visit. So I hope he remembers what he wrote, because people will be asking him about it. I wanted to show you copies of the books.
Our other guest is Brian Wansink, professor in the Dyson School. He's the director of the Food and Brands Lab and bestselling author of Mindless Eating-- Why We Eat More Than We Think. And it's not just because it tastes good. That's the punchline, right?
And here's Mark's book, Food Matters. Mark also has a new book due out in a month or two called VB6, Vegan Before Six. So watch your local bookstore for the new book. I want to be sure and thank people who have made this possible.
Mark is the Irik Sevin class of '69 visiting fellow. Irik Sevin endowed a fellowship that brings a figure in American public life to West Campus once a year, and Beta House is lucky enough this year to be using the fellowship.
And we're delighted that Mark has come to be that figure in American public life for us. Beta House is also sponsoring, and Sage School of Philosophy is sponsoring. Mark is participating in a philosophy class on campus called the Ethics of Eating while he's here this week. So those are the sponsors.
Let me tell you about the format tonight. Mark and Brian are going to sit in these chairs. Nothing has been planned except that they've agreed to ask each other questions. And I know each of them a little bit, and that kind of makes me giggle just thinking about it. So I think it's going to be a good time.
They're going to go back and forth with each other, and then they're going to open the floor for discussion. And I hope you'll all be eager to participate. So without any further ado, Mark Bittman and Brian Wansink.
BRIAN WANSINK: There's no theme music or anything when we walked on?
MARK BITTMAN: Rocky? You wanted Rocky?
BRIAN WANSINK: Something from Spinal Tap, yeah.
MARK BITTMAN: We don't know each other, but we're curious about each other's work, so we thought this might be-- neither of us was particularly shy. We thought this might be an interesting-- if it doesn't work, we'll open the floor up to question sooner. And if it works, later. But so I'm starting.
I have two questions for you to start with. One is-- I have an observation and a question. The observation is this. When you say to someone who's not really in the food world-- kind of like, I'm meeting Brian Wansink. And they say, well, who is he? And you say, well, he's that guy who goes into dining rooms and changes the plate size without telling anybody. And then he figures out what that does to how much you eat.
So yesterday, when I met-- I said this to my wife today, actually. And she said, oh, my god. That sounds so amazing, which it has been amazing work. And it's a fragment of his amazing work. But to me, it's what he's best known for.
So then I went into the dining hall tonight. And A, I kind of thought the plates were a little on the big side.
BRIAN WANSINK: Massive. What's up with that?
MARK BITTMAN: And B, you filled yours like-- it was-- what did you say yesterday? First thing I asked Brian was what's the ideal plate size when I met him two days ago. What did you say?
BRIAN WANSINK: 9 and 1/2 inches.
MARK BITTMAN: Women 9 and 1/4, right? So he takes this 10-inch plate, I got to say, and turns it into a dome. So I don't know. Can you talk for a minute about plates? Maybe you're sick of it, but it's I think it's fascinating.
BRIAN WANSINK: There's an expression in psychology that goes research is me search. In psychology, the only things people study are the things that obsess them, that are their problems. So being, basically, a mindless eater-- guilty as charged. That's what happened.
So that's why, when you were at dinner at home on Monday night, you noticed the plates we have-- they're like plate molecules, they're so small. Teensy, weensy things.
Because these are mindless ways to eat less without having to think about it. There's, like, 5%, I think, of the world, who can just, through sheer willpower and force of nature, control what they eat. The rest of us have jobs. We've got lives. We've got a billion things we're thinking about. We have to do lists that go on and on.
And| for us to say taste the pea, am I full yet? Am I full yet? That's just not going to happen. So it's easier just to set up your environment so you can mindlessly eat less or eat better than to do what I did tonight.
MARK BITTMAN: But many people, self included, go back, and regardless of the size of the plate, you might not take a lot at first. But then you go back. And I actually-- I don't know if I'm ashamed to say, but I will observe to say that I did this tonight-- I went back and got more food. And by the time I got back to the table, I was basically full. In those five minutes it took to go get more food, I was basically full.
But people do that all the time. And then they see this plate of food that they just got, the second one, and they eat that anyway.
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. And this is the important reason why you don't want to have too small a plate, because you drop about below about 9 and 1/2 inches, and you know you're tricking yourself. You know you're doing something weird. So you actually get an extra second or third time.
One thing we found is kind of cool-- we did a study of secretaries in colleges where we put candy dishes right on their-- free candy dishes right on their desk or six feet away from their desk. And every night for a month, we came in and refilled it.
And we found that what happened is that if a candy dish is just six feet away from a person's desk, they end up eating, on average, about 100 calories a day instead of 225 a day. Which doesn't sound like much, but over a course of a year, that would be about eight pounds more you'd gain by having that dish on your desk.
But when we ask people what's the deal-- is six feet too far to walk to get candy? Are you feeling your thighs burning or whatever? And they'd say, no, it's not that much work. It's just that six feet gives me pause to say jeez, am I really that hungry.
And half the time, they'd answer. Well, similarly, what prevents most of us from going and having seconds and thirds and fourths is the six feet between our table and the stove or the counter where we might have our serving bowls.
But the problem is we usually don't have our serving bowls on counters and on stoves. Where do we have them?
MARK BITTMAN: On the table.
BRIAN WANSINK: An arm's length away. And most guys, too-- women aren't as bad about this as guys. Most guys are really fast eaters. So you finish that first helping, and you're watching your wife and kids eat in slow motion.
What do you do? You go get seconds so you're not bored. And then you get thirds.
So we find that the best anecdote that actually decreases how much a typical guy eats by about 19% is to have the serving bowls for the less healthy foods just six more feet off the table-- the stove or on the counter, something like that. Wouldn't work for you tonight, because we're kind of far away.
MARK BITTMAN: Yeah. But you're saying that-- in a way, you're saying people are not going to become mindful. We have to develop strategies to take the-- to make them pretend that they're mindful or give us an opportunity to be mindful.
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. I think are some percent of the population that are mindful. They like to keep food diaries. They like to count calories. They like to do that.
But those are a different type of personality in general. But most of us don't want to do that stuff. If we could put governors in our lives that just automatically help us eat a little bit better, it helps a lot.
It's why we recommend-- we worked with Wegmans for a while, and we ended up developing this idea of a half plate rule. Look, you can eat anything you want in the world, but half your plate has to be fruits, vegetables, or salad. The other half can be a big hunk of lard, anything. But half your plate has to be fruits, vegetables, or salad.
Then we find that people say, well, then I can just eat as much as I want. You say, yeah, but typically they don't. Because after you eat one or two plates of something with half a plate of fruits, vegetables, or salad, you say, forget it. I don't want that lard bad enough to have to eat more fruits and vegetables. Easy rules of thumb. And that ends up being a better solution than teaching somebody the entire dietary guidelines and making them recite it backwards.
MARK BITTMAN: But in a way, almost any-- I'm going to phrase this as a question. Would almost any structural solution, almost any rule that someone set up for them-- this is my experience-- almost any rule that someone set up for themselves that said this is the food that I'm sort of inclined to eat, and maybe it's not so great for me.
This is the food I know I ought to eat that's probably better for me. Any rule that said-- however it worked-- I'm going to set up a system by which I'm forced to eat more of this and forced to eat somewhat less of that-- any system that does that works, right, that you stay with?
BRIAN WANSINK: It doesn't deprive yourself. You can't say my new rule is I'm never going to eat pizza again in my life. Because that's going to last until tomorrow. That's why I love the idea of being the vegan before six o'clock. Because you're not saying you can't eat fun, indulgent food. It's just don't spend every meal doing that.
And that's what I like about that concept, too. Because for most people, dinner is the coolest meal of the day, anyway, and you don't want to compromise with that.
MARK BITTMAN: Well, I have two things to say about that. One is that saying vegan before six or-- and I'll explain this for just a second, which is that I started doing this six years ago now.
And it's not-- I call it vegan before six, but actually, the idea is before six, vegan plus no white food plus no processed food at all. Just basically unprocessed plants, and then at dinnertime, I do whatever I want. So that's the rule. But that's the same as dividing your plate in half. You're just dividing your day in half.
And then when I announced this-- when I discussed this with a friend, he said, well, my rule is I'm vegan five days a week, and then on weekends, I do whatever I want. And it's sort of like any system that you stick to-- first of all, by eating more plants, you're reducing the number of overall calories you eat, because plants are less calorie-dense than other stuff.
And also, you're eating more plants, which evidently are better for you than anything else. But by reducing the amount of calories you eat, you're obviously-- maybe you'll lose weight, but in any case, you won't gain it.
But it doesn't really-- there's this new fad diet. People may have seen this story. I think it was in yesterday's or the day before's Times, this new fad diet in England where you fast two days a week. Five days a week, you eat whatever you want, two days a week, 400 calories, which is pretty low. It's like one hamburger or one huge bowl of fruit salad, whatever.
But it works. It works because you're now eating probably 2,000 calories less a week. And anything that sets that up structurally will work. But it's sticking-- this is sort of like all diets work while you're on them because you're sticking to the plan. Once you leave the plan-- so my idea, the vegan before 6:00 idea, was it wasn't a diet. It was something you did for the rest of your life.
You could just as easily say for the rest of my life, I'm dividing my plate in half. And half is whatever I want to eat, but as long as the other half is-- and that's the other thing. You have to force yourself. The rule has to be that you can't take the plate with the fruits and vegetables on one side and the lard on the other and only eat the lard.
BRIAN WANSINK: And fill it up again with more lard.
MARK BITTMAN: Because there is all this stuff that-- you might understand this better than I do. Actually, I don't understand it at all, but I can at least mention it. With all this stuff about flavor satiety and getting sick of eating-- you will only eat so many fruits and vegetables because they're so voluminous that it takes work to eat them compared to a piece of steak, which is so dense. It takes work to eat them. So you might appear to get full faster, but what you're actually doing is getting tired of eating faster-- or bored, I guess, in a way.
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. We had a study that just came out in Pediatrics where we were trying to figure out how do you get kids, little kids, to eat healthier snacks. And we took a whole bunch of kids. We gave them all the potato chips they could eat. Which is lot, it turns out. These are eight to 10-year-old kids.
And this other group of kids, we gave them all of the fun cheese they could eat and cut up vegetables. And we found that kids ate a ton of vegetables, they ate a ton of cheese. But still, they ate a total of 72% less.
MARK BITTMAN: Calorically.
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. Because part of the reason is it takes so darn long to chew broccoli and cauliflower compared to just going-- emptying that tube of Pringles directly in your mouth. And it was great, because they just-- it was fun to eat, it took a long time, and they got bored of eating after a while.
MARK BITTMAN: Weight wise, what was the average that a kid would eat potato chips unlimited? Do you remember?
BRIAN WANSINK: In terms of calories, I think it ended up being 410 calories. But these are 8-year-old kids, too. That kid is going to grow up to be Jabba the Hutt or something. It's crazy.
But this whole idea of the governors having the rules, I think, is so powerful. People refer to us who have behavioral eating problems, and we talk with them. We had somebody a while back who had the problem that they always ate fast food. And the rest of their life was fine. But every day on the way to the way home, they always stopped and got some fast food, and that was their big downfall.
And they said, what can we do. Well, if you were to say, well, don't do that, that's not going to work. They're doing it for a reason. We said, great. You love that fast food? Excellent. Here's what you do. You can order it as often as you want, but you just can't drive while you eat it. Just order it, pull over in the parking lot, and eat it as often as you want.
And the guy came back in about two weeks and he said, I realized that I don't really like it as much. He just liked the fun of driving with his tartar sauce and feeling that he was Mario Andretti or something.
MARK BITTMAN: The largest number-- the greatest percentage of shakes sold at McDonald's are sold during afternoon drive time. Because it gives people something. They don't want to ruin their appetite. They don't want to have a hamburger at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. They figure I'll have something to drink. They wind up having a shake.
And it's so convenient and so portable. Because American cars are so brilliantly built with cup holders. Have you done anything with cup holders?
BRIAN WANSINK: No. That's a good point. But I know that I've got a car that doesn't have a very big cup holder, and I hate it.
MARK BITTMAN: Got to trade in that car.
BRIAN WANSINK: Get rid of that. That's right.
MARK BITTMAN: Have there been brilliant ideas that your lab has come up with to experiment with that were complete busts, where the opposite of what-- like the plate, you said under 9 and 1/2 inches, the plate thing backfires.
BRIAN WANSINK: That really blows up. We've had a ton of things. About a third of the things we do turn out totally different than than we expect, because people just are not predictable. And a lot of times, people assume that people are going to be rational or they should behave in this way, because it just makes sense. Without testing something like that-- I'll give you an example.
MARK BITTMAN: That's what we wanted, was an example.
BRIAN WANSINK: OK. Has anybody here been to Utica? OK. So we did a study in Utica with a place called Hannaford Brothers. It's a big, really nice grocery store. And one thing we wanted to look at was how long would a soda tax-- if we taxed soft drinks there, how long would it make a difference, and when would it pop back up. Would it keep people from buying less soda for a couple of months and then come back up, or would it just get better, or what?
And so we set this elaborate, seven-month study in place, and tracked everything. Tracked, I think--
MARK BITTMAN: Hannafords cooperated in one store or more?
BRIAN WANSINK: All four stores in Utica. Or three or four stores in Utica.
MARK BITTMAN: Did they make it up to their customers that they were--
BRIAN WANSINK: You know what we did is we gave them the-- they had the shopper cards, and at the end the study, they got a lot of money for being in this study. Not a lot, but I think $200 or something like that. But it's just the tax on the soft drinks.
But what we found-- we thought, oh this is great, because it's going to show that there might be a little bit of dip, but we'll see what the decay is. What we find is that there is this little dip the first month. The rest of the month, purchases pop back up. There's a little dip in the first month.
But what are people going to buy if they're not buying soft drinks? If you're going to eat pizza or hamburgers, do you say, well, I'm just going to have some tap water? No. We found that with households that had purchased beer in the prior month, beer sales went up by 40%. It's just like, oh, that was unexpected.
And that's the fun thing about-- well, we did something a while back where we we looked at-- we took every depiction-- or the many depictions of the "Last Supper," the painting of the "Last Supper." And we measured the size of plates and bread and all these different things. And we indexed them on the size of the disciple's heads.
So then over the past millennium, we could show all these amazing things. We found the portion size on average over the last millennium went up by about 63%. Plate size went up by 61%. Bread size went up by 20%.
But what we did in the experiment is the number of bottles on the table kept going up, too. It actually peaked in 1600, so I guess those are the years to be around. So there's a lot of those crazy things that happened that were like that.
One thing I've been thinking is I know you're a marathon runner.
MARK BITTMAN: Well, yeah, sort of.
BRIAN WANSINK: A marathon finisher.
MARK BITTMAN: Yeah. I have been. It's hard to-- there's always someone who is making you feel like you're not, but yeah. I have a friend who runs-- does a 20-mile run every weekend so that if any of his friends say do you want to run this marathon with me, he can say yes. So he's in permanent marathon shape. So I would call him a marathon runner.
I've run marathons. Maybe I'll do more. Maybe not. But yes.
BRIAN WANSINK: Because I know that a tremendous occupational hazard of doing what you're doing is that everybody wants you to eat their food, or their version of maybe a recipe, or something like this. And being around food all the time that must be that amazing would make a typical person blimp out, even a marathon runner.
So there must be some rules of thumb or systems that you have that you use on a daily basis that really keep things in check and keep you thin and marathoning all the time.
MARK BITTMAN: It's not the running. And I often find, if I take some time off from running and I start again, I gain weight. And many runners will tell you this. Because you get hungry. You get really hungry, and legitimately hungry. So you feel like now I'm hungry, and I deserve to be hungry. So you could probably study that a bit.
But I did do the-- I did the vegan-- I started doing the vegan before 6:00 thing, because I had-- when your friends tell you're looking a little heavier, you probably really gained a lot of weight. So there was that and the scale.
If you gain five pounds every three years, after 30 years, you've gained a lot of weight. So there was that. And my cholesterol was higher, and my blood sugar was higher. And I can't talk about this too much, because I'm going to talk about it tomorrow night. So that's when I did the VB6 thing.
But I think I've been blessed with two things. One is that I actually get full pretty quickly. I tend not to eat a lot at any given meal. And I don't eat a lot between meals, either. So that's my overall caloric-- I eat a lot of fatty foods still, but I think my overall caloric thing every day is not that great.
The other is that when I really get full, I start to sneeze. So can I actually-- how many people-- this happens to other people. I'm not the only person. When you eat dinner and you get full, you start to sneeze? No one?
I'm telling you, I've met people like this. I'm not making it up. But obviously, it's less than 1% of the population. But we're out there.
But my kids and my wife and everything-- they go, oh, there he goes. The end of the meal comes, and I just-- and sneezing is a very powerful, violent thing. And if it's a great meal and I feel like I'm only 2/3 of the way through and I start to sneeze, I go, damnit! I'm sneezing! And then I'll force myself to start eating again. But usually, I start sneezing, and I'm like, OK, that's it. So that's not exactly a strategy since none of your is doing it.
BRIAN WANSINK: Well I knew there had to be some explanation. Because the other day, when you were over for dinner, my daughters-- my oldest daughter, who's six or seven, said I want to be in charge of dessert. I thought, this is going nowhere fast. And we said yes, you can be in charge of dessert. Her idea of dessert was to take her favorite Girl Scout cookies and give them to the table. And always said I was very pleased to see that you--
MARK BITTMAN: Didn't eat the Girl Scout cookies.
BRIAN WANSINK: Whatever food rule you had, you at least broke half of it off and threw it under the chair something to give the illusion you did.
MARK BITTMAN: No, I didn't. I'm not big on desserts, actually, so that is another thing. Although there are times when I will indulge and really go nuts. But generally speaking, I'm not big on desserts.
BRIAN WANSINK: You spent the last week here, very generously, on a college campus.
MARK BITTMAN: It's only been 56 hours, but who's counting?
BRIAN WANSINK: But it seems like weeks.
MARK BITTMAN: It seems like a week.
BRIAN WANSINK: You've had a good chance to interact with the students here. And one thing that happens is we can become unbelievably insular in college campuses, probably because it's our entire life. And particularly when we end up in a place like Cornell that's centrally isolated, it can happen even more.
Is there advice or rules of thumb that you've used for yourself to stay very in touch with the world, I guess, so to speak, and not become insular, like the tendency is for a lot of us to become on this campus?
MARK BITTMAN: Well, I should ask you that question, because I live in New York. But I did feel-- those of you who I-- many of you have heard me say this, but I haven't slept on a college campus since May, 1971. So that's a while.
And I thought, well, this will be interesting. And it is interesting. And I have to say, since I'm not really taking classes, I'm not getting to all parts of the campus. But I did say today that it feels a little bit as if I had an apartment at the Times. I'm working and sleeping in the same place. And that does feel dangerous.
But food wise, I moved-- I started cooking when I was in college. I started cooking when I was a sophomore. And one of the reasons I moved off campus after my freshman year was because I thought that I really-- I didn't think the food was bad for me. I thought it was horrible.
I wasn't thinking, oh, I have to do this for my health. It's like, I can't eat this stuff. I just can't do it. And I moved off campus, and I started cooking.
And then I was 18. And I have no idea. I'll answer all the questions about this. I did not come from a family that was obsessed with food. Very few families were obsessed with food in those days the way they are now. My mother was not a great cook, although she did cook every night. Well, that's the old Catskills joke.
I did grow up in New York, so I was exposed to a very, very broad variety of flavors. And I ate Korean food when I was in high school, and Japanese food, and Indian food, and all those kinds of things that most people in the United States at that point didn't even have the opportunity. This was the '60s, so that stuff was not around in a lot of cities.
So there was this sort of-- then I went to this college campus, and everything was like high school lunch. Every meal was like high school lunch. So there was-- I always say I started cooking out of self-defense. There was this incentive for me to try to get better food, better-tasting food.
And I wasn't cooking in a sophisticated fashion that first year. But that second year, I started cooking from cookbooks, and I started cooking really, really well. But I was still really a student. I was still really living a student life. I had-- well, I won't say I had no money, because I was working, also, so I had a little money. But I didn't have a real kitchen. One year I was doing a hot plate.
But I did try to do stuff. And I'm not saying that's for everybody, obviously, but it worked. It worked for me. I ate much better in college. By the time I was a senior, I was baking bread. So now that's not so unusual. People do that. But in those days, I was very popular, actually, as a result of that.
BRIAN WANSINK: Brownies, yeah.
MARK BITTMAN: No, I didn't. Actually, the very first thing I made-- the first thing I made that was a recipe was a dessert. And it took a long-- it was really hard.
But after that, I got into savory food. And there is a-- most cooks feel that there's a pretty strong dividing line between people who make desserts and people who just cook. So I became a just cook kind of person.
MARK BITTMAN: It was interesting. A while back, we did a study. We wanted to look at what's the differences between fruit lovers and vegetable lovers. Some people love both of them. We find there's a ton of people who just really, really love vegetables, and they go, fruits, they're fine. There are some people who really love fruits and not vegetables.
One thing we found is that with vegetable lovers, they tend to have more cookbooks, but they don't tend to follow recipes. They entertain more. They drink more red wine and they eat fewer desserts.
And if you look at a lot of that stuff, it pretty much makes sense. Because to work with vegetables, it requires some prep. You can't just bite into a gourd. So you have to have some knife skills, and you're probably a little more confident. You have friends over.
And I think that the tannic parts of vegetables, the bitter parts of vegetables, might be more in line with red wine, too. But very big dividing line between fruit lovers and vegetable lovers.
MARK BITTMAN: How did you do that work? Was that surveys?
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. What we did-- this was about 1,100 North Americans. And did a lot of stuff, come up with all these personality profiles, include them in an instrument. And then we had measures of whether they were fruit lovers, vegetable lovers, both, or neither. And then just looked at all the differences. It's cool stuff for those of us who like to cook.
MARK BITTMAN: Can you talk a little about some of the stuff you've done for industry? Some of the not pure research, but the stuff that you've done--
BRIAN WANSINK: When you talk about the failed studies, then once you ask the question, then I'm thinking of all these things that went wrong and stuff in the past. One of the first things we did was back in the '90s, we came up with this idea. I was doing research related to the size of packaging and how it influenced how much people got.
We had this study. This is one of the things-- good things go bad. We were doing this study in these Philadelphia theaters where we were giving people packages of things and seeing how it influenced how much they ate and stuff.
But somebody mistook grams for ounces. And instead, we end up with these micro-sized packages of candies. Oh, gosh. Why me?
So we gave these to people. We said, well, we'll just give people about 10 of these things instead of one big bag.
MARK BITTMAN: 28, actually, if you're trying to compensate for the difference between grams and ounces.
BRIAN WANSINK: And one of the things we found is that people ended up eating a lot less candy when they get the same volume of candy in smaller bags. So I went, oh, my god. This is a great way that companies can sell more-- they can charge more for less food, and that can be a win-win thing.
So I remember I called up Nabisco and M&M Mars and Kellogg's, just jumped in and said, hey, I got this really cool idea that you can use to help people eat less. I remember jumping in my Jeep and driving up and making these presentations.
And the presentation would go tremendously until I'd say, and so, you can see with the data that you can make a lot more money by selling less food. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. And these 24 executives just stare at you like you were from the former planet Pluto.
MARK BITTMAN: Because they don't want to sell less food.
BRIAN WANSINK: Well, it's hard to think I can make more by selling less.
MARK BITTMAN: But isn't this the 100-calorie pack, ultimately?
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. So then I was pretty discouraged after these trips. Then I got a call about six months after that from a guy from Nabisco, and he goes, do you really think we can make more by selling this smaller line of stuff? And eventually, this stuff came out. So that was pretty cool. That worked OK.
And then we had something a while back where we were trying to figure out how could you get people to drink a lot less alcohol when they go out. And one of the things we found is that if you take a 12-ounce glass-- it's tall and skinny or 12 ounce glass that's short and wide-- when you pour things into it, you pour a lot less into the tall, skinny glass, because it just looks the thing holds quarts and quarts.
So people naturally pour less in, such as alcohol, for instance. We found that even bartenders will pour about 30% more liquor into a short, white tumbler than a tall highball glass, a highball glass.
And if you think about this, this is a tremendous win-win thing. Because if you can convince TGI Friday's and Bennigan's and all these places like this to have tall, skinny glasses, you're going to save a lot of money on alcohol. Because ice is cheaper than alcohol.
But also, you're going to be benefiting consumers, too. Instead of getting two drinks and believing you're drinking two drinks, you're actually drinking 2 and 1/2. You'll actually just get two. And so when we found that out, we went and told all of these casual dining chains, hey, look, you can do this, and you can make more money doing this, and consumers will like it.
So unfortunately, now if you go to TGI Friday and your order any of those drinks, the drinks of the night-- have you guys ever seen what those things are like? Oh, my god, it's unbelievable. They look like they're being served in straws that are this tall. It's just crazy. So I think they went a little too far.
So these are win-win ways that companies get people to eat better. Have you seen any good win-win ways, or have you thought of any win-win ways that restaurants can help people eat better and still make money?
BRIAN WANSINK: Well, I they're not going to do it if they don't make money. So I don't know. I've recently become really interested in eating better in fast food places or in seeing what fast food places can do to help people eat better. Because like it or not, people are going to eat fast food.
So I started doing this thing of-- vegan before six aside, I decided a new rule was vegan in airports. Because the airports-- airports, as everyone knows, are the hardest places to eat well. So I thought, OK, since we already know that I'm going to eat crap in the airport, let's make it more fun and say you can-- one solution was not bring a ton of fruit or bring your own food, which is a good solution. But I just decided I would go wandering through the airports.
And so I spent weeks eating basically Caesar salads and wraps, because that's what there is in airports. Any vegetarian will tell you this. Or Subway Veggie Delight. Like chopped vegetables on bad bread-- that's what vegans eat in airports. This is true.
And then I discovered Taco Bell. And it was really-- and any vegetarian will tell you this is true. Taco Bell is the fast food chain that's friendly to vegetarians. And so I went up to this.
And I should have known this sooner, because my daughter-- my younger daughter, but when she was-- I don't know, 15 years ago, we used to go to the orthodontist. And one year she decided she was a vegetarian. So the rule was before or after the orthodontist, we'd go have fast food. Because we didn't need a lot of fast food, so that was the treat for going to the orthodontist.
So then she became a vegetarian. So she said, well, the only place we can really go is Taco Bell. So I should have remembered that, but I didn't. So finally, after a couple of months of this vegan in airports thing-- which really is painful, not that the omnivore in the airport is ecstatic.
So I go to this Taco Bell. And I don't really-- I haven't been to a Taco Bell in a while. You sort of think of it-- or I sort of think of it-- as the lowest of the low. And it's really inexpensive, amazingly inexpensive. It gets a lot of bad press. And Yum Brands in general is not a terrific chain. They tend to be sort of the bottom feeders.
But I go up to the Taco Bell, and I start talking to these people. This is in Dallas Fort Worth. And the people behind the counter-- I say, well, I'm a vegan, so what should I eat? They offer me eight options, but they're explaining them to me in detail. And it's like, this is not the first time these people have had this conversation. You will not have this conversation at McDonald's.
And then the woman standing next to me says, oh, yeah, well, I'm not a vegan, but my kids are, so we go through this all the time. And you ought to do this. And he didn't mention that you could get this thing. And then this guy next to me says, yeah, I have the same problem. And I'm thinking everything is-- no, but I'm not-- this is true. And I'm thinking, everything is changing so fast.
So then I start-- then I pitch this story, which I'm in the midst of doing, which is actually when I'm not-- I'm spending all my time in the room talking to venture capitalists about fast food. And so there are all these chains. They're mostly in-- they mostly are nurtured in Southern California, because the best place to start a fast food restaurant-- because it's really the home of fast food. McDonald's started in San Bernardino.
So there's three chains now that are-- well, let's say two chains that are of interest. One is called Native Foods, and one is called Veggie Grill. So both of these places, you go into-- Veggie Grill sounds like it might be vegetarian. But you go in, and they like chicken sandwich. Only it's not chicken, but they don't tell you it's not chicken. It's just called chicken sandwich. And it's-- maybe it's spelled wrong. I can't remember. But that could happen anywhere, right?
And I go into Native Foods, which I didn't know-- Veggie Grill I knew. Veggie Grill is vegan. There's no dairy, none, and no meat. But they don't tell you that. They say chicken fingers, chicken, cheeseburger. The cheese is, like, cashew or soy or something.
I don't know. GF power wrap, which means gluten free power wrap. And it's tempeh and portabella mushrooms. They don't say anything about meatless. They don't say texturized vegetable protein with brown rice. There's none-- you don't get that at all.
And it's junk food. The other thing is you go in and you get a fried chicken sandwich, and it's a fried chicken sandwich. It's just that if you didn't know that the chicken-- it might fool you if you didn't know that the chicken wasn't chicken, because most chicken doesn't taste like anything anyway. But if it did-- if it fooled you-- what I'm saying is there's not a huge difference between a Burger King fried chicken sandwich and this fried chicken sandwich.
And so it's a big bun, big piece of chicken, avocado, tomato, onion, mayo. I haven't looked at the calorie stuff yet, but it's got to be over the top. And it's fried.
So I call these people up and I say, is this stuff actually better? Are we doing-- what are you doing? What is the thought behind this? And it's very confusing. Because it is plant-based. It really is plant-based.
So if you're interested in animal welfare, you're interested in this. It really is plant-based. And if you're interested in, say, lowering your intake of incidental antibiotics by eating less animal products, it is plant-based. And it's using-- compassionate antibiotics aside, it takes many fewer resources to make fake chicken than it does to make real chicken.
So that's one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is it's junk food. It's still fried. It's junky stuff that's not chicken. But from an aesthetic perspective, it's as bad as real chicken and a little worse.
And it's fast food. It's not taking people out of the fast-- and their argument is-- well, their argument is they're making money. And they're going to make-- so that's our first argument. Their second argument is, look, we're giving people plant-based food, and they're liking it. Our business is up 17%, and they're doubling in size. And believe me, they'll be on the East Coast soon.
So that's-- but they're saying we're giving people familiar food, but it's plant-based. And I say what do you mean, familiar food? And they say, well, we're giving them cheeseburgers. They just happened to be plant-based cheeseburgers.
So I don't think I have a conclusion. I'm in the middle of writing this story. But it's really confusing situation, because they're-- it's almost undeniably a step in the right direction, but it's such a crappy step in the right direction.
And the food is not-- the other thing is the food is not delicious, but it is familiar. The food is not delicious at Burger King, either. But one of the things they're saying is that 50% of their-- 60% of their-- I was just on the phone with them this afternoon, so it's almost not too late for me to-- I almost haven't forgotten the numbers yet.
I'm pretty sure they said 60% of their customers eat meat some of the time, at least some of the time, are not self-described vegetarians. The other 40% are self-described vegetarians. But you can be vegetarian and eat chicken and fish by people's self-description. So there's a lot of weird definitions of vegetarians.
So 60% of the people who are going into this place are saying, on some level, I'm going for a plant-based-- after they figure out that it's not real chicken, which eventually they're going to do-- I'm going in for this alternative fast food. I'm going in for this plant-based fast food.
And to me, it does seem like-- as I said, it's not a terrific step in the right direction, but there are people who will argue-- it's a question of how tiny the steps need to be to get people to eat better. But in New York, we have this place called Maoz, M-A-O-Z, which is a falafel joint. We have 80,000 falafel joints, but this is a chain of falafel joints. And maybe it's a little better, a little more expensive than the individually-owned falafel joints.
And there's one around the corner from the Times. They have lines out out the door every day. So to me, that's a better step in the right direction, as is-- or as would be Chopped, which is this salad concept where you get this massive bowl, literally-- I think it's a half gallon of greens and then whatever you want to put in it.
And then they chop it and they shake it up. Neither of these things is necessary, but that's what they do. It's a little show, so they give you a little show. They use mezzalunas to chop everything, and then they put it in the big plastic thing, which has a tight-fitting lid, and then they shake it up for it.
But the two problems with this thing are one is that everybody buys bacon and chicken and cheese and stuff and puts it on top. So it's a salad, but it's 1,000-calorie salad because they put a lot of dressing on, $0.50 extra dressing everywhere. And two is that it's not very-- somehow they've managed to make it so that it's not very good. But that also, I think, is a step in the right direction. I don't know.
BRIAN WANSINK: Well, there's a lot of things-- it's incredibly fun to watch behavior at fast food restaurants. Because people are just so in their zone. But we did something a while back, because there was a lot of these complaints that the child's meals, the kids meals, Happy Meals at McDonald's, they weren't that healthy. And so we did this observational study. We went in all these McDonald's. And we'd just stare at kids as they eat these Happy Meals.
And one thing you realize is that there is a very defined moment when a Happy Meal is over. Anybody And guess when that moment is?
MARK BITTMAN: After the discovery of the toy.
BRIAN WANSINK: When they open the toy, meal over. They're' not even squirting that sauce in their mouth anymore. But what we found is that the typical kid would be eating between about 80 and about 110 calories of French fries. And after that, game over.
But no French fry was ever thrown away in a kids meal ever. Because who eats it? Yeah, moms did. And so when working with McDonald's a while back, we said we think you can cut down the size of these fries and no kid is going to complain, because they're going to playing with their toy. Mom might complain, but the kids aren't going to complain.
And we found that doing that and pushing milk a little more, the average calories in a Happy Meal dropped by about 104 calories. What was interesting about this is what is healthier Happy Meal. It's now called a four-item Happy Meal, because you get, like--
MARK BITTMAN: Three apple slices.
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah, if you're lucky. It's very few apple slices.
But what do you think-- how do you think that influences what Mom and Dad order when the kid all of a sudden has fewer French fries, but he has apples? How do you think that would influence a companion?
MARK BITTMAN: They have to order more French fries.
BRIAN WANSINK: One thing they do is almost-- most of them upgrade French fries. But what happens-- they don't buy desserts. They dramatically drop the number of Apple pies that are bought and the malts that are bought and the ice cream that is bought. So overall with parents, it dropped even the calories in the parents' meal.
MARK BITTMAN: And what was the theory on why the parents weren't buying desserts? Because there were three pieces of apple on the table?
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. Actually, I think what happens is that they say, well, if I'm going to upgrade French fries, I'm not going to buy that extra treat, that sort of thing. So it's amazing to see the weird stuff.
So we did a study where we were talking about California chains. There's a place called Carl's Jr.
MARK BITTMAN: It's actually the-- it was the-- it was the second real fast food in the United States, Carl's Jr.
BRIAN WANSINK: Carl Karcher, yeah.
MARK BITTMAN: Carl Karcher.
BRIAN WANSINK: They've got a salad bar in the middle. So there's a Hardee's--
MARK BITTMAN: And they have a one-pound hamburger. Might as well say that about Carl's Jr.
BRIAN WANSINK: That's right. So there was a Hardee's that was changing over to Carl's Jr. a while back. And we said, hey, do you mind if we take over construction for a day? And we cut it in half and put up a-- had to put a wall up. And half of it was the typical Hardee's where there's the loud music, the bright lights.
Then we took this other half, and we made it this fine dining establishment where we put some offset lighting and we had-- we piped in this very soft music-- Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, that album. I felt really cool when I was listening to it. Started smoking clove cigarettes.
So we had this soft music, soft lighting. When people ordered, they ordered basically the same stuff. We randomly took them and put them in this smaller, nicer dining room. What we found is that they ate about 11 minutes longer.
But what happened is that they ended up eating about 18% fewer calories when they're in this nice environment, when the music was soft and the lights were softer. Because, well, you take 11 minutes longer, you fill up a little bit more. But then also, cold French fries-- oh, man. They are not that tasty. So you let them cool off, people go, eh.
But they also rated the food as better. They rated the restaurant as a better place also.
MARK BITTMAN: Even though they knew the food was coming from the same thing?
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. Well, they ordered the food, but they rated it better, they rated the restaurants better. And so this just came out a couple of months ago. Because we took it-- we sent it to every fast food chain and said, look, if you tone down the music, people are going to eat a little bit less but they're going to like you more. They're not going to order less, they're just going to eat less. And they're going to like you more. And I think we're getting some traction with that.
MARK BITTMAN: That's interesting.
BRIAN WANSINK: So if you're a consumer, what can you do? Well, find the quietest, darkest corner in the restaurant. But even if you eat at home, at least turn down the music a little bit and don't sit under your brightest fluorescent light when you're eating your takeout.
MARK BITTMAN: But at home, things are not-- people don't overeat at home as much, right?
BRIAN WANSINK: I'm not sire. I don't know. Not if they use smaller plates and move the serving bowls to the other side of the room.
MARK BITTMAN: Why don't we-- we talked a long time. Why don't we open this up for questions? Just talk really loud, because you don't have a microphone. There are people 100 feet away from you-- or 50 feet, anyway.
AUDIENCE: First of all, thank you. That was really fun and interesting. I was interested to hear you talk a little bit more about the moment of switch-off. Because it seems to me that we all think about food a lot. That's why we're here. We read cookbooks for fun. A lot of food journalism are really interested by what we eat.
Then you're also talking about this unconscious eating. So is there something physiological about the process of eating that makes our mind switch off? One is that moment of divide. If that could be research-based or anecdotal?
MARK BITTMAN: Did you guys hear that? Some did and some didn't. She's asking is there a switch off, a way in which you don't-- you can just stop thinking about food so much, not be as obsessed with it. Yes?
Anyway, it's a question for Brian.
BRIAN WANSINK: I thought--
MARK BITTMAN: I'm just a moderate.
BRIAN WANSINK: I thought you were going in a another direction. You said what is it that causes us to obsess about it and not be able to switch things off. I think it's the switch that's on your iPad, on your TV, on your phone, and even on the magazine that you might be reading.
I think what we've done over the last few years is we've gotten to the point that food isn't something we enjoy in and of itself. It's something that we parallel process with. Because we're almost always doing something else.
If you go back to times, I think, when people probably enjoyed food a lot more in countries where they enjoyed food a lot more, you don't see all this multitasking. And I think that's one thing that doesn't enable us to turn off that satiety thing. Sir?
AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you, Mark, for coming here today. The question is Michael Moss, on the 20th of February, wrote a long article in the Times. And I'd like to get both of your opinions on what that is. Because that goes to the turning off, that kids will not turn off now.
And Sandy and I just spent the last year working in a little village in Northeast Thailand. And already up there, we're seeing the obesity epidemic come in with the bags of potato chips and all that that the little kids are starting to pick up, just like they have in America. [INAUDIBLE] Do you guys believe it's true [INAUDIBLE] turn it off [INAUDIBLE]?
MARK BITTMAN: Well, that's exactly-- Michael, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his stuff on pink slime before it was called pink slime-- that work-- a lot of that work was actually pioneered by David Kessler, who was our FDA commissioner 20 years ago or so.
And it's about the food companies discovering that if they appeal to the stuff that we're hardwired to eat, which is fat and sugar and salt, and combine those in different ways and then scientifically study how we react to each of them, they can create food that is portable and cheap, and if not addictive, than habit-forming, or shall we say extremely craveable.
And we've all had the experience-- airports are such an easy target, in a way, but we've all had the experience of walking through the airport and smelling a Cinnabon or whatever-- whoever else is pumping the smell out into the air. And just suddenly, you want one. You're hungry.
Or just the sight of a place where you're so familiar with the food, and it's become our comfort food. And not only do the food companies know that. Food companies made that happen to some extent.
So the question is how do you turn that off. It is another switch question.
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah. And I think it's important realize, too, that the food companies don't do anything different than our grandmother did. She used fat and salt and sugar to make sure that we loved going there for Thanksgiving, for whatever holiday.
And she doesn't do anything that most of us in our own homes when we have friends over to eat. We want them to have a fun time. We want them to come back and not to go, oh, my god, let's stop at Taco Bell on the way home. I'm starving. So we end up doing the same thing, too.
And so I realize that that's very endemic to wanting to please another person, whether it be for profit or whether it be for pleasure. I think there's a lot of ways to get around these things. But the easiest thing that you can do is eat half a portion.
So if you're looking for a quick fix-- I don't think it's trying to wait for policy to change or something that moves at a glacial speed, but I think it's simply just to enjoy what you like, but eat less of it.
MATT BITTMAN: How about the other extreme of the room?
AUDIENCE: I wanted to ask about how attention interacts with eating. So do we eat more when we're attending to what we're eating or less? Also, there's the famous gorilla video on YouTube where, allegedly, we don't see the gorilla because we're attending to the passes of the basketball. If I'm absorbed in attending to my box of cereal while eating it, am I not even tasting the food, the cereal? So just in general, how does attention interact with eating?
BRIAN WANSINK: Well, I'll take a look at this with TV. If you watch television, for instance, there's three ways it causes you to overeat. First of all, it can be a basic script in your life where you say, I'm not even hungry, but when I sit down to watch TV, I have ice cream. So first of all, it can lead you into a pattern of behavior that leads you to overeat.
Second, we find in a study we did of a bunch of Chicagoans that people tend to eat in cadence with whatever they're watching. And also, it'll be that ending of a show that can be the signal that it's time to stop eating.
The third what happens is that we don't monitor what we eat when we're distracted. So we don't really realize how much we've eaten in these cases. So we've-- so I think those are the three reasons that actually really trip things up, which is why we say, look, if you want to eat snacks, eat anything you want to, but don't do it while you're doing something else.
Because you tell people stop snacking, they're not going to stop snacking. But just say if you're going to snack, sit down at the dining room table or living room table and have your snack there. Most people aren't that hungry to do that.
MATT BITTMAN: So no TV-watching, no talking on the phone, no reading, even?
BRIAN WANSINK: While you're eating? We find that even reading and listening to the radio caused people to eat more than if they're-- but I think-- I'm not going to stop reading while I eat breakfast and stuff. But I think TV is just really bad, because sets a cadence and a speed for you to eat, too. It's too easy to do.
AUDIENCE: So I'm really interested in ways that businesses can address, in a profitable way, problems in health surrounding eating and also in sustainable issues like the environment and that kind of impact. You each mentioned a couple examples from your perspectives. But are there other opportunities that haven't been tapped that you see or imagine or think about or hope will one day be addressed?
BRIAN WANSINK: Tons of them-- [INAUDIBLE] business, grocery store, restaurants, workplace. What are you looking at? Let's take grocery stores.
So we are doing a study in Denmark. They gave us an entire island called Bornholm-- an entire island to try to do whatever you wanted to try to reduce the bad stuff people eat. So one of the things we're doing in grocery stores is we've divided all the grocery carts in half.
It's a very-- it's not even a physical divide. It's just a line of tape. It says put all of your fruits and vegetables in front, everything else behind. Simply that queue is shifting how much fruits and vegetables people buy by about 15% to 20%. We've gotten every grocery store there to get rid of one of the cash-- to get rid of all the candy, to have a candy-free cash register, which doesn't sound like a big deal. You say, why would a grocery store do that?
Well, what they're putting instead are batteries and the CDs and the books, the things they have a much higher profit margin than candy ever would. We've ended up setting up all the aisles in the fruit section so that you dead end into things and you have to take a circuitous route through it. And we find there's a direct correlation with how much time you spend in fruits and vegetables and not.
And one thing-- we find that there's a vacuum effect with your cart. When you first start shopping, you just start throwing crap in it. And then you start getting a little more discriminate. And so what we've convinced these grocery stores to do is they have all of their healthiest food-- it's usually fruits and vegetables-- but all their healthiest processed food in the second and third aisle so that people get loaded up on that sort of stuff and not pop and candy and things like that. And there's a bunch of other things, too, but there's those things they can do.
But all those are win-win. Because grocery stores make a lot more money if they sell fruit and vegetables than if they sell Trix-- not because the profit margin is higher, but the spoilage rate is terrible if they have to throw away a muskmelon, and not Trix.
So I've got a book coming out called Slim by Design, and it's all about the five places in our eating radius that screw us up, which is our home, restaurants, workplace, grocery stores, and schools, and what can be done in those places.
AUDIENCE: I'd like to throw a proposition and get your comments on it. On the assumption that if you were to eat 100 calories a day more than you should be eating and do that regularly, you're going to gain about 10 pounds a year, which will gain a lot of weight over the period of your life. And for the society at large, if we could just get rid of that 100 calories per day for a lot of people, that would have a very good impact. That's part one.
Part two, it sounds like what you're saying is that many companies are already slightly reducing portion size, doing a few marginal things that might, in fact, be bringing us to the point where, on average, people may, in fact, consume just a little bit less without even realizing that their eating, perhaps, had changed.
MATT BITTMAN: Well, what's knowable is that our average daily calorie intake has increased by 200 in the last 30 years. So we got bumped up. And there is an argument that companies can play a role in bringing it back down.
There's also an argument, or at least a question, about whether it's all about calories or not. But certainly, a reduction in calories would be beneficial. And certainly, big food is at least making noise about reducing overall calories.
But they're talking about reducing overall calories across their lines of food, so it remains to be seen what they sell. And there's a ton of statistics about how cereal companies promote their least healthy cereals, their highest in sugar cereals, because those are the most profitable, those are the easiest to sell, those are the ones that they can get kids hooked on, and so on.
So it's not that healthy food and-- I guess we could say low calorie food-- doesn't exist. It's that it doesn't get marketed and it doesn't get promoted.
BRIAN WANSINK: There's a really neat new program, though, that's Unilever food solutions. And Unilever, you say, isn't that deodorant and soap? Well, this is the restaurant. They sell the mayonnaise and all that stuff to restaurants.
And we had done some research a while back that shows that if you give a tasty name to anything-- if you call-- it you give somebody Chef Boyardee's spaghetti and say this is a recipe that came from an old Italian family-- which it says on the package-- people eat it and they go, oh, that's unbelievable. But if you say here's some spaghetti, they eat it, and they can go, it's mediocre. So we are very suggestive in tasting what we want to taste.
So Unilever-- we worked with Unilever a while back, and the goal was they wanted 5,000 places they sell food to and challenged every one of these places to take their one or two most popular entrees and reduce the calorie content in it by 100. That's it. And they could do it any way they wanted. They could reduce the portion size. They could change the ingredients. They could do anything they want to.
But then to keep sales high but using this-- they called it seductive nutrition to make sure that people were going to expect that it's going to be even better than it otherwise would. They had given it great names, great descriptions, great placement of the menus. And in one year, 500 million calories was taken off of menus around the United States because of this program.
MATT BITTMAN: Which is 1 and 1/2 calories per person.
BRIAN WANSINK: It's a small start.
MATT BITTMAN: Yes.
AUDIENCE: I want to come back to this Michael Moss article, because I read it last night in preparation for this event. And I was struck-- first of all, I was riveted. I wasn't particularly surprised, but I was riveted. And then I was struck by the juxtaposition with your article on gnocchi that immediately followed it. There were these beautiful photographs of pink and yellow.
And I guess what it-- it made me think about audience. I guess-- and one thing I want to say about the Michael Moss article is that he leads with this example of industry people coming together and being given a manifesto about how diabetes and childhood obesity are on the rise, and industry is going to come under fire, and we can do something to address it right now. And the industry magnates were like, forget it.
So I think-- maybe this is just obvious, but it seems to me that industry is not interested in our health. Industry-- the analogy to your grandmother wanting to make you happy, I just think it's fictitious. They don't want to make us happy. They want to make money. We're talking about capitalists, right?
So if they can make money selling us healthier food, they'll do that. But I really don't think they care about our health. So I guess the question that I have is-- it's probably about-- when you said whether it's all about calories or not, it seems like it's partly about-- that the issue here is about mindfulness because it's about taking people away from questions of calories and thinking more about satiety in the sense of if you have a meal that tastes good and entails conversation and-- there's more than just the experience of refueling calorically-- that that might lead people to eat better, which takes me back to gnocchi, which would be a beautiful thing to eat and have on your table.
But I was wondering-- I was reading this magazine thinking, how is that message of mindfulness or the kind of pleasure that can be conveyed through the gnocchi? To what extent-- I'm not quite sure how to phrase this. How can it be taken beyond preaching to the choir already? The people who are reading that magazine are the sort of people who might be interested in figuring out how to [INAUDIBLE].
MATT BITTMAN: Well, probably already have. But it's why this work-- to me, it's why this work is so important. I'm in favor of increased regulation. I'm in favor of social engineering. I'm in favor of trying to get people to eat less bad food and more good food almost any way we can.
But this is this-- and that's being called-- it's being increasingly called nudging, this invisible paternalism or this invisible social engineering where you don't-- there's no one saying we're taxing your soda. You're not drinking it anymore. And we're delivering a basket of fruits and vegetables to your door every week, and the police are going to come and arrest you if you don't eat them. This is like-- which is, of course, my favorite idea.
This is like these kind of subtle-- correct me if I'm wrong, but you're playing with-- and you've been doing this for 20 years, right?
BRIAN WANSINK: Tragic as that sounds.
MATT BITTMAN: And you're only 38 years old. But you're playing with a million ideas, and they're all moving in some kind of direction. And as you said, you're getting traction with industry. So there is this-- I would call it nudging, but it's a nudging thing of gently dividing the grocery cart and a half and that kind of stuff.
BRIAN WANSINK: Yeah, because we find that the environment is going to bias us either for the better or for the worse. And we can make changes like-- we find that in a buffet line, you're 11% more likely to take the first thing you see than the third thing you see. So why not have the healthiest thing be the first thing you see? Or start at the end of the buffet that's the healthiest to begin with.
And I think when people say, boy, yeah, but when you divide these carts in half, you're just manipulating people. It's like, well, anything is going to manipulate people. Why don't we move them in a direction that helps them eat better?
MATT BITTMAN: Well, how can people who say if you're the dividing the grocery cart in half, you're manipulating people, don't complain about advertising? Isn't that the biggest manipulation of all?
BRIAN WANSINK: They're probably doing that also. They just take a break from doing that to complain about the grocery cart.
MATT BITTMAN: Down that end. Yes. Yes, you.
AUDIENCE: I guess the big thing in the food news world right now is the Mediterranean diet being very healthy. And I guess it's not really a big surprise that those foods are healthy. But something that [INAUDIBLE] love them-- but something that has troubled me is-- and that I find difficult-- is the issue of eating more fish and not knowing-- having difficulty in sourcing that fish.
So wild fisheries are becoming depleted, and wild fish are in trouble, and fishermen are in trouble. On the other side, farmed fish are grain-fed and not-- I think the health is maybe more questionable there. So I'm just wondering if you have any tips about--
MATT BITTMAN: That's-- you've phrased the dilemma perfectly. It's the healthiest animal food you can eat, especially the wild stuff. The farm-raised stuff has a lot of problems, and we're eating more and more of it.
The wild stuff is really-- mercury pollution aside, which it really shouldn't be put aside, but we're not talking about that right now-- the wild stuff is really good for you in a number of different ways.
But it's overfished, and everybody can't have as much of it as they want. So what's the-- and this question gets asked at every one of these kinds of things that I do. And there's no good answer.
And one of the reasons there's fewer wild fish is because so many wild fish are now being fed to farm-raised fish, because salmon are carnivorous. So you can't feed salmon grain. You can feed the, some grain, but you've got to feed them some fish, too. So a lot of fish is disappearing to go into-- we're killing smaller fish to feed them to bigger farm-raised fish so we can eat the farm-raised fish.
So on an individual level, I can say-- you can go to Monterey Bay Aquarium's web site and see what's sustainable that week or that month, but it changes a lot. And it's actually pretty hard to understand, and it doesn't translate well to the market.
So if you're told that longline Pacific cod is sustainable that month, it doesn't mean you're going to go to Wegmans and find longline Pacific cod. And even if-- with all due respect to Wegmans, even if they tell you that you're fine, you might not be.
So it's really tricky. And Greenpeace's idea of solving this problem is to make sure that retailers only sell sustainable fish. But I'm actually not convinced that, at this point, there's any wild fish that's sustainable. So I think as a responsible citizen, which obviously you are and I try to be, I think you don't want to eat too much wild fish.
As someone who wants to have a good diet, I think you want to try to eat more fish than other animal products. Somewhere in there is some kind of balance. Or you can eat more fruits and vegetables and to hell with it. But if you're a fish lover, chickpeas every night don't cut it.
So it's thorny. It's very thorny. And it's stuff that conscious people, mindful people, have to-- I feel-- this, in a way, goes back to this first question. There are days I just don't want to think about this stuff, because it just drives you-- am I eating OK?
Am I eating responsibly? Am I doing myself a favor? Am I doing the world a favor? And you just want to-- all right, I'm going to have a cheeseburger. But that's what Alcoholics Anonymous is about, in a way. You go there because you're at some point where you beat yourself up so much that you do the thing that's bad anyway.
But all I'm saying is it's got to be mindful. I will say you can't eat fish indiscriminately. That I'll say. What the other side of that is-- maybe we take one or two more questions? So sir, yes, standing up.
AUDIENCE: One of the things you could possibly add to your minimalist column is to do very simple recipes so that people who normally do not eat at home can make homemade meals. And recently, I think there was this wave of food [INAUDIBLE] in the United States that's beginning to allow people to gain access to more fresh ingredients at lower prices.
Recently, Walmart has used a more extensive organic section. And this has allowed more people to gain access to things that are otherwise-- [INAUDIBLE] $5 a pound can now get it for less at Walmart.
So my question is-- I know that the ideal is to have this food culture where we advocate local, where we advocate farmer's markets and the like. But this is not-- I don't think this is accessible in many communities around the United States.
So how do you envision our food culture achieving some kind of balance between the current lifestyle where more and more people are eating out, where homemade meals are less common, to one where we can find a balance between industry or grocery stores or whatnot so that that ideal [INAUDIBLE]?
MATT BITTMAN: Is anyone else having a stroke? Is it curfew? You've raised, like, every issue there is to raise in that question. So in a way, it's-- you could have asked it at the beginning of the evening, and we could have just answered that.
But since we're wrapping up, I'll say this. The future-- needless to say, the future is not foreseen. It's going to be gradual. It's not a bad thing that Walmart is carrying fruits and vegetables. It's not a bad thing that Walgreens is carrying fruits and vegetables. And in the long run, it could be a great thing.
The-- I won't say the two problems. I will say two issues that I see as primary is, one, how do you get people to cook more. And I don't know the answer to that question, and I've been trying to figure it out for 30 years.
And two, if you don't get them to cook more, how do you get them to eat better. How do you make more better food available? And I'll partially answer that question, the second one, by saying it's not so much that there are fruits and vegetables in more places, although that's a good thing. It's how we produce them and where we produce them.
And I think-- I think Americans-- the pendulum swings quite violently in America, as we know. So some of us see factory farms and corn being grown on 2,000-acre farms, and we react by saying I'm only eating something that's grown within 100 miles of my house.
I think that ultimately, one possible solution is to see the United States as six or eight regions, and the regions are much more dependent than they are now. And that's a farming solution that can work, and we can raise animals in that situation, and we can raise better fruits and vegetables in that situation. I don't know how we get there. It's a long discussion.
One more? No more? Ask Brian a question.
AUDIENCE: I was interested in getting your opinions on the real cost of food that's taking into account--
BRIAN WANSINK: Why are the big questions coming at the end?
MATT BITTMAN: Something light and happy.
BRIAN WANSINK: No, that's a perfectly-- go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Taking into account the future health costs and the environmental costs, and maybe translating that into a tax that's levied on the industry or the individual products, I was wondering-- I want to get your opinions on that, what you think that would be. Do you think that would be feasible, and [INAUDIBLE] something that could happen in the future?
MATT BITTMAN: Well, externalities-- it's the big issue, not only in food, but in other industries, also. And I actually would like to-- a year from now, I want to directly be able to answer the question what does a can of soda cost, what does a cheeseburger cost. Because people have done that work not to my satisfaction, but the numbers-- the answers are insanely high.
So what do you do about the health care cost, the environmental cost, and all of that? Well, if you give some of us ultimate power, we can answer that question. But without that, barring that-- which is obviously not going to happen-- you have to work towards a way where, A, the externalities are reduced.
So how do you do health care costs? Well, one way is to have people eat healthier. How do you make that happen? Well, that's what we've been talking about all night.
But the other thing is to-- can you-- other than other than saying to companies you can make money by producing better food, which is not entirely clear we can convince them of, can we say to them, you can't continue to make this much money by producing damaging food? And that's a goal, but is it an achievable one? I don't know.
SCOTT MCDONALD: I wanted to catch you before you applauded. But indulge me in two brief announcements.
My colleagues, Andrew Chignell and Will Starr, who are teaching the blockbuster philosophy course The Ethics of Eating that Mark is interacting with this week, want you to know that they're teaching it in the fall. And since we are only a month away from preregistration, you'll want to write that down. Make a note of it. And it'll be even a bigger blockbuster in the fall.
The other thing I wanted to announce is that Mark will be right back on this stage tomorrow night, 7:30. And the topic is food matters. I hope you'll be back to join us then. And thank you very much for coming tonight. And let's thank our speakers once more. Thanks.
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Mark Bittman, celebrated New York Times food columnist, visited Cornell for a week of events and appeared with Brian Wansink, the John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing in Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, on their common area of expertise: Conscious and Mindless Eating.
Mr. Bittman is the Irik Sevin '69 West Campus Visiting Fellow.