Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mindless Eating, by Brian Wansink

This is a pretty nifty book of pop psychology and self-help. Author Brian Wansink, Ph.D runs his own food lab where he performs what I’d guess you’d call behavioural tests on people and their attitudes to food.

The gist of the book is that mind is greater than food matter. So fooled are we by mere suggestion that we will say chocolate yogurt tastes like strawberry if the lights are turned out and we’re told what to taste.

If we put a muffin on a nice plate and give it a bit of a flourish, we will pay more the muffin. The same muffin served on a paper napkin will be thought of less value. Amazingly, we will also say the muffin served on fine china actually tastes better!

Words work too. If you describe that same chocolate muffin as a delicious muffin made with imported Belgium chocolate, people will pay more for it and say it tastes better than the same muffin described as a regular chocolate muffin and served to you in a paper bag.

For dieters, the deal is that we always eat more calories than we think we do. Our vanity, or delusions, rule us. Also, the more food we are served, the more we eat. We’ll even eat terrible food if it’s presented.

If food takes more time to prepare, the less we are likely to eat. Interestingly, obese people are less likely to cook meals. From this follows the fact that people who cook a lot are not so fat.

Reading this book made me want to open a restaurant so I could use people as guinea pigs. If I served vegemite on toast, would it do better if I put a sprig of parsley near the toast on a huge white plate and called it an ethnic Australian delicacy?

No wonder food businesses employ these ‘food psychologists’. Profits in the millions are to be made simply by adding a mouth watering adjective to your advertising copy. And it works, all scientifically proven, as this book shows.

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