Thursday, August 21, 2008

'Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.'

Marketing and lifestyle

America is often said to have an 'obesity problem.' The data seem to agree. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an obese person is one whose 'body mass index' (bmi) is over 30. By the CDC's estimation 34% of Americans over the age of twenty fall in this category -- more than one out of every three of us.

So there is a problem for society, and a need for organizations to solve it. But what would such an organization know about the problem?

One thing an organization would know, obesity is relatively new to the country's history: the obesity problem exists between the mid 1970s, when the rates begin to rise, and today, when they continue to do so.

An organization would also know the sources of the problem seem easily identifiable: obesity results directly from our contemporary eating habits and lifestyles.

With this knowledge, there is a solid basis for an organization to employ an ambitious and straightforward marketing model meant to convey cultural understandings of food, health, and lifestyle. For example, best-selling author and UC-Berkeley professor Michael Pollan starts off a NY Times essay with the straightforward advice to:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
In doing so, Mr Pollan gives us not only a quick summary we can remember (and by which we can live if we so choose), he is breaking down the subject into analytical terms that express empirical trends. He is both marketer and scientist.

"Eat food" means that most of the items on the shelves of grocery stores are processed and fortified into products resembling nothing like what humans in their history have ever called 'food.' Stay away from foods with too many unrecognizable ingredients, he says.

"Not too much" means that Americans today have the opportunity to eat gigantic amounts of food if they so wish. Anyone who has eaten at a restaurant recently knows that this statement comes from solid empirical data.

"Mostly plants" means we eat too many grains, seeds, and refined carbohydrates. Try for a one-to-one ratio between the amount of seeds and plants you eat, he says.

Pollan communicates the source of the problem (the empirical side) and the source of the way out of the problem (the marketing side) in three parts spanning seven words.

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