Food for thought

I love food.

A distant uncle of mine had a favourite saying: “There’s two things I enjoy in life, and eating is both of them.” Which pretty much sums up my approach. I’m lucky, I can – and do – eat everything (except beetroot, obvs), without putting on much weight.

But we all need to watch what we eat and combine it with regular exercise, or so we are told, and the issue of food and drink is never far from the headlines. In the past week alone, plastic packaging in supermarkets has been on the news agenda, as has a potential deposit scheme on drinks bottles and cans, as well have various figures from the advertising industry contributing to the debate about how to get people to eat more vegetables.

It’s interesting to see what impact such campaigns have, and ultimately what encourages people to change their behaviour. Simply telling people they should eat more veg makes it seem a chore – playing the ‘health card’ seems increasingly to be not the way forward. ‘Twas ever thus, of course. When a spinach-eating Popeye first burst onto the scene in the 1930s, sales of the vegetable increased hugely. When supermarkets started charging for plastic bags, people’s attitudes changed, doubtless in that case driven by a cost implication. At the same time, though, it is shifting people’s perceptions of what’s normal.

Most of us now rock up to our weekly shop armed with various bags and carriers, a mindset that’s only come about because to do so has become ‘normal.’

It’s the same with our eating habits. Many millennials understand the benefits of eating healthily and indeed do so – so why are the headlines telling us that the UK is becoming “The Fat Man of Europe?” My view is that a lot of it ties into the same issue – ‘normalising.’ It’s ‘normal’ to use the car more and walk less, it’s ‘normal’ to eat larger portion sizes, it’s ‘normal’ to have frozen ready meals in your weekly shop, it’s ‘normal’ for us to want to fit in by going with the flow rather than by doing what’s best for us.

The challenge for those advertising those things – such as vegetables – is how to make it fun, and that ultimately changes how we think about vegetables. Many of us have struggled to get our youngsters to eat up their veg, but eventually we all come back to the same method – trying to make it ‘fun’ by crafting them into silly shapes, whizzing the spoon through the air before finally landing it in the child’s mouth, playing ‘hide and seek’ with the carrots, and so on.

The principle for advertisers will be the same. How they use the tools available to them – social media, billboards, TV etc – to change perceptions around what we’re eating. It’s a process, of course, rather than a lightbulb moment, but one that needs addressing and developing if we’re to encourage future generations to eat well.

Now, where’s me lunch?

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