B.F Skinner, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, was able to teach pigeons how to play Ping-Pong. Through controlling the pigeon’s environment and conditioning their behavior through positive reinforcement, Skinner was able to have pigeons peck balls back and forth across a table. Skinner asserted that behavior, human or pigeon, is determined by one’s direct environment (Koren, Marina). However, unlike the simple-minded pigeon humans are much more complex. Skinner argues that human behavior is shaped through our changing environment—what we listen to, what we watch and even more importantly what we spend our money on.
As a bright eyed college student, I love these theories about behavior and what makes us who we are, however I was never so keen as to actually notice this in the real world. My critical thinking and writing course exposed me to the harsh realities of the food industry, and allowed me to connect Skinner’s environment driven theory of behavior to our food choices as consumers. Throughout my first year in college, I became an expert on the food industry through writing a plethora of papers on the revolting practices of factory farming and the marketing tactics of food corporations to generate more revenue. My CTW course and extensive research on the food industry has made me realize that consumer behavior on the purchasing of food products is largely influenced from the environment that food corporations have set up around food products.
One of the most influential research assignments I have done this past quarter was based on the popularity of super foods in the health market. Our demand for these highly nutritious foods is a direct result from the sketchy marketing behind these food products. Because “the term ‘super food’ is not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, marketers can use the phrase freely” (Turner). I conducted an experiment just to see how much the term ‘super food’ influences consumers willingness to pay by comparing how much consumers would pay for a bowl of acai and a bowl of blueberries. Even though “There is little evidence that acai contains substantially more antioxidants than a bowl of blueberries,” twenty one of the twenty five consumers would pay over six dollars for a bowl of acai while only six of the twenty five consumers would pay this much for a bowl of blueberries (Wurtman). Consumers purchasing behavior is altered to pay higher prices as a result of the environment health marketers create around the term ‘super food’. Because marketing is so influential on consumer food choices, our spending habits on food have become predictable. The marketing done by food companies has shaped our wants; effectively switching the role of supply and demand in the market. Simply put, the food corporations supply the growing demand they create around these health products.
It is impossible to walk into a grocery store without finding some type of sale. American consumers who pride themselves on being financially savvy often over spend and over purchase in order to get some type of ‘sale’. The bulk buying practices of wholesalers such as Costco and Wal-Mart have been adopted into the households of consumers. American consumers can’t stop themselves from buying the better deal. The constant promotion of money saving opportunities through spending more (bulk buying) has made us into a gluttonous over purchasing society that buys more than we can ever consume.
The obvious negative externality from over purchasing at the grocery store is food waste, but the core problem is what this money saving environment does to a consumer’s autonomy. Consumers are no longer making decisions based on our needs or wants but rather the need to feel financially savvy. This has caused consumers to lose their rationale. On average a household of four’s “food waste [through over purchasing] translates into an estimated $1,350 to $2,275 in annual loses” (Gunders, Dana). Overtime when we continue to make choices based on the promotions that are always taunting us, our perspective of how much food we actually need becomes skewed. Our gluttonous culture of overbuying and overeating food starts from being a mindless consumer in the grocery store.
American consumers have become a product of the profit driven environment in the food industry. We haven’t adopted healthier diets or better purchasing habits; all we have adopted is wastefulness. We waste money by overspending on foods that are highly marketed and even worse, we waste money when trying to save money. In a sense, wastefulness is what creates a larger economy for the food industry. The food industry has created an environment of over consumption and wastefulness on the behalf of consumers. American consumers are just highly educated ‘pigeons’ acting just how the food corporations want us to.
Gunders, Dana. “NRDC Issue Paper.” Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 (2012): n. pag. National Resource Defense Council, Aug. 2012. Web.
Koren, Marina. “B.F. Skinner: The Man Who Taught Pigeons to Play Ping-Pong and Rats to Pull Levers.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 16 June 2017.
Turner, McCall, Braden Lanham, Nastassja Krupczynski, and Eleanor Cain. “Experts Say Superfoods May Be a Super Scam.” The Daily Universe. Brigham Young University, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 May 2017.
Wurtman, PhD Judith J. “Is the Acai Berry a Superfood or a Super Scam?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Apr. 2016. Web. 17 May 2017.