Jane Brody of The New York Times found it puzzling that even benefits don’t tempt us to vegetables and asked readers to offer fresh ideas. Her article got me thinking!
Hmmm…let us see. If someone told you to do something because it was good for you, you would probably try it a few times but pretty soon you would go back to what you are used to. And who wants to be good all the time? Even kids grow out of the naughty or nice trick after a while!
It is no different with food. Fun and a sense of indulgence trump the notion of good in the long run. And yes, both convenience and cost are very important. If you don’t believe me, simply take a look at how the purveyors of fast food and soda advertise their products. McDonald’s tagline of “I’m Lovin’ It” and Coke’s “Open Happiness” seem to be permanently etched in our subconscious and their jingles resonate inside our heads all day long. It is not about the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of their products, rather the experience of having them is the core of their message. Plus, they make them readily available everywhere at a reasonable price.
Before I jump into a few ideas for promoting veggies, let us consider some of the reasons why most people don’t eat enough vegetables. Here is how a few of my Twitter friends responded to this question:
Gina @ginarau had this to say:
Many factors: accessibility, ease of convenience foods. Price is a biggie. Taste for kids. Lack of positive role model.
Registered dietitian Alysa Bajenaru @InspiredRD said:
Many people I talk to have only had them prepared one way, don’t think they like most veggies. They need 2 learn how 2 cook. My husband thought that he disliked many veggies when we got married. He was used to them being served bland and overcooked. Now he loves most veggies, especially roasted. I am making him butternut squash pizza right now!
Christina @CutestKidEver shared her experience:
I can’t stand the taste and texture of most vegetables. They literally make me gag.
There could also be a case of the “supertaster” shared by @80Bites:
My little boy is a “supertaster” and tastes something bitter in vegetables I don’t experience. It’s genetic…
Registered dietitian Linda Michaelis @linda_rd pointed out the bad image of veggies, especially among kids:
It’s probably bcoz they think veggies taste horrible. Most kids see a red flag when green and leafy are on their plates. :)
There you have it! Clearly, it is not enough to preach the goodness of veggies and hope that people will start eating them at every meal. That approach, in my opinion, is a very defensive approach easily overcome by the enormous offensive marketing by food companies. I also think that most academics and nutrition experts alike fall into the trap of talking about the benefits of veggies, rather than taking a holistic view on this issue.
Every marketer knows about the 4P’s – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. What is often missing from this analysis is the People, the end consumer for example. Now I am sure every marketer worth their salt will claim that they always start with the consumer, but their view is often tainted by what they want to sell rather than what the consumer really wants to have. They look at the world not as what it really is, rather what they would like it to be.
Take for example, the matter of Price. If the marketer focuses only on the price tag, they are missing the view on the total cost to the consumer. In case of veggies for example, here are some of the different “costs” or barriers to consumption:
- Cost of getting them – driving to the grocery store or a farmer’s market
- Cost of selecting them – many choices now available in fresh, frozen and canned veggies
- Cost of buying them – this is what the consumer pays at the check out
- Cost of storing them and keeping them fresh – refrigerator space, cabinet space
- Cost of preparing them – recipes, ingredients, cooking time, cooking space, cooking utensils
- Cost of eating them – eating on the go, family meals
- Cost of enjoying them – taste, food/wine pairing, company of family/friends
- Cost of making a habit – breaking current habits
Conventional wisdom will have you try to improve availability and offer a convenient ready-to-eat packaged product at a low cost. If you were feeling a little more adventurous, you would add some salty and buttery sauce to improve the taste. But taking the conventional approach does not help you lower all of the barriers or costs and promote consumption of veggies no matter how loudly you proclaim their benefits.
Here are a few somewhat unconventional ideas to get people interested in veggies. Big business, government, community groups and educators have a role to play at different levels.
- Why not teach people how to produce veggies by starting a small garden in their backyard? They already spend a lot of time and money growing flowers!
- Why not actually give them incentives like discount coupons or lower insurance rates to further sweeten the deal? Don’t worry, people are not going to turn overnight into farmers and stop going to the grocery store. In fact, they will actually start thinking about how to include those vegetables in their meals and may want to try other type of veggies from the store or a farmer’s market.
- Why not establish community farms where people could rent a small space and grow veggies? Supply them with tools, knowledge and support to help them succeed.
- Why not encourage them to share their harvest with each other to sample many different types of veggies without having to grow them all at a time?
- Why not offer them a deal where they can take some of their harvest to a grocery store and exchange it for another fresh produce of their choice?
- Why not teach people how to cook veggies in many different ways? Campbell’s has done it really well with their soups, how come the Green Giants of the world do not provide recipes on their products?
- Why not strike a deal with the makers of spices and sauces to co-develop products and do cross promotion?
- Why not offer free workshops on vegetable gardening and cooking? Home Depot and Lowes do it for household building projects. They even have workshops for kids!
- Why not introduce children to the wonderful world of fruits and veggies by products like Today I Ate a Rainbow!TM?
- Why not produce coloring books, bed time story books, toys, puzzles, catchy videos with memorable jingles for kids to enjoy?
- Why not include interesting trivia, puzzles, collectibles or other incentives on product packaging? Cereal boxes have tons of information to keep you occupied while you eat.
- Why not appreciate and recognize a child who brings a lunchbox with veggies and other healthy items to school? Make them feel like a “star”, why not?
- Why not look at farmer’s markets as a collaborator to expand the category of veggies and not as competition?
I could go on and on…
It is time to give up on conventional wisdom. Don’t ask Why?, ask Why not? Only then, can we overcome the barriers and make vegetables a prominent feature on every meal. Veggies and fruits need to become a way of life, not just something good for us to eat!
What do you think? What are your barriers to eating more veggies each day and how we can overcome them? Please share in comments below.