We come to class every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday prepared to talk about how we can make our eating habits healthier for both ourselves and our planet. We’ve discussed food deserts, cultural differences, and fiscal constraints and actually come up with some pretty solid ideas for mitigating the impact of these problems. That’s great. What I find not so great is the amount of people I’m around every day, myself included, who don’t face any serious fiscal constraints, any genuine cultural restrictions, and have plenty of access to good sustainably farmed foods that still choose to eat poorly. These people are educated consumers, and know the externalities of their actions. Unfortunately, the tragedy of the commons is that people will do what’s best for themselves, even if their additive actions will bring everyone’s downfall. So if a Big Mac is how they maximize their utility, a Big Mac is what they’ll order, despite knowing that it contributes to their future downfall. The beauty of discounting.
BUT what if we could find a way to impose that negative social externality early? What if it suddenly became really embarrassing to eat a Big Mac? What if it was way cooler for me, a regular guy, to go out to a salad bar instead of a burger joint? Now honestly, I believe our country is already a bit better about this than we used to be, but we could go even further. If the media did little things like quit perpetuating the stereotype of the misfit organic girl or refuse to offer McDonald’s product placement in action movies I think we could turn the social structure on its head. As these social changes take place, it’s suddenly in someone’s best interest to get a salad because they don’t want to be “that guy” with the Big Mac. Last class we talked about the misuse of the word “conventional” and how it alienates other actions as weird. Let’s use society and the media to make bad food decisions “unconventional”. Voila: Tragedy is rewritten. I know it sounds cruel, changing media and essentially food shaming people into the right decisions, but it’s certainly better than the alternative. Social pressure is a real thing, and it’s maybe the most powerful tool we’ve got.