Behavioral Change towards Food Choices in School


According to Gary Gregory and Michael di Leo in “Repeated Behavior and Environmental Psychology: The Role of Personal Involvement and Habit Formation in Explaining Water Consumption,” behavior change lies in conjunction with a process that deals with the connection between knowledge, awareness, attitude, personal involvement, habitual intentions, habitual behavior, and situational variables, which include socioeconomic, demographic, and physical environment variables. Over the next two and a half months, my group members and I in the Environmental Communication course at NYU would like to improve nutrition in a public school. Many citizens of our country do not make healthy eating choices. This problem starts at a young age. In the following, Gregory and di Leo explain how the first step that leads to deciphering behavioral outcomes has to do with gaining awareness:

Awareness is a mental state that an individual reaches by consciously accepting and processing informational cues. Closely related to the concept of knowledge, awareness can be thought of as the application of knowledge to a specific object, situation, or action. Awareness can also trigger information search in an effort to achieve greater knowledge. Awareness is clearly an important first step toward the attainment and synthesis of information, and serves as an important antecedent in determining behavioral outcomes” (Gregory and di Leo 1263).

Our plan includes educating children in workshops about the advantages of eating healthily and providing students with organic, locally sourced, plant-based school meal choices. We hope to create awareness through knowledge, and then apply the education to everyday life choices in terms of daily food intake. As I have mentioned in a previous post, I grew up learning about the Food Pyramid Guide in primary school, which has turned out as an ineffective guide to eating and living healthily due to its accordance with corporate interests rather than public/consumer interests. However, the USDA food guides do engage directly with individuals through designating personal involvement on the individual. Gregory and di Leo write, “Persuasive communications need to focus on increasing personal relevance (involvement)” (1286). We aim to gear these workshops around the idea that the information given to students will directly affect them on a personal level through making them aware of the consequences surrounding their decisions on what foods they choose to consume and the potential benefits in making informed choices (1285).

We made children in primary school our target audience because children do not have as strong of habits that have been deeply rooted into them in comparison to adults. Their perceptions of the world continually change until they reach adulthood. However, we understand that these children may already have habits formed in relation to the foods that they eat. Factoring in socioeconomic, demographic, and physical environment variables holds key to understanding routines of these students. As mentioned by Gregory and di Leo, “Understanding the factors that maintain routinized responses is a first step toward developing successful intervention strategies to change habitual behavior (Ouellette & Wood, 1998)” (1285).

In “The Rise of Seafood Awareness Campaigns in an Era of Collapsing Fisheries,” Jennifer Jacquet and Daniel Pauly points out how a disconnect severs the relationship between the seafood industry, seafood awareness of consumers, and seafood awareness campaigns. The main problem lies within the characteristics of the market itself and difficulty in traceability. Products get represented through labeling as either/both eco-friendly and/or high quality due to financial incentives associated with marketing a product in such a manner. Case in point, illegally caught Patagonian toothfish gets passed of as Chilean sea bass, flesh of low value fish gets marketed as imitation ‘krab’, and Thai shrimp often get exported as wild-caught rather than farm raised (310). Jacquet and Pauly bring attention to the point in time when whales were on the brink of extinction. During this time, a change in public opinion of whales occurred in which whales got de-commodified through a temporary prohibition on whaling and thus, the wide public acceptance of ‘whale mythology’ (312). By means of the moratorium on whaling, the International Whaling Commission transformed the attitudes of people in the public through widespread knowledge and direct involvement. Jacquet and Pauly reason, “It is only when a similar revulsion is felt by the public about the wholesale destruction of fish populations and marine ecosystems that we can hope to save them from our management and our appetite” (312). We will consider this idea of changing the way in which people perceive food in our project of nutritional education and the application of nutritional education in a public school. Gregory and di Leo state, “Environmental awareness campaigns should be aimed at promoting reasoned influences (changing attitude and involvement), promoting habitual behavior (changing habits), or both” (1286). Students must see both the disadvantages of eating fatty, processed foods and the advantages of a healthy, plant-based diet, the information should remain directly relevant to the individual student, the information should encourage consistency in choosing healthy food choices, and the application of the education links to the availability of health foods in the school cafeteria for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.


Monsanto, a giant agricultural biotechnology corporation, has control over the foods that millions of Americans eat daily. This corporation produces genetically modified seeds, including corn, wheat, soybean, and cotton seeds. These GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, benefit the food industry and remains in line with the business as usual model. GMOs get engineered to withstand direct application of herbicide and/or insecticide, which allows for more overall profit of the food industry. When crops have been genetically engineered, they can grow in rows that stand closer together without having to worry about weeds or insects disrupting commercial agricultural production. An increasing amount of studies done on GMOs show that the consumption of GMOs leads to a range of health problems. Monsanto consistently and effectively silences family farmers, organic advocacy organizations, seed companies, and health freedom activists who question Monsanto’s products and try to stand up for the rights of consumers and farmers.

Similar to the unsuccessful attempts of the Stakeholder Evaluation Group (SEG) to examine the environmental impact of the plan of the Georgia Port Authority (GPA) to deepen the Savannah River in order for large container ships to enter the city’s harbor mentioned by Robert Cox in “Conflict Resolution and Collaboration in Environmental Disputes,” these various groups in line with public interests that try to discuss the rights of farmers and consumers in relation to the production of GMOs get silenced by those in power. In both cases, the industry had greater authority and voice than the stakeholders and stakeholders lacked the ability to address certain topics. In the Savannah River case, the GPA’s representatives pushed the SEG’s concerns to the side by saying that their concerns “had already been adequately addressed and that they were ‘historical issues'” (132). Industry ends up dominating over issues at hand. These cases exemplify “the clash between the technical sphere and the public sphere” (133). An uneven balance of power does not allow for any constructive kind of collaboration to exist.

Analyzing USDA Food Guides (continued)


In relation to nutritional guides, the USDA gains legitimacy from the public for two main reasons. First and foremost, the USDA is a governmental agency. People have more of an inclination to trust and follow institutionally sponsored advice. Our country endorses these food guides, so most of us believe that our country has its citizens’ best interests in mind. Secondly, posters of the food guide exist in just about every primary school around the country. Teachers educate young children of the seemingly appropriate way to eat through by using this food diagram approved by USDA. In grade school, especially in classes related to health and nutrition, teachers tell their students that they must follow this in order to blossom into strong and healthy adults.

When the USDA uses these terministic screens, alternative ways to dieting have no place. They restrict us to seeing merely one general way to plan out daily food consumption when, in reality, all sorts of different models of healthy eating exist. Furthermore, the food a person should eat to nourish himself/herself can vary on a case by case basis. Every person has different health concerns. A healthy food diet should cater to an individual’s personal needs.

All of these food guides, starting with Food for Young Children (1916) then The Basic 7 (1943) to MyPlate today, work in alliance with political ideologies and corporate interests of the times. The Basic 7 (1943) promoted nutritional standards under wartime food rationing during World War II. By drawing this model as a circle with seven equivalent parts, equal importance got placed on each food group. Butter and margarine seemed to have as much nutritional value as all green and yellow vegetables (see supporting media in the post called “Media for Analyzing USDA Food Guides”).

Next, the 1956-1970s Food for Fitness, A Daily Food Guide, had four food groups: milk, meat, vegetables/fruits, and bread/cereal. This model specifically stated the number of servings needed daily. Here, the business as usual model works with the formulation of this food guide. During this point in time, agribusiness arose. The fast food, meat, poultry, and dairy industries began to thrive. Food for Fitness made it seem essential to drink milk several times a day. However, if you look at the most current food guide, MyPlate, dairy has become optional. People have drank milk and deemed it necessary for calcium and to have strong bones. Milk has been propagandized in the U.S. in this manner for decades. Having said that, milk actually serves as merely one source of calcium. Many dark leafy green vegetables and some types of legumes supply significant amounts of calcium to the body. This suggestion about milk highly benefited the dairy industry, and thus, follows the business as usual model. The business as usual model for economic growth problematically operates predominantly through maximized profit rather than health and environmental interests.

Then, the 1977 Dietary Goals released the notion that Americans should eat more carbohydrates. Two years later, the USDA came up with yet another food guide . The Hassle Free Daily Food Guide (1979) further promoted corporate food interests. A group of moderate fats, sweets, and alcohol got added to the diagram. Just as food corporations prospered, the obesity rate in the United States skyrocketed. Check it out:

It gets worse. In 1984, the USDA came out with the Food Wheel: A Pattern for Daily Food Choices. The serving size of the bread, cereal, and grains group increased from four servings a day to between six and eleven servings a day! After the Food Wheel came the Food Pyramid, the nutritional guide that I grew up with, and one of the most paradoxical, health deteriorating models of the bunch. The 1992 Food Guide Pyramid focused on allowing variety in dieting. The daily food intake of the average U.S. citizen tremendously increased. Good news for big businesses because profit gain increased. Consumers bought more products now than ever. The Food Pyramid illustrated fats and sugars for each food group. MyFood Pyramid Guide System replaced the Food Pyramid in 2005. This diagram emphasized the importance of exercise. At first glance this might seem like an improvement to the 1992 Food Pyramid. However, let’s take a closer look through applying these guidelines to real life. The documentary Forks Over Knives (2011), gives an example of what the normal American teenager can eat under MyFood Pyramid Guide System:

“A bowl of Lucky Charms with Low-fat Milk and a glass of orange juice from concentrate for breakfast; Cheese-flavored crackers (Cheez-It) for a morning snack; A cheeseburger on a whole-grain bun with French fries and a can of Coke for lunch; Chocolate pudding and grapes for an afternoon snack; and chicken nuggets with a biscuit, green beans from a can for dinner with low-fat ice cream for dessert.”

The USDA calls this a balanced and nutritious meal plan?

The most recent food guide, MyPlate, emerged a little over a year ago in June of 2011. MyPlate shows improvement in comparison to past food guides. In this diagram, the USDA has finally placed the most emphasis on vegetables, then grains, protein,and fruits follow (in that order). Dairy has changed into an optional food group. MyPlate also contains more appropriate, less subjective language through using the words “protein” and “grains” instead of “meat” and “bread”. Even so, MyPlate still has its flaws. My main objection lies with the idea of protein. I believe that this diagram still implicitly equates protein with meat. Drawing protein as its own subsection that does not interlink with the other sections within the illustration creates the illusion that an individual cannot obtain protein from the other food groups in the diagram. In truth, quite a few vegetables, fruits, and even grains have mid to high levels of protein. One cup of quinoa, a grain, contains nine grams of protein. The following image shows a list of the amount of protein in various vegetables and fruits in relationship to the amount of protein roughly needed by certain types of people per day as shown :

Leading a healthy lifestyle lies completely in your own control and can come about through taking numerous routes. You choose whether or not you want to remain in good health. You have the agency to create a diet that meets your own personal needs.

Analyzing USDA Food Guides



The USDA’s guidelines on what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet for Americans have changed time and time again over the past century. Most of us recognize one or several of these images because they have circulated throughout mainstream media during their respective decades. Children learn about the USDA approved food guide in grade school. Growing up I remember seeing posters of the 1992 Food Guide Pyramid on bulletin boards of the school cafeteria and in many of the classrooms I stepped foot in. Many of my classmates, including me, accepted this diagram as a visual representation of how to properly formulate your daily food intake. We thought of these food guidelines as common sense that encompassed the “right” way to eat.

Robert Cox’s “Social/Symbolic Constructions of ‘Environment'” in Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere explains how a dominant discourse, or a discourse that has gained a normalized status in culture, can flow rampantly through the public sphere, yet remain invisible in terms of consciousness to most (63). Just as I did as a child, many Americans fall into the dominant discourse of USDA nutrition guidelines. The USDA exercises its legitimacy, or its “right to exercise authority”, through these illustrations because not only does the USDA claim legitimacy of these values but a large amount of the public grants its legitimacy (64). Furthermore, these USDA approved diagrams give Americans an easy, simplified way of looking at their daily nutritional intake that puts types of food into specific groups. Placing kinds of food into categories and labeling how much of each food group a person should have daily can be seen as a “terministic screen”, or the means whereby our language orients us to see certain things, some aspects of the world and not others (62). These diagrams follow directly in accordance with the “business as usual” model for economic growth in the US.



Today, only a very small amount of water on Earth is potable. Almost three-fourths of the fresh water available on our planet gets used up in agriculture. In “101 Reasons Why I’m a Vegetarian,” Pamela Rice writes, “Because of increasing meat consumption, global water demand is forecast to go up by 40 percent by 2030. It is important to realize that half of all the world’s cultivated grain is fed to livestock. So, when people hear the word ‘agriculture,’ they largely need to think animal agriculture. Production inputs for a single hamburger amount to 634 gallons of water, 25 times that needed for the equivalent in wheat” (Rice 2). When viewing these facts all together, it is apparent that we have a problem on our hands. However, it isn’t as simple as stating a few disadvantages to the way agriculture production system is run today, and then moving on to trying to find alternative strategies to the current method that would serve as potential solutions to the problem at hand. Due to the largely invisible status of this issue in mainstream media, many people are not fully aware of the problem.

In “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber state, “one of the most intractable problems is that of defining problems (of knowing what distinguishes an observed condition from a desired condition) and of locating problems (finding where in the complex casual networks the trouble really lies)” (159). Defining a ‘wicked’ problem, such as intensive agriculture, is not an easy task. It does not work in the same manner as mathematical problem solving in which a problem is given and a solution is found through carrying out the steps necessary to gain a definitive solution. In order to deal with wicked problems, we must realize how interrelated all of these problems are. For example, not only does industrial agriculture (including both crop and livestock production) expend the bulk of potable water on the earth, but it also engenders land degradation and climate change. Furthermore, there are different levels of a wicked problem. Land degradation and climate change are higher, and therefore, more general problems. A few problems that fit within these two broader problems include forests turning into eroded wasteland, arable land turning into desert, and greenhouse gases that are emitted during livestock production, which have even smaller, more concentrated problems within them as well. This could keep going on and on in many different directions up to the most minute details.

Additionally, it is essential to have “knowledge of all conceivable solutions” so as to be able to effectively “anticipate all questions”  (160). Along with this, we also must take into account the rarity of the majority of people agreeing on the image of a problem and coming up with a concrete model of planning towards a targeted resolution. Rittel and Weber point out, “diverse values are held by different groups of individuals—that what satisfies one may be abhorrent to another, that what comprises problem-solution for one is problem-generation for another. Under such circumstances, and in the absence of an overriding social theory or an overriding social ethic, there is no gainsaying which group is right and which should have its ends served” (169). Our pluralistic society makes way for a constant stream of opposing views to butt heads with each other. There is no easy way to solve a wicked problem whether it be social and/or environmental.

Clara the Cow (and more!) at FRED Talks LA


Clara the Cow – 29:00 to 34:54

Also in this video:
– Deborah Bassett on Sea Shepherd, direct action marine conservation
– Elena Christopoulos on wind turbines in North America

*View further details at under June 27, 2012