The End of Free Will?

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Nature or Nurture? [BB / Flickr]

The corporate lock-up of restaurants began decades ago when the lower echelon eateries – the hotdog stands, automats, cafeterias, carts, etc. – were squashed or subsumed by chain behemoths. There are scattered holdouts, but they’re fading. Again, McDonald’s, KFC, etc. don’t aim to be mere options; their mandate is to fill all space at this price point.

Jim Leff, The Evil That is Panera or Why Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand Reaches for Lousy Chow

Of course, as Leff even points out, these towering fast food franchises are nothing new, but it’s a good place to start a conversation about manipulation, persuasion and freedom from choice.

In 2002, a group of teenagers sued McDonald’s for making them fat, charging, among other things, that McDonald’s used promotional techniques to get them to eat more than they should. The suit was roundly condemned as an erosion of the sense of free will and personal responsibility in our society. Less widely remarked upon was that the teenagers were offering an accurate account of human behavior.

Consider the phenomenon of ‘super-sizing’, where a restaurant patron is offered the chance to increase the portion size of their meal for some small amount of money. This presents a curious problem for the concept of free will — the patron has already made a calculation about the amount of money they are willing to pay in return for a particular amount of food. However, when the question is re-asked, — not “Would you pay $5.79 for this total amount of food?” but “Would you pay an additional 30 cents for more french fries?” — patrons often say yes, despite having answered “No” moments before to an economically identical question.

Super-sizing is expressly designed to subvert conscious judgment, and it works. By re-framing the question, fast food companies have found ways to take advantages of weaknesses in our analytical apparatus, weaknesses that are being documented daily in behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology.

Clay Shirky, Edge,

World Question Center,”What is Your Dangerous Idea?”

Where else do you see our “analytical aparatus” being manipulated? At the car dealership? In the voting booth? In the Courthouse? Or at an Open House? How often do you find yourself saying ‘I can’t help myself,’ or ‘I shouldn’t, but I will?’ Have you ever felt that you had no free will? When was the last time that you surrendered it?

Jim Leff

Jim Leff didn’t know it at the time, but he actually wrote one of the first food blogs What Jim Had for Dinner. This is now part of his popular website, known as the anti-Zagat guide,

Clay Shirky

Social & Technology Network Topology Researcher; Adjunct Professor, NYU Graduate School of Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP)

Megan McArdle

Blogger, Asymmetrical Information

Global agenda correspondent, The Economist

Extra Credit Reading

Clay Shirky, Free will is going away. Time to redesign society to take that into account, What is Your Dangerous Idea?, January 1, 2006: “Super-sizing is expressly designed to subvert conscious judgment, and it works. By re-framing the question, fast food companies have found ways to take advantages of weaknesses in our analytical apparatus, weaknesses that are being documented daily in behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology.”

Wayne, What then, will we think about knowing?, Idea Festival, January 17, 2006: “Shirky’s concluding paragraph begs the question, absent a notion of free will, on what other basis will we consider and opt for alternatives in this future society? And who decides?”

Are You Generic?: “Giving brand-america the finger since 2001.

Jimmy Moore, Portion Sizes Have Gone Down a Slippery Slope, Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb, July 30, 2006: “After the movie promotion had ended, McDonald’s realized they had stumbled on a marketing miracle and decided to keep their ‘Dinosize’ meals which we now know as Extra Value Meals and the upgrade which is known as Super Sizing… someone who used to weigh over 400 pounds and never really thought much about what I was putting in my mouth on a daily basis.”

Jimmy Moore, Forcing Restaurants To Cut Portions, Calories Is Not The Government’s Job, Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb, June 3, 2006: “If someone goes into a fast food restaurant to buy a burger and fries, guess who made that decision? It was the fast food customer, NOT the fast food company. The company is merely providing a product that meets the needs of the customer base.”

Megan McArdle, Can we sue our own fat asses off?, Salon, May 24, 2002: “If you can’t be held responsible for what you put in your mouth, what are you responsible for?”

Related Content

  • scribe5

    What a ridiculous question and comment:

    “Super-sizing is expressly designed to subvert conscious judgment, and it works. By re-framing the question, fast food companies have found ways to take advantages of weaknesses in our analytical apparatus, weaknesses that are being documented daily in behavioral economics and evolutionary psychology.”

    I have never said yes to a supersize offer.

    “Subvert conscious judgment?” Are we talking about three year olds, here?

    What does the left always come up with some fantasy scenario which turns people into these manipulable dolls instead of free conscious beings? If we are so easily subverted then why even bother arguing for free choice, or worse for democratic institutions?

  • the cognitive revolution showed that humans are not simply general purpose input-output machines, rather, our minds are textured by a specific architecture which biases our decisions, and bounds our “rationality.” evolutionary psychologists would assert that this is due to the selection pressures of our ancient environment, but this is neither here nor there for the current discussion, the biases exist no matter their origin.

    this isn’t about determinism, it is about a chain of probabilities. e.g., i will often go to particular restaurants where all the fare is healthy. there might be another restaurant with the same fare + tasty fatty food. i can still choose the healthy fare, but when contrasted with the delicious odor of grease my probability calculus may lean another way. our minds can be “primed” and “influenced” toward different decisions without even knowing it. without sensory input my health consciousness can not be overriden, so i take a executive decision not to allow that input. this is the distinction between the reflective, conscious, mind, and the reflexive implicit aspect of our cognition. the key, for me, is to make sure that i shape the inputs which mold the reflexive aspect of my decision making.

    all this is getting to the point “I have never said yes to a supersize offer” falsifies a universal deterministic model, but we’re talking about a population which probabilistic biases. we have variations in tastes, in experiences and values, and these all explicitly and implicitly shape our choices. but, corporations (and gambling establishments) know our average mental biases, and cut corners around them. that’s how they make $$$ (and that’s why states run lotteries).

    as for the political angle brought up by the previous poster, i think it doesn’t fall easily into a Left vs. Right dichotomy. burkean conservatism has always argued for the importance of implicit background assumptions and contextual development, unknown variables and how they shape our choices. that’s why many conservatives have always favored morals legislation, in both the contextual (e.g., broken windows, round up prostitutes) and direct (make ownership of pornography illegal) sense. there is a similar aspect of the Left, though it focuses on different things (e.g., our food choices). and, against this there is the libertarian strain on both the Right and Left.

  • razib– agreed with your last point. Over in the Meta Discussion there’s a near-consensus that the comments here quickly deteriorate when it becomes a left vs. right spitfight.

    I sorta wish that Chelsea had cast a wider net than food in talking about free will. You could speak to Shirky’s fellow NYU instructor Douglas Rushkoff, who has written the book Coercion (2002) and expanded it into the Frontline show The Persuaders (2003).

    Even food as the topic is also quite strange. There’s a lot of folks eating at the Cheesecake Factory these days (with its menu of two hundred choices), but what of the foodie trend, perhaps more in sync with this station’s listenership. Consider the front page review on the NYT Book Review two days ago on The United States of Arugula (subtitle: how we became a gourmet nation).

    BTW, Chowhounds is “known as the Zagat’s of the 21st Century”? To whom? Zagat’s is still around, and we’re six years into this century. Chowhounds, on the other hand, is called the “anti-Zagat’s” by

    And hey, see if you can clear the rights from Mercury Records to play some of Rush’s “Free Will” from 1980:

    You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.

    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

    You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill

    I will choose a path that’s clear

    I will choose free will.

  • ChelseaM


    I was merely using food as one of the many ways in which our free will is supposedly manipulated, As franchise food is also something that both Leff and Shirky have written about, in the context of free will, it seemed the obvious (perhaps too obvious) place to start this discussion. This conversation might begin at KFC but we won’t be hanging out there for long–Shirky and Leff and Lydon have far too much to say about the world and human behavior. There’s a limit as to how many minutes anyone can talk only about getting that extra piece of extra crispy.

    As for the Zagat reference, it should have read anti-Zagat. Thank you for pointing out that typo.

  • I wonder is we should be talking about free will at all. Is there really such a thing? Is not social agency a better notion? As social beings we are not born free, but rather bounded by language, personal relationships, physical needs, the natural environment, our bodies… Rousseau was only half right.

    If we speak of social agency, then we have to agree that it resides with the forces of production and not those of consumers. Yet the slight of hand of the marketing wizards masks this and has us believe that as consumers we are actors when in fact we are not much more than choosers.

    So the question, Chelsea, is not whether we are loosing our free will, but whether we are not even given the chance to choose any more. And when we can, do we face poorer or fewer choices than before, all the time being led to believe we are getting something more? To answer these questions, we need to look at income levels, since we are not all buying the same basket of goods.

    Globalization should also not be exempt from this discussion. In one sense it has provided a broader range of consumer choices (think of all the imported goods you can get a wal-mart or the ethnic restaurants staffed with immigrants). Yet it has also distanced us from the most influential social agents (transnational corporations) that alter our local habitat.

  • Pingback: Neil Sanderson » Blog Archive » How strong’s your freewill?()

  • My friend Gary used to manage a McDonald’s. They sold two soft drink sizes, Medium and Large. Gary has told me that, on multiple occasions, a customer would request a small drink, be told that the store only sells Medium and Large, and, in response would order the Large rather than the Medium.

    It seems that people aren’t always so logical after all. Maybe McDonald’s knows that customers are often in a coma and, if shaken awake, might be momentarily influenced by well-framed choices.

  • I, too, think the discussion is about the manipulation of choice. Or the lack thereof. Take Home Depot. I learned firsthand what they do to a manufacturer. They guarantee a volume of sales, but they force the price below what is reasonable to earn a living. If you don’t agree, they go elsewhere. Then they set the price expectation so low that no one will pay the real price for the goods. If you go to Home Depot now, you will see that they have two brands of lighting. There used to be several. And if you look around, you only get a choice beyond those brands if you can afford high-end.

    Same for food. Even Whole Foods is homogenizing. They put big pictures up of local farmers. But they aren’t buying food from them. They have supported industrial-sized farms in California. Soon, all the local farms will be gone. Even the subtle flavor differences of tomatoes grown in Massachusetts vs. Michigan will be gone.

    Most capitalist economic theories do state the need to avoid monopolies. Why? Because lack of choice gives the manufacturer to much power to charge too much, treat workers unfairly and destroy natural resources without recourse. There is also an understanding that small local business are actually the backbone to economic stability.

    Choice is important on so many levels. It’s always a tug of war between the manufacturer’s desire to manipulate how you make your choice and society’s desire to control how much they can manipulate. As a society, we need to hold on to the value of small businesses. We’re too vulnerable if we don’t.

  • rc21

    I havn’t eaten at a fast food restaurant in over 10 years. That is my choice. I exercise my free will to eat healthy every day. My desire to remain healthy and fit has much more influence in my eating habits,as opposed to any advertising or subtle manipulation by fast food monopolies..

    Any one can make the same choice. I wish people would stop scapegoating chains and big corporations for their own self destructive choices.

    I will also add that some of the healthiest foods are also some of the cheapest.

    So ones economic status need not play a role in ones choices of good healthy food vs poor unhealthy fast food.

    Big companies and fast food chains can advertise all they want. They can supersize and double super size. I think that is great. If I ever choose to become a fat unhealthy person I will know where to go for my meals.

  • Consider the phenomenon of ’super-sizing’, where a restaurant patron is offered the chance to increase the portion size of their meal for some small amount of money. This presents a curious problem for the concept of free will — the patron has already made a calculation about the amount of money they are willing to pay in return for a particular amount of food. However, when the question is re-asked, — not “Would you pay $5.79 for this total amount of food?” but “Would you pay an additional 30 cents for more french fries?” — patrons often say yes, despite having answered “No” moments before to an economically identical question.

    I don’t see it. I don’t want that much food, I don’t order it. Granted I do Super-Size on occasion but it’s when my wife and I are eating – we order a meail, a second burger and then split the fries. Not cheap, we just don’t want (or need) all the food.

    I don’t think I’m unique, nor particularly smart.

  • jazzman

    Scribe5 is correct – it is a fatuous proposition. Sidewalker and Allison make the salient point that the question is really more about the availability of choice and the loss of the free market rather than free will. We as conscious individuals (freed from animalistic instinctual behavior by opting for conscious behavior) ALWAYS have free will by dint of consciousness. It is every human’s birthright and cannot be lost or bartered for potage (although Antinomianists see: or Fatalists would disagree.)

    One can choose (via free will) to take a decision to act or not. At every NOW point (time is an infinite series of dimensionless now points) we make a decision to either maintain the status quo (choose the inertial path of least resistance) or diverge (conscious choice – free will being the external (actually internal) force that overcomes the inertia.) The availability of choices may be limited as in a monopoly or Hobson’s Choice but one always has the free will to choose the opposing complementary choice (the minimal set of choices is binary i.e., it always contains 2 choices – something or nothing) even if it appears certain that the opposing choice would result in the decider’s demise.

    It is FEAR of the uncertain outcome (unintended consequences) or results of a decision taken more often than not that leads people to the conclusion that there is a loss of free will. (I had no other choice – Curly: I’m a victim of coicumstances!!!) In the above scenario as posited, the only loss of will is the lack of WILL POWER. and any loss of free will is via abdication.

    Peace to ALL,


  • rc21 & Brian Dunbar: it’s great that you have such a strong wills or sense of reason. You are NOT the norm. I never eat fast food. Never. I am not the norm.

    There are complex psychological factors that lead the impoverished, uneducated, immigrant and disenfranchised to be highly influenced by advertising and offers made to them in person. The advertising companies spend millions on psychological studies and consultants to figure out how to take advantage of the psychology of their target audience. You can write about your experience, but to ignore the overwhelming data and claim that everybody else should just be like you is patently dismissive and does nothing to address the reality. People are weak for whatever reasons they are, it is not ethical to prey on those weaknesses. Except in an amoral capitalistic economic model.

  • Potter

    Report from the suburbs, exurbs of Central MA: Over the years the choices in food gathering have dwindled considerably to the supermarket, the super supermarket. It’s all mostly one company too, all within a 6-8 miles range each way. It used to be a 4 mile trip to the nearest, but the big one bought them out.

    For the supersupermarkets, varieties of fruits and vegetables are bred for the convenience of the seller, transportation not for taste. I never buy cardboard tomatoes in the winter, even the hot-house ones are tough.

    Now I notice there is a question on the MA ballot about allowing supermarkets to carry wine. The supermarket is are putting a reminder to vote for in your bag. Are we going to lose out wine merchants?

    There are fewer and fewer farms around. Of course, we patronize them in season and they are popular. But for the last couple of years they have not been growing old-fashioned corn, only genetically modified for “sugar-enhancement”. The local farmer says that’s what everyone wants it. I don’t. I trek three towns over to an organic farm for ithe kind that comes with the worms on top but it costs me time and gas). Fresh apples are still available now in several varieties here. One farm in Stow (Derby’s) has many of the old varieties as well, a few with worm holes. Yum.

    To be fair, there are a lot more choices in many areas, especially exotic and ethnic ingredients. My family from Israel went wild in the supermarket this summer, especially the kids, at the choices. They could not cope…

  • Old Nick

    This conversation has already wandered toward and along the untidy border of the pseudoscience called ‘evolutionary psychology’. The late Stephen Jay Gould had a lot to say about E.P., including, for example, this:


    Evolutionary psychology, as a putative science of human behavior, itself evolved by “descent with modification” from 1970’s-style sociobiology. But the new species, like many children striving for independence, shuns its actual ancestry by taking a new name and exaggerating some genuine differences while ignoring the much larger amount of shared doctrine—all done, I assume, to avoid the odor of sociobiology’s dubious political implications and speculative failures (amid some solid successes when based on interesting theory and firm data, mostly from nonhuman species).

    (unquote – emphasis mine)

    Stephen Jay Gould, More Things in Heaven and Earth, from Alas Poor Darwin.

    Gould goes on to eviscerate E.P.’s underlying assumptions: that the human brain is ‘modular’, that human behavior is ‘universal’ (instead of parochially cultural), or genetically ‘adaptationist’. (Time permitting, I’ll try to summarize Gould’s excellent essay on my own site and link to here, later.)

    In short, jazzman is entirely correct: the six million year evolution of human consciousness has all but obliterated the dominion of genetically encoded instincts in human behavior. For example, no animal would knowingly commit suicide to perpetuate belief in an invisible, unverifiable supernatural entity. More germane to this thread, no animal (think bears, dogs, and gulls, for example) would refuse a hearty helping the superabundance of calories available in any McDonald’s garbage bin – yet many more humans drive right on past fast fatty-food restaurants than actually stop in and gorge.

    Six million years of human evolution have made our species the current Gaian Champions of instinct-free living.

    We have evolved a counter-instinctual consciousness to a degree of almost embarrassing richness.

    We have choice.

    Two other books that conk on their twinned heads E.P. and its sibling pseudoscience ‘behavioral genetics’: Lifelines: Life Beyond the Gene,

    & What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee.

    I strongly recommend the entire trio.

  • jazzman

    Old Nick: Anent the subject of pseudoscience –

    I read the David Brin article on neotney that you recommended in the Predatory Politics thread and I’ve never seen such a mish-mash of speculation, unwarranted specious conclusions, and pure nonsense – pseudoscience to the nth degree. I can just imagine what a field day J. Marks (What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee) would have with that one. The only redeeming paragraph in the whole work was the Remarks section at the end in which he cautioned readers that: Quote by David Brin

    “It happens all too often that this sort of speculative essay is taken too seriously, by both authors and all-too-easily persuaded (or outraged) readers. Evolutionary paleo-sociobiology is a subject which, for lack of solid facts, is all too prone to emotional, egotistical or wishful posturing. It is well to recall that one can only go so far by spinning reasonable-sounding scenarios. Those I have presented here are mere conjectures. I claim nothing more.”

    I wouldn’t have read it so carefully if I had realized that it was an exercise in imPLAUSIBILITY I presumed that he was serious and I got my comeuppance in the “outraged” readers disclaimer.

    Thanks for the yuks.


  • ruthmark

    This vanillizing occurs in classical music as well. Our local classical station not only has “playlists” – what they think people want to hear over and over again. They play the SAME PERFORMANCES of the same pieces!!!!! They seem to think that I, as one of their listeners, like this. WRONG.

  • FredS

    My comment is about the freedom to choose to breathe air that is free of artificial fragrances. To the best of my knowledge long-term exposure to the various toxic ingredients that are in many artificial fragrances has not been proven safe for humans. I’ll offer the example of the pervasiveness of artificial fragrance that originates in laundry detergent and fabric softeners. Many people use detergent and fabric softeners with artificial fragrance. Their clothing releases the fragrance which can become concentrated in indoor air. So, in any building where there are people with fragrance in their clothes, there will most likely be artificial fragrance in the air. If you choose not to breathe indoor air which smells of artificial fragrance, you can wear a respirator with a charcoal filter, or you can find ways to avoid going into buildings which have air that smells of artificial fragrance. Also, if you choose not to breathe air with artificial fragrance, you will not allow anyone with clothes that smell of artificial fragrance to enter your home. You probably will have to take many other precautions to avoid breathing air with artificial fragrance. A person does have a choice in the example I use, but the limitations required by the choice not to breathe artificial fragrances are extreme. This issue is important to me because I have multiple chemical sensitivity.

  • taliesin

    Erving Goffman’s “Total Institution” is another lens through which to consider free will in our modern society. Corporations, and in particular the large modern office building, has made the workplace a total institution; a contrived enviroment where the range of activities and behaviours are constrained and molded to the greatest benefit of the corporation. This takeover of free will is without consideration to the social effects of controlling, in detail, how their employees live during the bulk of their waking hours.

    These corporate norms have, over time, spilled into the wider culture. This tainting of civil society is visible wherever we look, in the way people talk, and in politics.

  • MarjorieArezzo

    I may be a bit off on my comments related to Jim and culture of eating in US but I must say he is right on the mark but needs to express it for real people. My grandmother deceased was the most intense Italian woman I have ever met and when it came to eating she was almost insane. The food was wonderful to the point that I as a child I could drink the last bit of her homewade wine vinegar and olive oil mixture. The time was 1960’s and none of my peers were eating,drinking or experiencing my mother (a product of my grandmother) cooking. Family meals were a joy and my parents were not wealthy..That is the problem in our culture..Family meals are non-existent and we have no way of judging quality. I work and have since my children were small but my husband experienced the same intensity (different ethnic background) so we try to instill that love of food in family meals. It is not easy and sometimes the meal does not rise to the standard of my grandmother’s..but that is the end game

  • drbuoux

    This isn’t rocket science–at least as far as food goes. Food as product tastes like product, not food. My wife is a successful independent chef/restaurateur and our kids eat well at home. We’re passionate (groan, overused, I know, but true) about what we eat. Our kids know what great (not necessarily expensive) food tastes like. But family meals, with and without friends, celebrate great food. My son, 16, returned from a weekend visit to Montreal with the comment, “You could die there looking for a decent espresso.” My daughter, ten, recently observed about an Irish Pub’s version of chicken nuggets, “What’s with all the breading and just a little chicken?”

    Panera bread tastes phoney–but only if you know what real bread tastes like.

    McDonald’s hamburgers taste like phoney meat, not a real hamburger.

    People refuse to pay attention to so few things in their lives. This isn’t about snobbery, it’s about people being asleep at the wheel.

    A friend of mine recently commented about billboard advertising a supermarket chain he saw on the way to the Denver airport: “Your dollar buys more food for less!” We’re about quantity, not quality. Can anyone imagine anyone in continental Europe finding that appealing?



  • jrtodd

    The world of TV marketing, with which I am more familiar, may help here. Notes from a conference I attended by Born to Buy author Juliet Schorr shows distraction research done for Nickelodeon helped them create characters, colors, and shapes that are mesmerizing. Disney’s Narnia included deep market research. Technology includes MRI’s done with kids watching. There are even market researchers studying kid behavior in bathrooms. Even PBS dose aggressive market research.

    With regard to food, the resolution reached by parents, who are fighting excess violence, homework, laziness, video and videogames, is that they give up on the nutrition battle.

  • stuartkendall

    Megan’s naive conservative view of “decent food and good prices” fails to acknowledge the full social and individual cost of this food. Fast food is subsidized by tax payer dollars and the production of this food bears a high social cost: from food born illnesses to environmental impact to major health costs for the people who ingest these calories.

    This “free” nation is freely dying of obesity and paying for the privilege. If a friend were contemplating suicide, would you not try to help her? These free thinkers aren’t informed enought to understand their fates. Turning a cynical blind eye won’t absolve you.

  • BJ

    Megan has a point. In some parts of the country, the chains actually up the level of sophistication. When I was growing up in western Colorado none of the local restaurants was memorable for its food. We teenagers valued them as hangouts and our moms treasured them for providing an occasional escape from the kitchen. Then, in the 70s, the franchises hit town. I was living in Chicago by then and the letters from home were paeans to IHOP, Applebee’s, Taco Bell and Red Lobster. These places introduced Belgian waffles, crab salad in an avocado boat, chalupas, red snapper and other exotica. They also kindled a demand for more variety in the supermarkets of Grand Junction, Delta, Ouray and Montrose. My mother, a beef-and-potatoes kinda gal, began to turn out chile rellenos souffles. Her friend Marietta sent away for a pasta machine.

    I went back for my high school reunion last week and took a friend’s 92-year-old mother out for dinner. Her choice: Red Lobster. She was intrigued by the tilapia.

  • RobM

    Good lord. What a pompous pile of elitist twits.

  • Louise

    rc21 and Brian Dunbar have said it. (I am not sure what RobM is saying. Being enigmatic seems irresponsible in this forum?) When my children were young they ate my homemade breads and scratch meals. They were fun to make, amazingly cheap, and better than anything in a box. Their exposure to sugar was limited to occasional cookies or fruit desserts. The first time the three of them ate a McDonald’s hameburger they said “this tastes so sweet.” We talked about the sugary “ketchup” on the sweet-tasting “meat”, the unusual sweetness of the bun and the fact that they did not like the taste. When one of my little ones was 3 and had a day at a friend’s house he talked about his experienced and told me that he had “cake” for lunch. It turned out to be white bread on his sandwich. I think that while perhaps fast food is attractive because it is “the taste of the familiar” it is also almost addictive because of the levels of sugar and salt in the mix. While children, and addults, can become cravers of sweet and salty foods it is not inborn. it is learned. Once learned the fix is offered at cheap prices and obscene sizes to keep the chemicals in our systems.

    Read Anne Wilson Schaeff and Diane Fasel’s The Addictive Society for an explanation of the goals of those who market to us and make again obscene wealth off of valueless products. The goals are to make us unthinking, undiscerning and insatiable consumers.

    We and indeed use our will to make our choices. I have not had fast food in ten years or so. It is no deprivation. The food is globs of fat coated in breading and deep fried. When I look at it critically I mourn for those who do not use their minds and their reason to make decisions about not just what they eat, but what they drink, wear, drive, and do. It is not that our will is being taken from us by crafty and seductive marketing. WE are not using it. We are lulled into thinking that drive through ordering is some kind of perk. That sitting on plastic tuffets and ingesting carbs and fat is a privelege. That allowing our children to drive our choices for them is enlightened.

    Responsibility is key here. For ourselves, for our loved ones, for our society … etc.

  • kelly_george

    I am a new graduate student in Health Communication with an interest in Social Marketing, i.e. utilizing all of the insidious techniques of commercial marketing to change people’s behavior for the better. So, if marketing is so powerful, why haven’t Social Marketers been able to use it to put an end to drug-related deaths or teen smoking or obesity for that matter? I am new at this, but my instinct tells me that the answer is that marketing techniques are most successful when we are able to sell people what they already want. Unfortunately, a lot of what people want falls into the category of “base of the brain” naughtiness — like fatty food and topless women. Try getting people to “live a healthier lifestyle” or “eat their fruits and vegetables” or have “safer sex.” The truth is that it is a lot harder to manipulate people to “do the right thing” than it is to get them to supersize it. The thing is, at least when you’re selling big macs and boobs you’re selling people what they want instead of telling them what you think they should want. I love the idea of helping people live healthier lives, but you cannot escape the noblesse oblige factor even when it comes to selling something seemingly beyond reproach like good health. We’re manipulating each other all the time. And someone, because of intelligence or resources or even pure skill, will always have the upper hand.

  • I found the program’s participants fascinating and funny–but, the subject is at least as old as Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders. The advertising and marketing world has grown up making use of as much technology as necessary to influence choice. I emphasize marketing because that’s what fast food is about–they’re not restaurants, they’re marketing companies. Try to imagine McDonalds, for example, without the Happy Meal, without the cheap toy product tie-ins, without the barrage of advertising in all media, without the logo and the brand recognition regimen, Ronald McDonald or Hamburglar. What would McDonalds then be? A really crappy place to eat, because there’s no aesthetics in the experience–the furniture is crappy, the food is very low on multiplicity and combination of flavors and its staff is listless because they don’t really have anything essential to do with the preparation of the food.

    The core of McDonalds’ (and most fast food’s) essence is not the cooking, nor the experience of eating, but, rather, is a predictable and repeatable retail exchange of money for calories. Marketing drives one’s decision to make that retail exchange in that place, rather than the high quality of the food and its preparation or the value of the eating experience. That, in itself, devalues food.

    As others have commented, too, the marketing-influenced choice to eat such chain food also requires one to make implicit choices about a whole range of social issues hidden behind the choice of what and where to eat–worker and animal exploitation, the environmental consequences of corporate farming practices and techniques, political influence through lobbying and campaign contributions of the parent company, etc.–choices which affect society beyond the matter of food alone. The power of such corporations (the money we pay them) can be directed in ways which profoundly affect our lives.

  • Organic farming and back to the land movements were suppose to be in part about regaining agency over the food one eats by no longer being at the mercy of industrial food producers. Whole Foods and other corporate entities are proving that it is business almost as usual.

    For more on this, I recommend this excellent three-part series which you can listen to in mp3.

    CBC Radio: The Best of Ideas

    Organics go Mainstream

    (scroll down the page a little)

  • Fred J Walsh

    Outside of a couple of brief comments, I’m not seeing the financial side of eating addressed.

    Every week or two I go to McDonald’s and sit down with a Big Mac, Fries, and a copy of the NY Post.

    Am I under the impression this is the best meal possible, or that the NY Post is the best news source available?

    Naw. But for a few bucks I can sit in a relatively clean well-lit place and eat and read a bit. Few can deny McDonald’s achievement with the French Fry. And this junky tasty fatty food goes down well with news of the latest Lindsay Lohan nipple slip or wacky dumb-criminal arrest.

    In contrast I can hardly afford to go eat at say, Bond Street sushi all the time, or relish the natural flavor of food at a trendy restaurant like Craft. These experiences are rare and saved for special occasions, like when my culinary-school trained friend is celebrating a birthday.

  • kelly_george, it could be that it is easy to sell people what is addictive. It’s a lot easier to get someone to try heroine than it is get them to stop using it. Much less have a healthy meal. It also only takes a moment to traumatize someone and lifetime to recover.

    Marketing doesn’t work when it comes to healing. That takes long-term, slow-moving, intimate work. It’s not because people are weak or without reason. Even physical injuries take exponentially longer to heal than it takes for the injury to occur. It’s not reasonable to expect people to recover their will once it has been manipulated away from them.

  • But, Fred J Walsh, a healthy plate of Brazilian black beans and collards doesn’t cost that much. I would save my money and eat 1/2 or 1/4 of the times out and spend my hard-earned bucks on a truly good meal. If I want to read the Post, I’d just sit in a diner and an egg plate any hour of the day.

    Economics was not the only driver, originally. Diners have been around forever. But people have chosen to support the chains to the detriment of the alternatives. Now, there are fewer low-cost options. We all walked right into that.

  • girlsforscience

    I’ll try to put a slightly different angle on this topic, and I hope you still consider it relevant. When I thought of free will…and its end…I thought of labels. Everything seems to have a ready made label that we can stick on it! Even people! Whoever we are…is lost…to the bias of premade conception. I think that it is very difficult to stand against the force of ‘spin’. In the end, I do think it rapes us of something very important…the genuine hope that others will see our hearts, the desire to have another look past all the distractions in the way of our ability to connect…

    The truth must be so much more…

  • monkey

    There are more choices today than ever before so advertisers and marketers are working harder and harder to get a smaller and smaller piece of the pie and profits. At the same time, the consumers have become more and more savvy to their methods and have come to be skeptical of them. The net? It’s an even playing field. Perhaps more even than, say, 50m years ago when people trusted the media and marketers at their word.

  • elphaba

    To me there are two topics going on here. One is the junk food debate of free choice vs. innocence manipulated. The other is the idea that there is a decrease in choices due to successful marketing strategies by large corporations.

    I’ve given the topic of junk food considerable thought.

    On one hand no one stuffs the junk down your throat. How many people out there don’t know that eating a bunch of fast food isn’t good for you? People know its bad for them, but they persist. As another person said, if you aren’t responsible for what you eat, what are you responsible for?

    I think people should be able to do stupid things that are bad for them as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. Its all right if you’re an alcoholic, but not all right for you to drive.

    On the other hand there really is a biological basis for the cravings for junk food. Sugar and oil used to be hard to come by. The excess calories you could get from these rare foods would enable you to survive the next famine. We are hardwired to want these foods and its hard to fight the desire. Marketing is very sophisticated, targeted and good at driving desire.

    Is obesity just the fat persons problem? Think of what health care costs are going to be when the obese waddling children start feeling the effects of their Type 2 Diabetes. This used to be a disease of older people and its now showing up in young adults.

    My idea is to recognize that we have cravings for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. I think we should also recognize that free will and choice is something we value. (I don’t want government mandating that the only available ice cream will have half the fat of “historic” ice cream.) I think we should be able to eat what we want. However, since we are programmed in way that encourages us to ignore our real best interests, we shouldn’t have our desires enhanced by advertising. In short; don’t ban the food (or alcohol, cigarettes, drugs) ban the advertisement of them in all forms.

    I do think there is a trend in most things that is limiting choice in many areas. I agree that predictablility has a lot to do with that. If I’m in a strange city I know that I can go to Applebees and get the asian chicken salad that I like. If I go to a local place, I have no idea what I’m going to get. If I’m tired and stressed I will go for the predictable.

    Somewhat related; I noticed when I was travelling around last week how uniform and characterless new sections of towns were. There were the same subdivisions and the same big box stores. How many people are going to want to live close to that new strip mall in twenty years?

  • drewH

    You guys have it all wrong. Just kidding! I couldn’t resist the snotty reflex on such a brilliant and important topic – the physical, cultural, and existential dimensions of our daily gastronomical decisions. Is it the fat stupid, or is something more going on that’s drawing us away from our traditional eating choices, styles, habits and destinations and towards the maddening crowd of the chain-operated food providers?

    It’s the scope and pace of this changing lanscape that I believe the first panelist, Jim Leff, saw as the catalyst for this strange debate between free will vs. choice in a free-market society prized for its overabundance of choice. Why are we even asking the question when the US domestic restaurant sales are projected to be $511B in 2006 vs. $42B in 1970; and of the 925,000 establishments, 7 of 10 are independently owned and operated?

    Jim Leff had the answer right in the beginning of the discussion. He said: “The high is .. trying to get past a huge looming problem that I see that a lot of people haven’t really thought through all the way. I see us being at a terrible endgame and I think I people are not aware how close we are to the checkmate — in terms of the independent restaurateurs .. going the way of the independent bookstore and hardware. I’m seeing chains taking over at every end of the spectrum.”

    Though empirical in observation, the trend towards chains is real, and few of us can deny they don’t see it happening on an unprecedented scale. If Tocqueville was to arrive in America today and head to its town centers and commerce districts for a bite to eat, he would see a wide array of restaurants to choose from with their bright signs, extensive menus, and bustling patrons. He’d probably spend a great month here endlessly tasting the world’s smorgasbord of cuisine. But, when he started to travel from town to town, first to say Boston, then to New York, Philadelphia, and DC, then flying over Houston, Dallas, Denver, and Phoenix, and across the coast to San Francisco, to Seattle – all along the way, he’d keep running into the same places over and over and over and over. In not one of these common destinations, would he spot the perfect cup-of-joe, pasta primavera, or homemade cheesecake.

    He’d scratch and wonder. Man! America has a lot of commerce going on here, lots of wealth, people dining out, plenty of choice in the foods and the food types, but when it can to the settings – the places at which they eat, it was the same chairs, the same layout, and same noisy environments that seem to steal the joy out of a peaceful, slow-paced, dining experience. If I was a tourist from outside America, I’d be pretty bored with the urban landscape after I spotted the 100th McDonalds, the 50th Starbucks, the 10th Olive Garden, the 5th Panera, and commercial strips full of the same shops, gas stations, and big warehouse stores all over.

    As for my own observation, a new shopping center opened in Burlington, MA in September – it has a nice mix of upscale furniture stores, designer outlets, well-respected food establishments, a large bookstore, a jewelry place, and even a gym. Every single new store or eatery was a chain location that started elsewhere. So this got me thinking as I as bit into my $8.30 Peking Duck wrap from Fresh City with no drink – because then my lunch would have hit $10 otherwise. If all of these establishments are replications other locations (chains, duh), why is it that none of these places are unique to the area? And if another shopping area gets build down the way, what are the chances that they too will not have similar mix of chains with no local stores.

    I think the answer to these issues rests with the landowners of commercial areas. If the lease rates are high, which is the usual case for shopping centers and bustling districts, choosing a merchant is never easy; and so, the least risky path is to take on an established tenant, a brand known either regionally or nationally – even if a lesser known local merchant bids higher. Adversity to risk is where 99% of the problems lie. It also explains why not only is the landscape dull and repetitive, but so is the food that’s served there.

    Getting back to Leff’s point, has anyone ever gone into a Panera, and felt that what they ate was truly distinct – especially after the 3rd time you ordered the same dish? To find great original eats or anything original for that matter, you have to go out of your way to find them – they’re off the beaten path. Because you can’t find them in the town center, near the local hardware store, bakery, and bookstore, the low foot traffic and spotty patronage means their days are numbered; maybe not today, but certainly tomorrow.

  • Old Nick

    Jazzman: I’ve replied to you in the Predatory Politics thread, post number 46. It’s there because it pertains (after a torturous exposition) to Mark Foley.

  • This is a fascinating conversation and while the original topic has wandered from free will to food politics, it is important nonetheless. I’m not sure if any of the commenters have read Michael Pollan’s new book: The Omnivore’s Dilemma but fits into this conversation. Here is a great review of the book:

    I’ll try to summarize his points:

    1. We are eating so much corn in this country that on a molecular level we are like “corn chips with legs” Corn has been refined in so many different ways that it is nearly impossible to tell what is a corn derivative without being a chemist. We feed corn and corn products to every animal we eat to the detriment of the animals’ health, thus needing to pump them full of anti-biotics.

    2. 2. This is all possible because of ag subsidies that pay farmers to grow a product that is effectively driving them out of business. The subsidies also make it possible for the cost of food to decrease over the past 50 years from ¼ of a family’s income to 1/10.

    3. Organic isn’t much better because almost all-organic food comes from either California or Central and South America. These products are then trucked all over the country wasting fossil fuels.

    4. While there isn’t a vast grand conspiracy to make us fat, each piece of our industrial food chain has very specific goals that all include maximizing profits with little regard too much else. All of these individual players who are maximizing profits combined create the situation we have today where we are so removed from the growing of our food that we don’t think about it until we notice that the only places to eat are national chains or every tomato in the grocery store tastes like cardboard.

    By the way, Michael Pollen would make a great guest for a follow-up show.

  • Allison

    You can write about your experience, but to ignore the overwhelming data and claim that everybody else should just be like you is patently dismissive and does nothing to address the reality.

    I’m not – and did not – say everyone should be just like me, but questioned that the majority of the population are hapless dolts in the face of corporate advertising.

    I am a hopeless optimist, perhaps.

  • Old Nick

    Kate Logan: ROS had Michael Pollan on in the spring of this year: .

    And it was a good show.

  • Brian – optimism is a good thing. A true optimist accepts, non-judgmentally, reality as it is now and envisions a path to a better future.

    “Hapless dolts” is a judgmental framing that shames people. Again, psychology and physiology are complex. A little more acceptance of the fact that you can’t possibly ever completely know how someone else’s life has led them to where they are, you might just give people a little break for their weaknesses and help them get stronger rather than denigrating them.

    Mass advertisers do understand that a vast majority of the poplulation is extremely susceptible to marketing. You may question it, but it’s true.

  • drewH

    Oh, I forgot to add that Jeff is not alone as a conscientious-objector of the upscale chain behomeths and the fight against the comforts of familiarty. I find Panera, Starbucks, TeaLuxe, and the Cheescake Factory to even more reprehensible than the obvious targets like McDs and KFC. The reason is simple — they’ve figure out how to meet your needs — and that’s the whole notion of markeitng hypnosis.

    Take for instance the two best successess: Starbucks or a Panera, their store locations are always perfectly situated in prime areas of real estate, and their interior furnishings are comfortable and well though out. There’s an air of come hither and stay for while aspect to them — and that’s the gotcha he’s hinting. So when we pairing up the ambience with quite decent dishes with reasonable portions, a hip and responsive staff, plus reasonably ok prices, the whole experience is above normal, especially when compared to Nick’s Pizza and Taco Bell, which might be around the corner. But they don’t stop at food — they now offer Free Wireless Internet, and offer purchasable goods, including branded coffee mugs and baseball caps. The brand is thoroughly extended into the soul of the customer. This is the rub, this is where it doesn’t compute as a genuinely pleasurable experience — it’s an carefully designed set on Disney, where all behaviors have been carefully thought through, assess, re-assessed, and reapplied. It’s a constantly evolving experiment where (as Jeff says) food is not real endgame — driving shareholder value and crushing the competition is the heart of their strategy. The more these chains spread around their stores across the continent and the globe, the more “familiarity” breeds its own sense of loyal consumerism. When that happens, the existing independent eateries that have sustained us for decades who cater to mid-brow and upscale tastebuds, slowly feel the pinch from the chain operators. When someone sees a crowded place, they automatically assume there’s something they’re doing right. Perhaps they are, but if it’s the “familiarity” of the place that creates the crowd, then it is definitely checkmake.

    To this day, I still can’t fathom the patience-defying queues at the Cheescake Factory. What is it about this place that convinces its customers that an 1.5 hour wait is acceptable? My only explanation is that it’s tribal in nature — a herding instinct, I don’t know. But for some of us holdouts, I’m so much more inclined to settle for a Big Mac or a Chalupa than stand in line at the Cheesecake Factory, or order an $8 Peking Duck wrap at Fresh City, in which the lines mimic the RMV.

    There is no ghost in the machine at these places. An inspired chef is about as rare as a Snow Leopard on the beltways of America’s metropolises. As a newly converted Chowhound (haven’t registered his site yet). These chain restaurants are the Red Coats and Panera is the Benedict Arnold. As an anti-” fast casual” jihadist, I’m ready to dump all of the TeaLuxe tea bins one more time into the Boston Harbor. This is a lonely battle, but I’m sure there’s someone out there who also smells the noxious fumes of smart marketing. As a conscientious-objector of culinary mediocrity and repetition, I guess I’ll be living out my gastronomic existence in quiet desperation as I reach for my Dunkin Donut.

  • materialistfriends

    A couple of great texts on the topic–David Foster Wallace (long) short story, “Mr. Squishy,” and Henri Lefebvre’s >, from which I took the following:

    “The backwardness of ’services’ essential to everyday life compared with production in general (production of the means of production or production of ‘privately produced goods’); the manipulation of the consumer and of his needs by advertising and propaganda; the backwardness of techniques applicable to everyday life compared with production techniques, miltary techniques, and techniques for the exploitation of space; the splintering of local and territorial units (such as families, neighborhoods and towns, etc.) and excessively powerful means of integration; an inextricable mixture of archaic forms of moral and social life and modern forms of communication and information; the backwardness of town planning as the form and context of everyday life compared with needs and technical possibilities, and compared with the social life in towns in the past; forms of personal dependence (consumer/producer, private/public, citizen/state, woman/man, etc.); a slowing down of possibilities; a reduction of possibilities involving spatial movements (so called social-mobiltiy, tourism and travel); a relative erosion of certain sectors (such as cooking, housing and leisure, etc.) in various countries; a fragmentation of technology and an incoherence of the ‘world of objects’ and ‘goods’ in the everyday; illiteracy and ‘cultural’ backwardness in terms of the art of living and lifestyle, love and eroticism, sex and family planning; the abstract and mechanical character of the idea of happiness (reduced to the idea of comfort).”

  • Shaman

    Chris, you cooked up another gourmet dish of a conversation.

    The guests came to the table very well-equiped to debate.I ate up every crumb and thoroughly enjoyed the flavours.

    But I think this business of identifying oneself so personally with a chain – such as when someone says “I would never go to Starbucks” or “I’m the type who loves Starbucks” is itself the rub.

    I hate Panera Bread

    I love Au Bon Pain

    Therefore, who am I?

    The fact that too many people identify themselves by asserting thier preference (or contempt) to BRAND NAMES is itself a glimpse of the damage a consumerist culture can do to the soul.

    If it’s on your menu, that is the conversation I would like for dessert.

  • Tiffany Dover

    It may be late, and I have not read everyone elses comments. But I would like to point out this, in regards to fast food restaurants: It used to be that if I drove through a KFC or Carls Jr and I wanted a large soda I got a 32oz soda. Now, it comes with the meal as a ‘regular’ or ‘medium’. You can’t order a small soda (20 oz) with your ‘value meal’ without being charged for the 32oz drink. Also, the large (40oz) used to be the super duper sized drink. KFC now has a 1/2 gallon in a bucket type cup that comes with a handle on the top! As far as limited choices I would say yes…because I can’t get a small soda anymore.

    Thanks for your time!

  • Tiffany Dover

    I’m sorry, one more thought occured to me…YES people should be more aware of the choices that they are making in their busy daily lives BUT, you can’t blame 100% of this loss of free will on the consumer. Marketing companies shouldn’t be taking advantage of the fact that we have little time to research our purchases. It is being done in such a subversive manner that even the government has had to step in an require companies to put labels on their food packaging. Yes, I should pay attention every product that I spend my hard earned money on. I don’t always do that. The fact is that McDonalds doesn’t really care about my health. They offer me a tiny fruit salad (one of the only healthy things on the menu) in the hopes that I change my mind and buy something more filling and more costly like a #4. Another tactic would be limiting the convenience factor…you can’t even buy a fruit salad at the McDonalds by my house until after 11:00 for the lunch hour. Well then, since I’m already here in the drive-thru, in my car, in a hurry to get to work, just give me the sausage mcmuffin meal with the powdered orange juice so I can make myself feel like I made a healty choice.

    There is free will to chose between products, but only the products that make the companies the most money. They say that they only offer what consumers want. But who REALLY wants an 10mpg vehicle with the cost of fuel at ANY time? People HAVE to have a huge vehicle to tote their families around. Fine…but why make it cost 50,000 dollars? Why make it only get 10 mpg? Don’t tell me it’s because that’s the only way they can do it.

  • rc21

    To Tiffany Dover: It is not McDonalds job to care about your health. That is your job. It is McDonalds job to sell you tasty enjoyable food. They hope it satisfies you so much that you return time after time.

    You are blaming McDonalds for your own laziness and lack of willpower.

    If they dont sell fruit salad until after 11:00 dont show up before 11:00. Better yet make your own. The same thing goes for the fact that they may only have 1 healthy item on the menu. If you already know that, either purchase that 1 item or dont go there. Sorry but it really is that simple.

    I dont think McDonalds and other fast food chains are at all subversive in their marketing. They market cheese burgers french fries ice cream and just about every other great tasting unhealthy food you can think of, and they promise you alot of it for a great price.

    I really get tired of those people who because they can’t take responsibility for their own behavior, have found it necessary to lay the blame at the door step of big companies and capitolism.

    For evey problem in todays world there is some big greedy corporation that is at fault.

  • Potter

    For evey problem in todays world there is some big greedy corporation that is at fault.

    rc21- What happened to your theory that it’s in a company’s own best interest to do what is best for all? This would include the health of it’s customers no?

    Or is it more true to say that the bottom line is all that matters and if a company can push the responsibility for any resultant ill (other than what will effect it’s income) onto anyone else, it will.

    Maybe your response is for all of us to become chemists, nutritionists, lawyers and shop defensively. The latter- for sure.

    BTW- I recommend checking For years I have been subscribing to their Nutrition Action health letter (The Center for Science in the Public Interest is an advocacy group that informs the public and acts politically).

  • Pingback: Another whirl at expression through characters and symbols… « the form of function()

  • drewH

    Giving into “convenience” is the first step towards mediocrity. “Familiarity” has several emotional grades, at one level it’s a feeling that derives from intimacy and knowing, and at another level it’s a kind of uncritical “acceptance”. When this “familiarity” and “convenience” are combined in your decision making process, your critical faculties are often suppressed in favor of the predictable outcome.

    What’s lost in this sort of decision making is the element of surprise and delight — because you’ve made a safe choice. Though Starbucks, Panera, and Cheesecake Factories continually find ways to delight, the high is hardly unique. They are in essence familiar, safe picks among crowds with discernable tastebuds, but how they fix and serve their food makes them clever shepherds of finely-cloaked mediocrity.

    Over time, that tasty Pumpkin muffin (with its honey flavor sprinkled with powdered sugar on top) you first enjoyed in Boston no longer kept it’s original charm after you tried the same muffin near Chicago’s OHare airport and then in Phoenix. The soul of that tasty muffin was never there – though locally baked, it’s recipe and technique didn’t originate from salaried chef at that Panera location — rather it was researched, means-tested, priced, and marketed somewhere else, and then wound up here, and there, and elsewhere as Panera’s Pumpkin Muffin, “baked locally”. Would you like a cup of fair trade, organic coffee with that sir? Here’s your red beeper – it vibrates when you’re ready? Yuk!!

  • rc21

    To Potter: Yes I still believe that. The problem is that most fast food chains would go out of business if they only offered healthy choices. I guess this is where we may differ. The way I look at fast food chains is this way. “We offer tasty fattening food, for reasonable prices. If you enjoy this type of thing we are the place for you” It is really the people who make the choice not the chain. If enough people decide they no longer want to eat junk food then the chains will turn to healthier products. As of now the majority of Americans want junk food.

    The other thing that people really dont understand about fast food and obesity is this. It is not really what you eat, but how much of it that you eat. All you have to do in order to lose weight is burn of more calories than you consume.

    I can go to Burger King and eat a 400calorie cheese burger. I can then go out and exercise burning off 600 calories. By doing this I am loseing weight and I can eat whatever I wish. On the flip side I can eat a meal consisting of vegetables and soy protein, consisting of perhaps 250 calories. I can then proceed to my computer and post all night burning off maybe 100 calories.What have I just done ? I’ve gained weight. Of course Ideally it would be best to eat veggies and work out.

    You see none of this is really rocket science. It is all rather straight forward stuff. People try and complicate matters and explain away poor choices by finding someone other than themselves to blame.

    It is your body. It is truely the one thing that we own and possess. We have total control of what we do with it. I’ll be damned if im going to let someone else dictate to me what I eat and how I take care of it. If you want to stay healthy eat nutritiously and exercise. If you dont care about these things, eat what ever you want and enjoy it. But dont gain 50 pounds and then come crying about how fast food chains are forcing you to eat unhealthy food.

    I love junk food. Candy, pies, cookies, cake, pizza. hot dogs, you name it I like it. My choice is to eat it and become over weight or refrain and stay healthy. Very simple,and very black and white. Good luck.

  • drewH

    Last time I checked, Morgan Spurlock, was not one of the panelists. I wasn’t aware this was a forum about fast food and obesity; I thought it was about how chains have moved beyond the lower echelons of eating, taking center stage at mid-brow eating, and onward towards the high-end of the spectrum with Wolfgang Puck and Jean Georges — where savvy marketing has its strongest hold on intelligent food lovers.

    This whole bit about a 2002 teenage lawsuit against McDs has been a red herring in our discusssion, leading us far away from a much more saucy subject.

  • Tiffany Dover

    My impression of this topic was that marketing may be limiting our choices. Also, DrewH, it does mention the teen lawsuit breifly on the main page for this article.

  • drewH

    That depends if your one of ‘dem readers or listeners.

  • Pingback: Individualism, Freedom, and Food « Disparate()

  • Pingback: El Oso, El Moreno, and El Abogado » Blog Archive » On Freedom and Familiarity()

  • Gizmo Logix


    You say, “I love junk food. Candy, pies, cookies, cake, pizza. hot dogs, you name it I like it. My choice is to eat it and become over weight or refrain and stay healthy.”

    Love that type of consumer. Very profitable. But key markets that I would go after are the lowest common denominator that don’t have the knowledge or choice that you would. Namely the poorer demographics of the USA.

    Ignorance is a very valuable tool of sales for many products ranging from drugs, chemicals to food. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, I like to say. As long as it “cures, cleans or is tasty.”

    No need to care about “them” since it’s all about survival of the fittest, right?

    Ah…I love the free market. There’s a sucker born every minute.

    P.S. I hate the FDA. They get in my way! 🙁

  • rc21

    To Gizmo Logiz ; I am not poor now. (But by no means rich) But I was poor at one time. I’ve had years where I earned less than 20k a year. I still ate healthy. I learned about nutrition in school as a youngster.(this was free) I read further on this subject as I aged. I doubt that I have spent more then 20 dollars on reading material in regards to nutrition over the last 20 years. You can also ask people questions. Most people involved in the health industry will gladly answer simple nutritional questions for you.

    If you are ignorant about nutrition, I suggest it is due to your own lack of curiosity or desire to educate yourself. not the big bad corporations. But if it makes you feel better go right ahead and keep blaming them.

    I hate people who infer that poor people are stupid and uneducated. Allison did this earlier. Just because someone may not be as wealthy as you does not mean they are to dumb to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods.

  • rc21

    I shouldn’t say hate. lets just say people who are condescending to poor people irritate me to no end. I try not to hate anyone.

  • plnelson

    “I will choose a path that’s clear

    I will choose free will. ”

    There is no scientific basis for free will.

    If you describe the universe in classical newtonian terms then you have a completely deterministic model. When you introduce quantum mechanics you introduce non-determinism, but non-determinism provides no basis for free will either, unless you assume that an unstable isotope “chooses” to randomly emit an alpha particle.

    In purely scientific terms what we call “free will” is probably just an epiphenomenon of whatever set of neural functions produces a feeling of consciousness.

  • Gizmo Logix

    rc21, you missed my complete point.

    My suggestion to YOU was not learning about heathy food or not. It was learning marketing psychology. Do not discard knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes as non-existent just because you don’t “believe” it has any effect on you.

    This postcast is about public awareness that you should never discount. You might not believe some of the topics talked about. But don’t discount it for others that want to use it (for good or bad reasons).

    I did not say, “big bad corporations.” You did. I merely pointed out what one can do in order to maximize profits by any means possible. It’s not about whether someone knows about healthy or unhealthy foods. It about making sure they keep eating what a particular company sell them.

    Millions of people smoke even though they KNOW it’s unhealthy. Yet they keep doing it. Think about it. But public awareness has changed behaviors and consciousness. This program was nothing more than a social commentary. The first time I heard it I thought of it as a fun commentary about our current consumer atmosphere told from a particular point of view.

    Also, you need to go back and re-read all your post. Notice how you preface most of your posts with “I never” or “I have…” or “I didn’t…” Wake up call. The world doesn’t revolve around just you. Just because you never experienced something. Does it mean that it doesn’t exist.

    By the way, I was not mocking the poor. I was mocking the unscrupulous. I’m for public awareness no matter what the demographic.

  • rc21

    Gizmo Logic; I see your points. I just dont really agree in whole. I guess i’ll summarize my feelings as the following.

    1. Companies are in business to make money. They are going to market their products in ways in which they can maximize their profit.. I agree with you on this point. I also would expect any stock holder or employee to think the same. So their is no problem with advertising and marketing.

    2. Yes I use “I “or myself as examples. but I could also use other people who do the same thing. My point is in respects to fast food and nutrition is that anyone can eat healthy, and avoid bad choices. with little cost to themselves. You also dont need to be a genious to follow a healthy life style. So yes I use I but it really applies to almost everyone. Poor people stay fit and eat healthy as do rich people. Just as many poor people don’t exercise and eat junk. The same holds true with the rich. I would exclude those with serious health issues.

    3. I’m all for public awareness. I think it is great to get out messages that such and such a product may be bad for your health. I am also against deceptive advertising. I would like to see tougher penalties given to companies that lie about their product. So on this we probably agree . As I said I’m more about personal responsibility, So if a company purposely misleads or lies they should be held accountable.

    4. Your point about smoking is well taken, and I agree. Of course we all know smoking has been bad for your health for over 40 years. I remember as a child my father showing me the cover of a pack of cigs. Right there on the side “The surgeon general has determined that smoking may be hazordous to your health etc etc” or words to that affect. Yet today people still smoke, but the numbers are decreasing. Keep in mind this is still a free country and ones right to smoke should never be taken away. I totally disagree with laws prohibiting smoking in bars and clubs. Thats another debate for another day. The reason people still smoke is simply because they enjoy it. People do many things that are not wise.

    The govt should stay the hell out of the business of telling people what they can and can not do in regards to ones own health.

    I wont lump you in with many others because I’m not exactly sure what your stance is,but it just seems to many people are ready to blame marketing and by extension big companies for poor the choices that they make. Yes I to am influenced by advertising, and have made many bad choices in my life in regards to products and other things.Do I get angry? Yes. but usually after a short time I realize if I had done more research I could have made a better choice.

    I’m not an apologist for chains and big companies. I might add that mass marketing and advertising is a big turnoff to me personally. But I realize that big companies employ millions of people, and they have a responsibility to turn a profit. This in turn keeps the country moving forward and allows us to have the standard of living that we all crave. Someone once said “buyer beware” I guess unfortunatly this has and always will be the slogan to keep in mind when one is being bombarded by marketing and advertising schemes of all types.

  • Gizmo Logix

    Yes, personal responsibility is important. But with knowledge acquired you should also take upon yourself to educate the ones around you that would not normally have access to information or knowledge that you would.

    Compare what you know know to what you knew ten years ago. Are you the same person?

    If you took newly acquired knowledge and let your family members know…how many of them would scoff at you and say you were just touting liberal lies or conspiracy theories? This is the problem sometimes with conservatism. It’s cautious for good reason. But also can be stubborn against new ideas (some dangerous if misused). Especially if the person pushing them doesn’t put it in layman’s terms.

    I never said ban anything. The public conscious or “common sense” will be the guiding force of what is banned or not. But that takes years. The common consensus today is that smoking is hazardous to ones health and smoking companies have been hiding this fact back 25-50 years ago when they knew it to be dangerous; all hidden behind snazzy marking of the “liberty/freedom” logo. Well, sooner or later common sense wins out. Or you would hope so.

    This is the reason that public awareness and advocacy groups are needed. They keep an eye out on what things the average man doesn’t know about.

    Now I ask you this. Am I a conservative or a liberal? Or maybe I’m just a freethinker. 🙂

    One thing you said above, “So their is no problem with advertising and marketing.” There is nothing wrong with the way your framed it. But when marketing get too deceptive and preys upon those that can’t defend themselves. That’s when things are wrong. And if you are aware of this then maybe it’s a good idea to inform others and then let them decide for themselves. Some will even dismiss your information (like you did to others here) as hogwash. But at least try and get the information out.

    The question will also be: How far is too far (deceptive marketing)? Marketing will always try to push the boundaries.

    Nevertheless, never discard acquired knowledge no matter how outlandish or crazy it might sound. A hundred years ago space travel, satellites, lasers, genetic engineering, the internet and Instant Messaging would have been considered “crazy.”

    Human Genome Project…

  • Gizmo Logix

    “rc21 wrote: love junk food. Candy, pies, cookies, cake, pizza. hot dogs, you name it I like it.”

    You might be interested in his poetic past podcast about candy…

    Aired Aug 25, 2005

  • rc21

    To Gizmo Logic: I liked the candy show. As a person addicted to candy I found it quite interesting and fun. Thanks. Boy am I hungry now.

    I don’t think we differ on to much maybe just in the degrees.

    As I said I’m all for strict penalties on misleading and false advertisement. I actually wish they were steeper.

    I’m also a big believer in the first amendment, and personal freedom so I dont like to see restrictions and the govt telling me what I can and can’t consume. I agree that we should educate those around us. The more knowledge that is exchanged the better. I have nothing against public advocacy groups They can be very helpful. Of course being a skeptic I would want to know where their funding comes from. Always follow the money.

    I’m not sure if you are conservative or liberal the thought never really entered my mind. I dont really see this as a Lib vs Con issue. Ultimately as I learned many years ago we are all responsible for our own actions. I know this sounds harsh and very narrow minded but it has helped me and I think others as well.

    I live in the freest country on earth. Every choice I have made in my life (many of them bad) have come of my own volition. Sometimes I am rewarded and sometimes I have to suffer.

    I ran 5 miles today so I think I’m going to go get a pack of peanut butter cups and a pack of Suzi-Q’s. Good Luck.

  • drewH

    rc21, you may want to rethink the comment you made earlier:

    “The govt should stay the hell out of the business of telling people what they can and can not do in regards to ones own health.”

    I think of many regulations that protect individual health. FDA and other regulatory agencies are big safeguards that should never be dispensed with. For example: herbal dietary supplements with ephedra, once considered safe in use, have been pulled from shelves, because they’ve been known to kill certain individuals, namely atheletes. I can’t think of any reason why the government should not intervene in cases like this.


    But once again, this forum has morphed into a heated debate about fast food and healthy choices, which is a whole other subject matter and so obvious. I wish the baby and McDonalds Big Mac weren’t the primary image on this page; because, if you listen to the first panelist who framed the discussion, he’s saying more about the loss of quality in the dining landscape as a result of chains than forging some Fast Food Nation diatribe, which was a side discussion.

    Oh hell. Maybe Christopher Lydon should redo the show, and this time not mention health and obesity as part of the discussion.

  • rc21

    To DrewH; Should there be some govt regulations? Possibly, but I would like to see far fewer than we have now. Take your example of ephedra, It has not been scientifically proven that ephedra has killed people. Namely athletes. There is a belief among many that it may be a contributing factor. The athletes you are talking about had other issues. dehydration, an unknown pre existing heart condition etc. Ephedra is a perfect example of the govt overreaching,using power that the founders never intended for them to have, to stifle the right of the common citizen to choose for himself what to do with his body. Completely unamerican. How many people do you think have died while taking ephedra ?1,000, 500. The number is actually no higher than 155. That number is put out by anti ephedra people. Others have the total at closer to 40. The truth probably is somewhere in the middle.That is out of an estimated12- 17 million

    users. Furthermore the overwhelming majority of these people were missusing the product. They were consuming far greater doses than the instructions indicated.

    Another point It is also believed by many that sports drinks containing aspartame may have actually played a greater role in many of these deaths.Also during this time period 305 people died in deaths related to tylenol and over a 100 related to people who took simple asprin. Ephedra has been used for over 4,000 years by the people of China with great results for many problems.. The FDA has shown itself to be a typical power mad overreaching big govt agency.,that is taking rights away from Americans. All liberals and conservatives should be against this. Go back and look at your original statement on ephedra. Talk about misleading advertising.

    Peanuts have been known to kill people should they be banned?

    I have absolutely no problem with consumer groups advocating or warnining us as to the benifts and or harm that products can have. The more knowledge and education the better, but let the people decide. We are not as dumb and uneducated as some tend to believe.

    Take your ephedra example. If it truly is a killer and people know this,do you think they will still purchase the product? Those who care about their health will stay away. Those who dont care will still buy it. Either way what business is it of yours.

    As to the original topic of loss of dining choices due to chains. I dont find this to be true at all. I see Indian, Thai, Vietnameese, Jamacain, cambodian,Kenyan etc,etc restaurants springing up all over the place. I have more than enough choices. Have a nice day.

  • Pingback: (Catholic) Sensual Ethic « Disparate()

  • MarcMcElroy

    I used to enjoy Jeff as a guest on the show, this last time though his shtick seemed to get to me. I think he has the zelotry of a convert and sometimes is blind to some good points. Lets remember, Stalin was a Georgian, Hitler was an Austrian, and Bush was an alcoholic from New England. We must gaurd against zelots, who are blinded by the greatness of their discovery. So Jim, take a deep breath… enjoy potato pancake.

    Anyway, It’s not all about the YUM factor, I think it’s has a lot to do with the the “new America” and the shadow of the old, it’s not just in the food, it’s in the music, art, and life.

  • drewH

    MarcMcElroy, I’m intrigued and confused by your take on the subject and first guest. Jeff does seem to be quite hellbent on his pursuit of quality in order to validate his fatalistic viewpoint of the America’s culinary decline. Are you asserting he has foolishly mounted on his ChowHound bus traversing America to chase windmills and rescue village-dirt Dulcineas all in the name of Spain? Please elaborate as I chomp on a latke in a barely-profitable tapas bistro with a sign that says: “under new management”.

  • MarcMcElroy

    Well… my larger point about him, is he’s too wrapped up in his persuit food with utlimate credibility, to see the whole issue of this or maybe everything. And he’s on the show way too much, atleast 3 times that I know of. Lets get Chomski back on the show atleast 3 more times before Jeff come back. And he kinda lost his shizel at the end of the show. The truth is I don’t make much money, and I travel the world, and I have found some of the greatest food in the strangest places, and am constantly in search of great cheap eats. As a matter of fact, I just ate out for one of my favorite dinners (two slices of Savario’s Pizza and a coke) for $3.25.

    However, I spend a lot of time in Moscow, and McDonald’s there is, well, not bad. First the food is better, some of the bad taste you experience at an an American McDonalds is the taste of the disappointment of the low wage employee. The food at the Moscow McDonalds is reasonably priced, so that young people can afford to eat there, not true with most of the rapidly inflating city. They provide what is virtually the only public restrooms in Moscow, and they are remarkably clean. The are one of the few free wi-fi providers there, and even have computer kiosks in some location and offer free internet, leaving most Moscovites in disbelief. They’re food handling proceedures are way above Russian standards, and it’s hard to get sick eating at one. They are located near every major Metro stop. Anyways I won’t go on, because I don’t want to talk it up that much. But a down-home Georgian Shuslik (shishkabob) sent me to a Russian hospital once. And the Russian McDonalds are still cleaner then most Russian hospitals.

    So… Man can not live by Amazing “down-home” eats alone. It’s a nice hobbie, but it’s not the anwser, or even the question. And the rule that local and traditional always trumps corporate is a good idea, but doesn’t always happen. In certain parts of America, the Olive Garden is the best italian restaurant.

    After all, isn’t a Chowhound just a Foodie with an anthropological ax to grind?

  • chilton1

    I seem to remember CL doing a show on Starbucks (on The Connection) where it seemed he was surprised that so many callers had a negative take on what he was pushing as a coffee renaissance.

  • Pingback: ConnectedBases :: Best recent science podcasts No. 2()

  • Glen

    You just can’t use the no-free-will argument against McDonald’s because they have no free will either. They too are subject to “coercion”, so to speak. It might be good for people to just be aware of McDonald’s methods and not always give in to the temptation, if they can.

  • Pingback: Yeast Radio - Bloated Lesbian of All Media » Blog Archive » YR465 BLAH HUH!()

  • Pingback: Sumith » Blog Archive // » Free Will?()

  • stephnlawrnce

    “Subvert conscious judgment?” Are we talking about three year olds, here?

    What does the left always come up with some fantasy scenario which turns people into these manipulable dolls instead of free conscious beings?”

    It’s not to do with left or right it’s just a matter of fact that we don’t have free will.

    We can do what we want but what we want must depend on what we are and what circumstances we are in.

    the reasons people won’t accept this have nothing to do with the facts, they just don’t like it.

    But we are never going to deal with our problems effectively and increase our well being and happiness until people get real about this be they from the left or right.

    When we make a choice we can select the option we want the most, which is great but that’s it, that is as far as our control goes.

    What more control could there possibly be?