by Belen Rogers
Access to food does not mean access to choice of food. When “all our actions are carefully dictated to us” (Tirado18) as Linda Tirado, author of From Hand to Mouth says “you have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food” (Tirado xviii). The act of choosing is valuable and acknowledges people’s worth. A pantry might be open at a certain time but people might only choose to go if they feel welcome and are able to choose the foods their household wants. But choices are often judged and restricted by policies. Assumptions of optimizations and weighted rational models that describe decision making are built into policy. These optimizations are almost consistently expected of a person: buying all necessary nutrients in a good-tasting but low expense diet is calculated into people’s Supplemental Nutrition Administration Program (SNAP) (food stamp) allocation. Taste preference for lobster, however, is not.
I apply two different disciplines, geography and cognitive science, to studying behavior models of food choice. I study the impact of these choices that guide consumer supply and demand and affect the health and environment of ours and other current and future species. To do this, I focus on the decision making environments of a “client-choice” food pantry located in Bloomington. “Client-choice” pantries advertise a model that lets clients choose in order to avoid foods they are allergic to, that prevents food waste, and that recognizes dignity. Studying popular choices at food pantries can lead to insight into what foods people choose in an environment that is not financially restrictive. It can lead to insight into how order of food presented influences choice. I expect to learn about what foods people do not choose and why (e.g. people may not own the necessary appliances or because of the quality of food).
I am particular about the method in which I approach my research. I talk and read about people and assume decisions of people of low income but I want to start listening to people. I seek voluntary contributions from pantry clients, responses that will hopefully reflect interviewees’ daily life. I will conduct interviews to learn about how the pantry’s environments impacts them, why clients choose what foods they choose, and if they choose the same food every visit.
Nutritional information covers package labels; human, animal, and environmental ethics are considered in sourcing transparency, and social pressure is strong; decisions about food are loaded. I am interested in studying options, but I focus on choice and decision-making processes. Understanding cognitive decision mechanisms in the Critical Food Studies lab highlights predictive models of how geographical, social, political, and cultural environments shape habits. Decisions situationally correspond to those environments. It would be practical that these decisions were based on one factor considering human computational power and space and time restraints. Learning how choices are made will bring to light how restrictive some environments are, where decisions are implicitly and explicitly made for you because of your income. Tirado says, “junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up?” (Tirado xv) while modern debates include the decision to ban soda on SNAP. This research will hopefully inform these debates and other policies.