Healthy Food Movement: Effects on Consumers via Cost and Nutrition

Milan Morrissette, Melanie Sprinkle, Kelsey Block
Professor Radonic
ANP 201H
9 December 2015

The Healthy Food Movement and its Effects on Consumers With Regard to Cost and Nutrition

Imagine that you are watching TV. A commercial comes on for Weight Watchers, with the glamorous spokesperson advocating for a get-fit campaign consisting of healthy, affordable foods. The next commercial airs and the setting takes place in a grocery store. A woman is deciding between two apples that look almost identical. There’s a label on the apple in her left hand that reads, “Organic-no GMO, locally grown”. In her right hand, the label on the apple simply reads, “Made in the USA”. She looks back and forth between the two apples and chooses the one in her left hand, with a cinematic smile of self-reassurance implying that she had, in fact, made the right decision. You begin to notice a theme between these increasingly common commercials, as they often seem to present a concern for health and advocate for better living. This concern has been bred through a phenomenon that is brewing across the United States: The Healthy Food Movement. Our goal was to use a bottom up approach and observe the current effect that the Healthy Food Movement has on both those who are shopping based on making healthy decisions via the labeling of products, and those shopping for food based on cost and convenience.

Taking a look at what the Healthy Food Movement is can give us a better understanding on how it affects various consumer’s choices based on cost and nutritional values. The Healthy Food Movement is a broad term that relates to the increase of better eating in the United States. This takes place in a variety of forms: choosing more greens, eating locally grown foods, and changing one’s diet to satisfy adequate nutritional values (such as becoming vegan, reducing sugars and fats, etc). Dr. Mercola, a health food expert, is highly involved in the movement. He explains that the Healthy Food Movement is just a single terms that umbrellas other movements that encompass better eating, thus results in high quality lifestyles (Dr. Mercola 1). For instance, he interviews environmental sustainability expert, Jim Slata, who is a major component in the Good Food Movement, a subunit of the Healthy Food Movement. Slata’s organization, Family Farmed, is a smaller subunit that contributes significantly in the Good Food Movement. Both the Good Food Movement and Family Farmed idolize foods that are grown at a local level. Dr. Mercola claims that, “A reliable source of fresh locally grown food is essential if you want to stay healthy” (Dr. Mercola 1). As a result of Slata’s environmental sustainability and the Good Food Movement campaigning, the USDA decided to keep GMO’s and other items out of certain foods, thus declaring those ones as qualifiable under organic standards. Jim mentions that the foods grown closer to home are preferable and healthier, and should be chosen when one is trying to go healthy. He says, “There are so many benefits with local sustainably produced food. They’re obviously healthy, because it’s fresher if it’s grown closer to home and preferably organic” (Dr. Mercola 2). This background information sparks our particular interest because it gives us relevant insight to what the Healthy Food Movement entails. By using these definitions and incorporating them into our research, we are better educated to understand the relationship between the movement and then possibly the effect that it has on consumers.

The Healthy Food Movement is not limited to those definitions, though, for the Rural Sociological Society introduces another way of perceiving the change. Anthony Winson, a professor at the University of Guelph in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, classifies the Healthy Food Movement as one driven by the escalating obesity issues (Winson 584). It has become a prevalent societal issue that is being combated through alternative-food movements. His thoughts are similar to Dr. Mercola’s in the aspect that the Healthy Food Movement is just one term that covers multiple small movements aimed for individuals to eat healthier and live better. Winson states that the healthy food movements include, “academically ‘respectable’ alternative-food movements, such as the slow-food movement, the movement promoting organic foods, and the tremendous recent upsurge of interest and activity around relocalizing food” (Winson 585). He, too, believes that smaller movements come together to make up one large national movement. Part of the Healthy Food Movement may include, but is certainly not limited to, eating vegan. One of our participants in our ethnographic fieldwork is vegan, and she considers herself to be very health conscious about the cuisine she eats. Part of this particular participant’s ways of eating healthy was to buy simple, fresh foods, and when they’re available for a reasonable price, organic and local produce. As she mentions in the interview, she always wants to know exactly what is going into her body. Both Dr. Mercola and Winson defined eating organic and buying local foods as crucial elements in the Healthy Food Movement; therefore, we can say that this particular participant food motives are health-driven.

Overall, the Healthy Food Movement is influencing buyers from all demographics. The study we conducted took a closer look at the Healthy Food Movement and its effects on college students. An article from the Washington Post described the ongoing struggle that students are having being able to afford food. “A problem known as “food insecurity” — a lack of nutritional food — is not typically associated with U.S. college students. But it is increasingly on the radar of administrators, who report seeing more hungry students, especially at schools that enroll a high percentage of youths who are from low-income families or are the first generation to attend college” (Bahrampour 1).

This trend is happening on college campuses all over the country. With increasing costs of education and living expenses, students are beginning to cut corners beginning with the food they eat (Bahrampour 1). Students are struggling being able to meet certain nutritional requirements because of the increasing cost of groceries (Bahrampour 1).

This brings to light the increased efforts the food science industry is putting into trying to increase the nutritional values in processed foods. “Grab-and-go foods are becoming a very recent trend in the food industry. With our culture’s fast paced lifestyle, food scientist now have to figure out how to get people’s required amounts of nutrition in these snacks that are becoming increasingly consumed,” junior food science major Hannah Aimesbury explained.

Consumer misconceptions are also beginning to weigh heavily on the food science industry. Companies are labeling foods as all-natural, organic, and GMO free, when in reality these foods have very little to no requirements to be able to be labeled as such. Different words are defined by different government organizations – the FDA defines “healthy” but the US Dept of Agriculture defines “organic” (University). Those organizations don’t have uniform criteria for defining these terms, which could be impacting the Healthy Food Movement. “Anything can really qualify as being all-natural. Just because a food has decided not to use a certain dye, it can be labeled as all-natural,” says Aimesbury. This contributes to consumers and college students consuming less than what is considered nutritional food.

The term “food-insecurity” is very popular in regards to college students across the country. This term refers to the inability to access nutritious and safe foods for reasons like cost (Radcliffe 1). A study published by the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that 59% of students, at a midsized university in Oregon, faced food-insecurity at some point in the last year (Radcliffe 1). A combination of curiosity and the increased concern for food-insecurity influenced us to take a closer look at this trend. In our study we are taking a closer look at the way in which a “health-conscious” student, someone who shops based on the idea of buying healthy, and the way at which a “cost-conscious” student, someone who shops based on cost, can differ in costs and nutritional value of a given meal. We also are interested in the effects of labeling can contribute to or influence student buyers who may be looking for cheaper or processed foods with better nutritional content.

To begin with the study, let us introduce our research. This study is to determine the impact of the healthy food movement on consumer habits and how two individuals’ relationships to food fit into the wider sociocultural environment. We decided to participate in the preparing of a simple meal by two participants, chosen because of their relationship to food. We wanted to look at the difference in products, nutrition facts, and overall cost of a meal prepared between a consumer who identified as health-conscious and another consumer who was more concerned with cost and convenience. For the purpose of the comparison, the meal we determined they would prepare was Spaghetti. From there, each participant shopped and prepared spaghetti as they would on any given night of the week. Our participants, while both with different shopping styles, have very similar demographics which we believe aided in our comparison.

Kelsey F. is a 20-year-old journalism and education student at Michigan State University. She’s from Portland, Michigan which is about a half hour from the university. Her mother sells insurance and her father is in law enforcement. She has one older brother and one younger sister. Kelsey has been a vegan for the last three years, and prior to that she was a vegetarian for one year.

When she was in high school, Kelsey was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. She also fell extremely ill and lost a lot of weight. As a result of her illness and medication, Kelsey now dislikes many of the foods she once enjoyed. She won’t eat meat or dairy, and she doesn’t like sweet foods. Much of her diet consists of fruits and veggies, nuts and hummus. Kelsey’s philosophy when it comes to food is all about making healthy choices. While she does not exclusively buy foods labeled “organic” or “natural,” she is always concerned about her and her family’s health. She’s the cook for the family, even though she often doesn’t eat what she prepares. She’ll spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals for her loved ones, only to go to the refrigerator and grab an apple and a handful of almonds for herself.

Even prior to her illness, Kelsey considered herself a health-driven consumer. This entails that when Kelsey goes grocery shopping, she looks at the nutrition facts, where and how the products were made, and whether or not the produce is organic. For example, if she’s buying pre-packaged food, she’ll only buy it if it includes less than 5 ingredients and she is able to pronounce them all.

The second participant in our study is 19-year-old Kyla M., who is a sophomore at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, MI, studying entrepreneurship. Kyla comes from a family with a younger brother and an older sister. Kyla’s mother is a nurse at a local hospital and her step-father is a computer engineer for the same hospital. Coming from a family who works sometimes non traditional hours, Kyla grew up eating what would be considered quick meals. Items like frozen foods, easy bake dishes, and even fast foods.

Now in college, Kyla, like many other college students, is very cost-conscious. Balancing the cost of tuition, off-campus living, and food expenses, she tries her very best to conserve cost where she can and that includes at the grocery store. Kyla steers away from fresh foods and expensive meats in the grocery store because of cost. She, like Kelsey, does not purchase foods based on labeling that may read “organic” or “GMO free”, however, she admits to be a little more attentive to these labels when dieting or actively trying to eat healthier.

When it came to actually preparing the meal, Kelsey used simple, healthy ingredients, including whole wheat pasta, fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. It is important to note that Kelsey used the cheapest brands wherever possible, including generic, Meijer brand pasta and olive oil. However, the pasta box was labeled with the term “natural.” The labels on the rest of her ingredients didn’t mention things like “natural” or “organic.” Kyla used items such as Prego pasta sauce, Meijer pasta, and Jennie-O ground turkey. Other items she purchased and used where red pepper flakes, a small onion, and small amounts of garlic. Similar to Kelsey, Kyla used salt and pepper and also some garlic powder. The only product that had visible labeling was the turkey that read “85% lean, 15% fat”.

In a 2015 survey of university students, Akhondan, Johnson-Carroll and Rabolt reported that students who were more health-conscious consumed organic foods more often (30). The results of our experiment make sense in connection to their survey. While neither participant used organic products in this particular experiment, Kelsey did mention that she would like to buy organic if she could afford it. And, the pasta she used was labeled “natural.”
Even though they’re from the same demographics – middle class college students living in Michigan – Kelsey and Kyla’s diets and food production practices are the direct result of their individual circumstances and family cultures. “The healthiness of one’s food is relational to other food choices and dietary alternatives available … As a result, the healthiness of food is also relative to food culture and common eating habits” (Siipi 800). The making of a simple dish of spaghetti reflects the norms of Kelsey and Kyla’s families’ culture surrounding meal preparation. Their budgets, the time available, and level of skill in the kitchen also greatly affect their eating habits. All of these things have been impacted, at least in part, by The Healthy Food Movement. As the Healthy Food Movement has grown in popularity, it’s easier to find healthy, fresh products. The trick is knowing what’s a reasonable price.

In the videos, we hear Kyla say she spends approximately $40 per week on groceries, while Kelsey spends approximately $30 per week on groceries. Of course, some of this is due to their differing diets; Kelsey is a vegan, so she never purchases meat, while Kyla said she occasionally purchases cheap cuts of meat. Still, their spending habits didn’t match up with our hypothesis that consumers often have to sacrifice health for the sake of cost. Overall, this illustrates a wider societal misinformation regarding healthy products versus cheap products.

Looking at the overall costs of the meals that were prepared, we compared the receipts to also look at the actual costs in addition to the estimated grocery costs by the participants. Kyla purchased a red pepper, onion, pasta noodles, ground turkey, and pasta sauce that totaled $7.64. Kelsey purchased garlic, pasta, basil, tomatoes, and olive oil totaling $12.30 in cost. From this data, we saw that in actuality our “health conscious” participant did spend more than or “cost conscious”; however, and interesting point to add is that Kelsey estimated that she spent less in a week than Kyla estimated.

This bring back to light the idea of “food-insecurity” among college students. This is a growing issue on college campuses around the country. The two students we witnessed are just two examples of students who are actively participating in a food movement and are also part of a group of students who are currently trying to consume the correct amount of nutrition while also taking into consideration cost.

The definitions of “natural” and “healthy” are very broad and have been used to describe a number of very different things (Siipi). The Healthy Food Movement continues to evolve, as do corporations and food labeling practices. Consumers are becoming as concerned with their pocketbooks as they are their health. As the McClatchy – Tribune Business News reported, The Food Labeling Modernization Act, introduced last month, is an attempt to update standards for food labels and require definitions for words and phrases like “healthy” (Bomkamp). Kelsey and Kyla are just two examples of the broader Healthy Food Movement within the United States. More and more, people are taking an active role in the food system. Urban agriculture, the local food movement and the push for more organic and natural foods are transforming the way people grow, purchase, prepare and consume their meals.

Works Cited

Akhondan, Hoda, Karen Johnson-Carroll, and Nancy Rabolt. “Health Consciousness and Organic Food Consumption.” Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences 107.3 (2015): 27-32. ProQuest. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.

“An Interview with Hannah Aimesbury.” Personal interview. 2015.

“An Interview with Kelsey Feldpausch.” Personal interview. 6 Dec. 2015.

“An Interview with Kyla MacCreery.” Personal interview. 5 Dec. 2015.

Bomkamp, Samantha. “Bill Aims to Overhaul Food Labels, Define ‘Healthy,’ ‘Natural’.” McClatchy – Tribune Business NewsNov 24 2015. ProQuest. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.

Dr. Mercola. “Increasing Healthy Locally Grown Food—The Good Food Movement.” Mercola.com: Take Control of Your Health (2015): 1-3. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.

University. “‘Natural’ Label on Food no Guarantee it’s Healthy.” Springfield News LeaderSep 10 2008. ProQuest. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.

Siipi, Helena. “Is Natural Food Healthy?” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 26.4 (2013): 797-812. ProQuest. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.

Winson, Anthony. “The Demand for Healthy Eating: Supporting a Transformative Food “Movement”.” Rural Sociology 75.4 (2010): 584-600.Wiley Online. Web. 5 Dec. 2015.