‘Tis the Marketing Season, Guest Post by Lindsey Wahlstrom

‘Tis the Marketing Season

In the month between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, most Americans adhere to the motto: ‘Tis the season to eat and drink. But the next time you find yourself paying for yet another seasonal latte with your limited graduate student funds, ask yourself: “Why am I buying this?”

You may be surprised by the answer.

Despite what the best diet gurus lead us to believe, we don’t always crave food for emotional or physical reasons. Sometimes we eat and drink not because we need or even want to, but because we were prompted by marketing. Marketers are smart professionals with a knack for making us want and buy what we don’t need — especially when it comes to food.


As a communications professional, I thought I had marketing figured out. I could not have been more wrong. When I began working for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, I was blown away by what I learned. If you, like so many other Americans, think marketing ends at advertisements on billboards, radio, and TV, you have but scratched the surface of the tactics used to earn your expendable income.

Marketing has grown to encompass pouring rights, sponsorships, mobile apps, adver-games, product placements in video games and TV shows, and even branded classroom materials billed as educational curriculum.  In short, there are very few moments in the day when you are not reached by marketing.

So why the big fuss? It turns out marketing works. Really well. Individuals who are exposed to marketing consume more, both of advertised and non-advertised foods, and a well-placed point-of-purchase promotion can lead us to impulsively buy foods and drinks.

Most everything is fine in moderation, but as the effects of marketing accumulate over time, so do the strains on our waistline and wallets. Maybe this holiday season, with a bit of media savvy, we can appreciate the Coca-Cola 12-pack Christmas tree display at the grocery store for what it is: a genius marketing move to which we no longer fall prey. Now that would be cause for celebration.

~Lindsey Wahlstrom

Lindsey Wahlstrom is currently a 2nd year epidemiology student at Columbia University. She did her practicum at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, and was recognized for having one of the top Epidemiology abstracts on practicum day. A thanks to Lindsey for her contribution on the FPOP blog!


Second Brown Bag Lunch with Dr. Mark Orr Co-Sponsored by CSAPH

Second Brown Bag Lunch with Dr. Mark Orr      Co-Sponsored by CSAPH

Come see Dr. Mark Orr present on Dynamic Policy Modeling of Obesity. Lunch will be provided!

TEDxManhattan: Lessons for Creating a More Sustainable Food System

Photo by TEDxManhattan

On January 21, FPOP hosted a viewing party in support of the second annual TEDxManhattan: Changing the Way We Eat. Students heard from distinguished food and farming experts as they explained the current state of our food system, the impact on our bodies and our future, and what is being done to fight back.

Birke Baehr, the first speaker and one very impressive young boy, set the tone for the day by giving us as Americans and consumers a choice: “We can pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital.” Baehr’s plea considers the fact that the market forces driving up the use of pesticides and antibiotics in our food supply will not simply disappear despite the immense financial and public health burden to society. Attesting to the power of industry, Wenonah Hauter shed light on the fact that farmers are stuck in non-negotiable contracts making just enough to stay afloat as the profits of Monsanto and other factory farming giants soar. 

Dr. David Wallinga spoke of the toxic substances in our food supply. The effect has been disastrous: a growing threat of antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella, e. coli, and MRSA.  But factory farms aren’t the only ones to blame here. Disturbingly, NHANES data show that meat consumption in the U.S. is more than three times the global average. Its no surprise that the U.S. consumer demands more meat at increasingly lower costs perpetuates this cycle of unfair and unsustainable farming practice.

Bob Lawrence encouraged us as consumers  to “vote with our fork” in the absence of political support for changing this food system – for eradicating the use of pesticides and CAFO’s. Essentially, we need to purchase from farmers who raise their animals sustainably, ethically, and free of antibiotics.

Urvashi Rangan reminded us that labels on food products also have a great impact on what people choose to consume, but “value-added” labels can be misleading. Take a look at the new movement by the corn refiners to rename high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar”. While misleading labels are only piece of this problem, Urvashi urges the public and Congress to stop the government’s arcane labeling and use consumer demand to drive progress in transparent and accurate labeling.

Jamie Oliver delivered his award-winning speech on the impact of mass-marketing campaigns for calorie-dense and sugary foods on our children’s health. His talk is better viewed in full, so please watch it here!

Photo by Andrea Popovech

Stephen Ritz gave a riveting talk moving many of our TedX audience members to cheer during and after. Ritz is a teacher in the South Bronx where 25% of residents are unemployed, 40% are living in poverty, and the median income is $20,000. He began using Indoor Edible Walls as a learning-based project to not only teach his students about healthy eating habits and plant biology, but to provide a learning opportunity about entrepreneurship and business. Proving the efficacy of empowerment, attendance in Ritz’s class has increased from 40% to 93% and all of his students  of this first cohort have gone on to attend college.

Fred Kirschenmann spoke to the necessity of nurturing our soil back to health if we really want to change the way we eat. Unfortunately conventional methods of farming have destroyed more than 50% of topsoil and degraded more than 25% of the remaining topsoil. However, innovative agricultural researchers and soil scientists are coming up with eco-friendly ways to renew soil, such as switching from a two-year corn, soybean rotation to a three-year corn, soybean, oat/red clover crop rotation. Doing so can reduce pesticide use by 97% and reduce synthetic fertilizer use by over 90%.

Send us an email if you would like to get involved in FPOP’s mission to raise campus awareness about these and other pressing food policy issues!

Posted by: Jaclyn Clenney

Clinton Global Initiative Conference in San Diego

As part of our Cook4Health initiative, FPOP was invited to attend the CGIU conference in San Diego to promote social entrepreneurship.

The Minority Health Forum: A Citywide Assessment of Obesity in Minority Populations

FPOP and other student groups at Columbia came together to plan this major event, gathering experts to discuss the problem of obesity in minority groups in New York City. The forum featured keynote speaker, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and a panel discussion with Cathy Nonas, Olajide Williams, and Michael Hernandez, moderated by April Velasco. Read more about it here.

TedXManhattan Viewing Party with NYCFoodEDU

FPOP members joined with our NYCFoodEDU colleagues to watch the food experts at “TedX: Changing the Way We Eat” discuss issues related to food access, sustainability, and promoting healthier eating. This was one of the many TedXManhattan viewing party meet-ups held around the country.

Changing Policy to Improve the Food Environment

Kristen Mancinelli, City Harvest

As en expert in food policy and advocacy, Kristen spoke to us about the process of influencing lawmakers to change policy. She shared with us her first-hand experience in building the NYC Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization: gathering stakeholders, priority setting, messaging to public and policymakers, maintaining momentum, and effectively changing legislation.