Carrot Harvest

Nudges Needed in Food Pantries

Soup Kitchen Patron, BoliviaThe American holiday of Thanksgiving is coming up. So we have a moment to reflect upon how we distribute the bounty of food around us. Some families make a tradition of serving in a soup kitchen while others are celebrating a more private bounty. A pair of new studies, on food pantries and the nutrition they provide, fits nicely.

Anja Simmet and colleagues published two systematic reviews in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The first examined the quality of diets consumed by food pantry users. The second examined the quality of food that food pantries provide. Taken together, these studies show that people who rely upon food pantries might have a hard time getting the fresh fruit, vegetables, and diary foods they need for good health.

Researcher Tamara Dubowitz of Rand reminds us that food insecurity plays a role in this problem:

Many food pantry users are struggling with unemployment, low wages, and are in an extremely vulnerable place.

If food pantries were able to emphasize healthy options and/or simple and healthy meals that might be prepared from food pantry options, users might be better positioned to take small steps and make small choices that could contribute toward healthier eating

And so it is that Cornell University and Feeding America are working on strategies to build healthier cues into the environment of pantries. At the Sharing Life Community Outreach in Mesquite, TX, Teresa Jackson explains their strategy:

At the beginning of the project, we only had about 14 percent of our clients willingly taking the brown rice and the brown pasta. But after we created these nudges, it went from 14 to 44. As they’ve tried new things, that makes them more willing to try new things in the future.

These nudges are textbook tactics of food marketing applied to promoting higher quality nutrition – rather than overconsumption of empty calories. When the incentives align, marketers can actually move us to a better place.

Click here to read more from NPR, here to read more from Reuters, and here and here to read the studies in JAND.

Carrot Harvest, photograph © woodleywonderworks / flickr

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November 19, 2016

One Response to “Nudges Needed in Food Pantries”

  1. November 20, 2016 at 10:08 am, Allen Browne said:

    Yup – Marketing isn’t bad, but what you market may be bad.