Author speaks about eating habits

Brian Wansink wrote the book to reach an audience beyond scholarly journals.

Kelly Gulbrandson

We are what they want us to eat.

At least, that’s what Brian Wansink wrote in his 2006 book about the psychology of why people eat what they do and the marketing of food.

Wansink, a marketing and food science professor at Cornell University, spoke Wednesday night at the Carlson School of Management, presenting the findings of his book.

He said the book is an attempt to have a solid and pointed piece of evidence that people are masters of what they eat.

“People complain that the government or fast-food companies are responsible for Americans getting heavier, but no one has said it’s because they feed their families this fattening food or go to restaurants,” Wansink said.

Four years ago, he said he realized the majority of his research wasn’t making the difference he thought it was by being published in scholarly journals, so he decided to change that.

“I wanted to come up with something that would make a positive change in people’s lives,” Wansink said.

Through the research, Wansink said there are five major areas of dietary danger zones: meal stuffing, snack grazing, party binging, restaurant indulgement and desktop/dashboard dining.

Even if people don’t believe in them, mindless cues affect how and what they eat, he said.

Wansink studied eating habits through a research restaurant. The restaurant offered a “bottomless” bowl of soup, which was continuously refilled with soup.

People were then asked if they felt fuller after eating the soup, but most replied they weren’t because the bowl was never empty, Wansink said. The research showed people ate 78 percent more soup than usual, he said.

While plate size can make a difference in how much people eat, Wansink said the packaging also makes a difference.

“As you increase the package size, you influence the sale of the product by 18 to 26 percent,” he said.

University marketing professor Akshay Rao said there are many factors as to why people eat what they eat. Some people believe brand-name food tastes better because of the name, he said.

However, the amount of affect depends on the person, Rao said. After reading the book, he said he hopes it will have an impact on what people eat.

“(T.G.I.) Friday’s restaurant recently started offering smaller portions, so hopefully it’s because of his work,” Rao said.

Art, Spanish and Portuguese studies sophomore Bridget Looby said she read the book and found it interesting because it read like a magazine.

“I think the solutions listed in the book are totally reasonable to obtain,” she said.

Epidemiology research assistant Maureen Looby said she liked the book because of its “groundbreaking” research that she hasn’t seen before.

Second-year kinesiology graduate student Julie Cousins said she hadn’t read the book, but has heard of Wansink’s research and wanted to find out more about him.

Wansink said the book has started rumblings within the government, specifically with the Food and Drug Administration, to study the affect of mindless eating.

“If people make two or three small changes to their daily lives, it would improve their lives,” Wansink said.