Are we all petulant toddlers who need to be tricked into eating our vegetables? One recent Stanford study says: Yes, yes we are. Stanford psychology researchers found that people were more likely to eat vegetables when they had “the flavorful, exciting, and indulgent descriptors typically reserved for less healthy foods.”
Here’s how they studied it. Each day in a Stanford dining hall, one vegetable dish was labeled randomly in one of four ways: Basic (“Green beans”), healthy restrictive (“Light ‘n’ low-carb green beans and shallots”), healthy positive (“Healthy energy-boosting green beans and shallots”), or indulgent (“Sweet sizzlin’ green beans and crispy shallots”). The dish was prepared exactly the same each time, regardless of how it was labeled. Research assistants counted the number of people who selected that vegetable every day.
It will not surprise you to learn that the more unhealthy the vegetables sounded, the more likely people were to eat them. Researchers found that 25 percent more people chose the indulgently named vegetable compared to the basic one. The differences were even more stark with the health-based language: 41 percent more chose the indulgent vegetable compared to the healthy restrictive one, and 35 percent more chose indulgent vs. healthy positive. Also: “Labeling vegetables indulgently resulted in a 23 percent increase in mass of vegetables consumed compared with the basic condition, and a 33 percent increase in mass of vegetables consumed compared with the healthy restrictive condition.”
But let’s get back to the names of these dishes that encouraged college students to eat vegetables. They include: “dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets,” “twisted garlic-ginger butternut squash wedges,” “rich buttery roasted sweet corn” and “slow-roasted caramelized zucchini bites.”
Basically, if we want people to eat their vegetables, this study says we need to name every vegetarian dish as if we’re Guy Fieri. Roasted cauliflower? No, it’s “All-Star Fire-Roasted Cool Cauliflower Bombs.” Asparagus? Nope, try some “Flamin’ Ace Asparagus with Donkey Sauce Drizzle.” Just call celery sticks “Rock ‘n’ Roll Crispy Fingers.” You’ll know you named it well if you can read it in the voice of a Carl’s Jr. commercial and feel ashamed.
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