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It is also known as the "Sherlock Holmes of Food" thanks to his passion to find out what is the relationship between people and food and what influences our food choices.

He is the director of the Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University (USA) and in 2007 was appointed Director of the United States Department of Agriculture 'Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion' in charge for the Food Guidelines and the Pyramid Food guide 2010 (MyPyramid.gov). He is the author of two best sellers "Mindless Eating: why we eat more than we think" and "Slim by Design: Mindless eating solutions for everyday life" and hundreds of scientific articles. His name is Brian Wansink.

 

Invent, redesign, empower. Brian, what happens here at the Food and Brand Lab?

Well, the goal is to transform the way people eat in a way that makes them healthier and happier. The reason we talked about “inventing”, “redesigning” and “empowering” is that hits the three major channels by which we believe they can influence health. By inventing that refers a lot to what we can help companies do to profitably make people eat healthier. One example was back in the mid-nineties we have done a lot of research involved 100-calorie pack. We realized that if we made smaller packages for consumers, a huge percentage of consumers would rather buy a smaller number of M&M’s that help them not get fat than spend a little bit less per M&M’s and buy a huge amount that would make them fat.

When we talk about redesign, we believe it is easier to change your environment than it is to change your mind. Force someone to eat more fruit is going to be really hard to pull off. However if you redesign something for example put in a fruit bowl on your counter, you automatically eat more fruit within two weeks and without having to change your mind.

The third notion of principle we focus on is empowering. For the last 20 years in the Western world food critics have told us that we are not responsible for being fat because there's no way we can compete against the huge food chains in the world, there's no way we can compete against grocery stores that exist only to take more and more of our dollars. Because we have been told this: “it’s not your fault, so give up and don't try anymore. Whatever goals at the Food and Brand Lab is to turn that around. It is to tell people: “you are more influential in your family and your own life than you could ever imagine and here's how you can start.

 

Your motto is: the best diet is the one you don’t know you are on”. What do you mean by that?

Yes, this motto is the first line and the last line of my book “Mindless eating”. What it refers to is the idea that the word diet refers to deprivation: “never eating carbohydrates again, give up pizza for the rest of your life or never have cheese again unless it's that one day a year”.  None of those measures are really sustainable because what you're depriving yourself of is something you really like and most of our life depriving yourself of something you really love whether it would be television, affection, love or chocolate just isn't going to work; at some point it's going to come back and backfire. So a strategy instead is set up your life so that you can enjoy what you want but in enough moderation and in the way that you do have to think about it, you don’t’ believe that you are sacrificing. So that’s why if taking a cookies bowl off your counter makes you lose weight is the best diet you don’t know you are on it.

 

Recently you spent one year of sabbatical in Europe, what do you think are the main differences between EU and USA when it comes to food choices?

People often tend to say that the Europeans are more interested in quality than in quantity or they are more self-restrained. All these things might be right but I don't believe that explains why they are so different than Americans. Where we do see some differences however is breakfast. In Europe, there are very patterned ways of eating. You get up in The Netherlands and you have the roll and cheese. You get up in Italy and you eat espresso coffee and croissant. You get up in other countries you might have a very similar pattern of breakfast.

In America it is totally random. It is the wild west of breakfast. Sometimes you have nothing, sometimes you eat a pizza, or a sandwich or a bowl of breakfast cereal. There isn't the same patterns that we can see in Europe. What we find is that if there isn't a restricted way to eat you are going to be tremendously influenced by the cues around you again. Again that could be a plate size, or a bowl size, what is playing on the radio, how close is the cereal boxes to you. In Europe breakfast is the one meal a day when you're not widely influenced by situation variables. The rest of those meals in Europe you are and you are as just as guilty of mindless overeating as the Americans.

 

In Italy and other Mediterranean countries many children are getting more and more overweight. Over the course of years, you have developed the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. Can you tell us more about it?

The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement is focused on getting kids and schools to be guided toward picking up a healthier food rather than the least healthy food. About a third of the calories that a child eats are in school and it has the potential to be some of the healthiest calories that they eat during the day. Every school lunchroom in the United States and in many countries around the world offer very healthy lunches for kids.

But they also offer the opportunity to go off the rails and eat terrible stuff of the child wants to. But the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement focusing on doing is guiding and helping schools set up their offerings that they guide kids to choose a milk instead of energy drink, to pick up an apple instead of a brownie, to choose the healthy entree rather than bacon cheeseburger.  

 

In the time spent at the Food and Brand lab, you have been carried out hundreds of studies about eating healthy habits, what are the ones you found more cool and doable for a change in the everyday life?

One of the things that's amazing me most is that regardless of what we discovered influence a person, whether they eat more with a bigger plate, they eat more when the food is six feet away than the twelve feet away, they eat more when they think there's more variety even if there isn’t. Regardless of what we find, 94% of the people that we talked with don't believe they were influenced at all. We all think we are smarter than the size of the plate we serve on, we all think we are smarter than that package or the name on a menu. And why these things have a such big influence on us? It’s because we refuse to believe that they could influence us at all. We eat with our mind and not with our stomach because none wants to believe we are a fool. We always believe that we are the Master and Commander of our food destiny and this leads all these small things around us have a such huge impact.