A Pizza My Mind: Optimal Foraging Theory, Consumer Psychology, and Nutrition Science.
Plymouth State University
“A Pizza My Mind: Optimal Foraging Theory, Consumer Psychology, and Nutrition Science. A collaborative observation of a Plymouth State University Dining Hall and the behavior of its patrons.”
The purpose of this research was to obtain information about Plymouth State University consumers in Prospect Dining Hall and their habits. These habits were directly observed and calculated in a quantitative manner to produce the prevalence and frequency of each observed consumer in different geographic locations. Food choices and frequency at food stations in relation to geographic location were observed to find correlations used in the Optimal Foraging Theory that implies two types of consumers. There are two types of consumers: one, who spends more time “foraging”, or working to obtain their meal, and two, an individual who contributes less effort in obtaining their meal in exchange for a less nutrient dense food choice. Multiple disciplines were intertwined with this study to encompass and address important variables: consumer psychology, and nutritional science both play a major role in analytically deciphering both behavior of the consumer and their choices, as well as outside variables that will affect the wellbeing of the consumer.
Prospect Dining hall is where Plymouth State University consumers receive their nourishment with the consumption of foods and beverages provided by Sodexo. If one were to walk through Prospect Dining hall, they might expect to see the typical array of food such as pizza, pasta, vegetables, buffet style options, and made to order dishes. These options fall subject to patrons of the dining hall and their personal food preference, but is there more to the layout than the average consumer takes into consideration? Why is the pizza closest to the entrance, and the deli furthest away? Why is there a dessert station between the first dining room and the second room? The answer to these simple inquiries cannot be contained by a singular reason or answer, but rather must be addressed through an interdisciplinary approach that embodies the Optimal Foraging theory, consumer psychology, and nutritional science.
This capstone project will examine the layout of the dining hall and how that directly contributes to the wellbeing of the student body through both consumer choice and also nutritional impacts those choices have on the body. This study is conducted through direct observation of students and faculty, research through scholarly articles, and interviews with professionals in the health field. The applied perspectives that this project is composed of begins with the Optimal Foraging theory stemming from the discipline of Anthropology. This theory proposes that an “animal strikes a balance between two contrasting strategies: spending a long time (i.e. using more energy) and searching for highly `profitable' food items, or devoting minimal time (i.e. using less energy) to more common but less profitable food items”(Dictionary of Biology). Much like animals, hungry college students similarly act the same way when choosing their meal options in the dining hall. Essentially, this theory addresses how hard a consumer is willing to work, or travel for their food depending on its nutritional value. An example of this would be a rushed or hurried students grabbing a slice of pizza or premade
sandwich, unlike the more cautious and mindful consumer who pursues options like making a personal salad or traveling to the deli to have a made to order meal. Through the Optimal Foraging Theory, the geographic layout of the dining hall plays a major role in the consumer’s choice.
From here, the student’s personal preference and choice must be addressed through the discipline of psychology and one of its many sub disciplines, consumer psychology. Consumer psychology plays a major role in food choices because it is "the study of individuals, groups, or organizations and the processes they use to select, secure, use, and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society" (Perner, 2010). A student in the dining hall in search of food typically decides on certain products due to an array of external causes that are not always consciously addressed. For example, there is a higher rate of consumption of the first foods a consumer is introduced to,
with 2/3 of the plate being filled with those items that are seen first (Wansink, 2013). This means that the layout of how the food is presented to the consumer will directly affect the consumer’s choice in what they choose to put on their plate.
Next, the wellbeing of the student must be addressed with a direct correlation to what they choose to consume from what is offered at the dining hall. If a student chooses to blindly consume whatever is the easiest and most accessible option, than their wellbeing will be affected negatively due to insufficient nutritional content. The wellbeing of the student is relatively biased in regards to the state of mind of the student body. The amount of stress and pressure a college student faces and endures arguably affects their lifestyle choices in how they cope with stress. An important concept to apply to this study in the discipline of Nutrition
Science, would be the effect of stress on a person and what that does to their eating habits. “Comfort Food,” is a relevant term in society and it is something in times of stress that humans turn to. Comfort foods would include items high in sugars and fats, which are mostly processed and lack nutrient density. The cause for the craving and satiation for these foods derives directly from stress on the human body, and the increase of the hormone cortisol in the blood stream.
Below is a chart that displays insights from the disciplines used in this study and maps out why they are interconnected and what constitutes this approach from an interdisciplinary approach. This visual aid helps map out these preceding disciplines, and why they all can be
effectively used to analyze consumer behavior in the dining hall due to geographic layout of food stations, consumer choices, and effects those choices have on the human body.
Study of society and culture through a holistic lense that involves the past and present actions of humans.
Applying a theory from the discipline to study the culture at Prospect Dining Hall.
Group or individuals the process in which they select items.
Using this to directly observe how and what consumers choose at the dining hall.
The effects that food and nourishment have on the human body.
Drawing conclusions from present health habits by food. selection choices made in the dining hall
Variables to Consider:
A major variable that applies to the optimal foraging theory is time. “Optimal foraging predicts that, given equal handling time, the prey item with a large energy gain will be chosen over the prey item with a small energy gain. Also, animals are more likely to select prey with a large energy aim when availability is high because it decreases search time. When search time increases, animals are less selective” (Yahnke, 2006). So with time playing a major component in our food choices, it is easy to see why many consumers make choices out of pure convenience. As citizens in a western society, we are all plagued by “time sickness,” (Honore,
2004) or rather being slaves to the clock and from our fast paced lifestyles. However, specifically for this observational study, I will only address the student consumers at PSU. There are hours that a student or patron can attend a meal at the dining hall, including 2 hours and 20 minutes per meal period, those meals being breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This seems like a rather manageable time to most people, but once classes, jobs, internships, sports, organization meetings, or any other extracurricular activity are added into the time frame of a single day for a college student, availability for meal time may be drastically reduced. This decrease in time made available for consumers will therefore directly impact their food choices.
Nutrition Habits and Importance of Health and Well Being:
The emphasis on nutrition is so important to not only this study but also to the current and future vitality of Plymouth State patrons. Health habits are directly linked to diet and nutrition and according to the Food and Nutrition’s board guide to reducing your risk of chronic
“only two of the leading causes of death are not connected to what we eat or drink
chronic obstructive lung disease, and pneumonia and influenza. This is not to say that bad eating habits alone caused 1.5 million deaths in 1987, for diet is not the only factor that causes these diseases to develop. But changing our diet for the better could go a long way to reducing the disease toll significantly. Improving the nation's diet could also do a great deal to reduce the number of people suffering from illnesses that are serious but not immediately life threatening. High blood pressure, obesity, dental diseases, osteoporosis, and gallstones fall into this category of dietrelated chronic diseases. Over 57 million people in the United States have high blood pressure” (Woteki, 1992).
Interview with Coleen Vaughn, Holistic Health Coach:
So why do consumer choices regarding food matter? Well according to Holistic Health Coach who has specialization in adaptive culinary arts and nutrition for her clients, Colleen Vaughn says that in regards to importance of consumer choice and health problems, that “it’s a known fact this generation right now, is going to be the first generation to die before their parents, a majority of them not all of them, through bad diet and lack of physical activity, it’s pathetic” (Vaughn, 2015). A major contribution to this eminent plague of early onset chronic diseases can directly be linked through nutrition and consumer intake habits, and stems even more directly from stress. “Stress makes the body crave foods that are high in fats and sugars. This flaw in eating, in time will inflict a greater stress on the body, plus other problems that pose a threat to your physical and mental health” (Ritchie). Cortisol, a hormone released in the human body during times of stress, influences a consumer’s food choices and intake amounts (Aronson, 2009). These influences include an increase intake of comfort foods, or foods that are high in fat and sugar, and the consumption of them “seem to have a feedback effect that inhibits activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress and related emotions” (Adams, 2012).
Now considering the amount of stress that college student’s experience, it is plausible to make the observation that when stressed and faced with “comfort food options,” then one may be
more inclined to choose those options to cope. When asked about stress eating and why consumers choose certain things over others, which may eventually turn into poor eating habits, Vaughn replied with “that whole dopamine, that feel good kaboom, it doesn’t last long and that’s what’s going on with the new generation, they’re like heroin addicts, give me those carbs” (Vaughn, 2015). Understanding that stress has a direct impact on one’s diet, and therefore one’s longterm health and wellbeing, it is important to address healthy eating habits and how they will contribute to physical and mental performance on the human body.
Diahnn Thompkins, Nutrition, Health Habits:
Diahnn Thompkins, the Nutrition Manager for Sodexo is also a licensed dietician lends some helpful information regarding nutrition and student health habits here at Plymouth. As someone who frequently eats in Prospect Dining Hall, and as a health role model for the students, she recommends for students “to always navigate first, go to each station, because looking at your options will not only prevent you from wasting food, but this will also help students plan a balanced meal” (D. Thompkins, personal communication, May 5, 2015).
Although the idea that a consumer could navigate and view their options first may take a little bit of time, it allows the consumer to make mindful choices on what they put on their plate. So then why would a student want to consider a balanced meal? According to Thompkins, there are multiple reasons why a consumer should work to create healthy and sustainable eating habits, one of which being the fact that “your diet influences just about everything: your mood, chronic disease, and it improves mental and pysiological performance. I will do more than prevent chronic diseases, it may also avoid or improve things like depression or insomnia” (D. Thompkins, personal communication, May 5, 2015).
As a licensed dietician, Thompkins stresses on education along with a few key recommendations to support optimal brain functioning and also develop lifelong healthy habits. Especially for students on campus, brain functioning should be a top priority; after all, students are at a university to perform successfully at a high intellectual level. Thompkins recommends a diet “high in vitamin C, A, E, and antioxidants.” She recommends this because these items will help with one’s immune system, metabolism, and catabolic (energy producing) systems in the body. When a person is stressed, it takes a toll on their immune system and physical functioning, which longitudinally can lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease or cancer. By including these water soluble vitamins and antioxidants, one can neutralize these disease causing cells in their body by boosting their immune system and promoting healthy physiological functioning. A diet high in fruits and vegetables will provide enough of the mentioned recommendations of nutrients to help sustaint a longer and more high quality life.
Another important role in choice making about one’s diet is that consumers need to consider foods that will promote optimal brain functioning, and also foods that will not slow consumers down and lower their energy levels. Foods to avoid that are offered in the dining hall would be “refined sugar, donuts, cookies or highly processed foods. These foods increase inflammation in the body, and a hormonal response that distresses the body to crave high carb and high fat foods; but it’s not your fault, it’s your body’s fault from poor stress management.” (D. Thompkins, personal communication, May 5, 2015).
Discussion of Observational Process and Research:
With the applied theories and perspectives rooted in multiple disciplines, the observational study itself unfolds as so:
● Mapping the geographical layout of Prospect Hall
● Applying food options on day of observation to food stations
● Direct observations of student interactions and food choices
● Tallying/ tracking how many consumers frequented and committed to certain foods and stations
● Compiling quantitative data and applying that data to charts and graphs to display results
● Analyzing those results and forming conclusions
Each observation made was timed, and the total number of patrons was recorded. From here, the results from the observations were processed in excel and were formed into pie charts to visually display the data and observations.
I’ve categorized the dining hall food station options into two categories: convenient and profitable. Convenient is the option that consists of minimal time devotion, and less profitable food items. Conversely, profitable items are the option that takes more time to retrieve the desired food, but ultimately has the “healthier”, or more nutritionally beneficial meals. Convenient options include highly processed foods which are placed in easy to access areas for the consumer. This will increase the chances the students and staff of PSU will fill their plates with these more cheaper options (nutrient and economically speaking) and will therefore decrease the chance of the University having to replenish the more expensive items offered more often. The profitable options would consists of stations that offer fresh stir fry or custom prepared food items, like the deli or vegetarian station. Nutrient dense foods would be what the profitable forager seeks, and empty calorie food would be what the convenient forager typically aims to consume.
The difference between a nutrient dense food item and an empty calorie food item would be the essence of the makeup of the food choice itself. Empty calories are defined as “calories from solid fats and/or added sugars. Solid fats and added sugars add calories to the food but few or no nutrients. For this reason, the calories from solid fats and added sugars in a food are often called empty calories” (USDA, 2015). So even though your body will see “sugar as sugar”, it will not see “calories are calories” in the same way. Empty calories are broken down quicker, which therefore releases insulin (a fat storing hormone) into the bloodstream. These empty calories will either need to be utilized for energy quickly, or will be broken down and stored much faster than if the calories were consumer from more complex, and more importantly, fiber rich foods. This complex and fiber rich foods are broken down and absorbed slower into cells, and therefore contributing less to weight gain than food containing empty calories.
Conclusions from the study:
After a completed observational study, the data revealed that even with higher accessibility, a majority of patrons exercise a decent amount of free will. Despite the initial introduction of comfort foods or less nutritious options placed closer to the consumer, and permitting less work to obtain the food, many choose to wait in a line or travel a longer distance for a profitable option. These results demonstrated that there were actually more patrons documented in gathering food in the furthest room away, totaling in 190 consumers frequenting the deli station (fresh sandwiches and high priced meats) compared to a mere 98 frequents in the pizza section, and only 72 frequents in the pasta station, both of which are the closest to the consumer when entering the dining hall. Another surprise was that more consumers also frequented the salad bar compared to the pizza and pasta sections, meaning that although
“comfort foods” are readily available, consumers still exercise a free will to make healthier choices, such as a salad.
The results and information learned from this study concludes that students themselves exercise a high rate of free will at Plymouth State University in regards to their food choices. Despite the layout and availability of consumer choices put forth by Sodexo, a majority of the student body are still are willing to work or travel for what meal options that actually want and what will benefit their bodies greater.
Buffet Study and Brian Wansink:
Professor of Marketing and the Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab in the Department of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, Brian Wansink, supplies and conducts renowned studies that highlight and discuss consumer choices; primarily in student consumer settings. A study “Slim by Design: Serving Healthy Foods First in Buffet Lines Improves Overall Meal Selection” conducted by Wansink and Andrew Hanks, discusses the impact of food placement in a buffet setting. This study ultimately concludes that “with buffet foods, the first ones seen are the ones most selected. Over 75% of diners selected the first food they saw, and the first three foods a person encountered in the buffet comprised 66% of all the foods they took. Serving the less healthy foods first led diners to take 31% more total food items” (Wansink, 2013). Essentially, the foods a consumer is introduced to first geographically, specifically being closer to the entrance of said dining area, will ultimately be the ones they consume the most.
This notion of first exposure to the consumer related to consumer choice was found in my observations of Prospect Dining Hall, specifically the breakfast observations. For example, it
was the warm or heated foods offered in the layout of the buffet that were favored in consumption through patron’s choice. As seen below, a majority of students chose scrambled eggs and home fries over other options that were set before the buffet line, such as the yogurt station and the cold premade baked goods section.
So why might this study by Wansink in particular have such a weight of importance on the research? Wansink’s theory is that setting up the dining hall in a geographically pleasing arrangement will directly influences a consumer’s choice to choose certain foods first. By having the warm buffet the closest to the entrance, students will more likely choose those foods, and by filling up their plate early, they will more likely bypass other options that are further away.
After going over the quantitative data, an interesting result displayed that consumers are actually willing to travel a longer distance and go to the second room, which is the furthest room, in order to get what would be a convenient food. A total of 497 reported students obtained food items from the grill, and although the grill offers proteins that are freshly prepared, it also offers foods high in saturated fats such as french fries, macaroni salad, or other highly processed food items. One reasoning for this is not necessarily that the consumer wishes to work harder for a
less profitable food, but because the grill is located next to the deli where fresh made to order sandwiches and wraps are offered. As someone who is waiting in line for a custom deli product, they would be subject to also view the grill station, therefore being aware of the options at the grill and that they could consume with less preparation (i.e. wait) time.
Room 1 (Closest to consumer) Room 2 (Furthest from consumer)
The frequency of consumers according to my observation is larger in the second room of the dining hall, which is the furthest away, concluding that patrons of Prospect Dining Hall can be classified as a majority of profitable foragers. Despite the high rate of consumers at the grill station which carries relatively unhealthy food options, foragers are still more prevalent at 1,183 frequents to the second room compared to 1,105 frequents in the first room. Since the more prevalent category of forager’s falls into the profitable field, this would imply that more students care about their health and wellbeing by utilizing more time and effort into their food choices.
Evolution of Capstone Thesis:
The evolution of this capstone occurred after my observational study along with interviews and personal research. My original theory aimed to hold a responsible party for the wellbeing of consumer health at Plymouth State University, however my original assumption was that Sodexo, the food supply company, is to be held responsible. Conversely though, this is
not the case. Sodexo was initially held accountable because they supply the food and they actually remade the cafeteria to geographically put the most expensive food options, which happen to be the freshest and most nutritious options, further away and therefore less accessible to patrons. When asked about the layout of the dining hall, I received a very honest and accurate answer from a Sodexo manager, “Sodexo had to come in here and move everything around, and they moved the deli far away because deli meats are so expensive.” This comment made by a Sodexo employee ultimately fuelled my initial assumption in applying the Critical Interpretive Iheory.
The criticalinterpretive approach views a problem centered issue with an analytical perspective that “perpetuate a society’s power structure” (Joralomen, 2006). The layout of the food options in the cafeteria are set up to hold Sodexo itself to the highest benefit through financial gain, therefore perpetuating the power structure in which society, or Plymouth consumers in this case, are the ones to be the last to benefit. The original assumption in regards to this theory was that Sodexo was to be held accountable for the nutritional wellness for the Plymouth State consumer. Ironically, after delving further into the issue, Plymouth State as an establishment is actually held accountable for the wellbeing of their student body. The options available in the dining hall are supplied by Sodexo, but Plymouth State Contracts Sodexo. Therefore, budgets cuts that Plymouth is implementing actually results in a drastic budget cut of a half million dollars, meaning Sodexo also took a drastic financial cut as well. It is no wonder that Sodexo is trying to feed the student consumers with high carb, nutrient poor, and economically cheaper food; that is really all they can offer with the imposing restraints of Plymouth State funding.
Another revelation that this project concluded ultimately altered the main thesis that Sodexo is responsible for the wellbeing of the student body. Plymouth State Budget cuts are a direct and detrimental variable that alters the options put forth by Sodexo. The ALLWell construction building along with the implementation of the “flexcash” being made available throughout the town of Plymouth at nonSodexo establishments has cut the budget severely, putting many of Sodexo employees at risk of losing employment, as well as forcing limits to what they can offer students for optimal nutrition. Diahnn Thompkins, the nutrition coordinator for Sodexo at Plymouth State, talks about how the dining hall used to be, “we used to have swordfish, celebrate promotions every week and introduce really good food to the students, add in anything that was really nice, but now nothing. We can’t do any of that because there’s just no money. We used to do really well, but now we just do the best we can” (D.Thompkins, personal communication, April 4th, 2015). It is my hope that the university will take into account the immediate and future health of the student body that is rooted in consumer nutrition, because let us not forget, students will need optimal fueling from food choices to perform greatly in the new ALLWell center, when it is finally completed.
After the process of rephrasing my thesis was complete, I then turned to my quantitative data to analyze through an interdisciplinary approach and what that means for my results. Although this observational study came up with conclusions that can be directly linked to Brian Wansink’s research findings, particularly in the layout and presentation of a buffet line, the limitations and margin of error must be addressed. As a singular person conducting this observational study, it was in my most valiant of efforts to accurately track and observe active consumers in the dining hall. However as a singular person attempting to track the consumer choices of nearly 600 patrons per observation, there is a margin of error and a limited physical
view that must be taken into consideration. A study like this must be conducted on a larger level to solidify a dependable impact. There were multiple factors out of my control that also heavily influenced my observations. Such things would consist of what was on the menu for the day, what day of the week it was, accepted student tours, time of the year, and certainly many more variables would predictably impact this study.
Possible Future Study Alterations:
Seeing as my research was strictly observational, it would be nice to set up a controlled study to conduct and test a hypothesis; the hypothesis being are consumers willing to eat healthier and sustain these healthy habits if the choices are made easier for them. A way to perform this would be to re arrange the same food choices in ½ of the dining hall, and then lay the exact options, albeit in a different order, on the other half. Then one could compare the results of frequency for each station and in what order. A study like this would also benefit from a considerate amount of more observational hours. As a student, I had limited time to find observation hours, and I would argue that a study like this would display much more concrete results if it was conducted over the span of a full semester or school year, and with many more eyes for observations. Interrater error would have to be taken into consideration, but arguably with more observational studies the more data that can visually be collected, the better.
Presentation to Managers for Sodexo:
The study and its conclusion was presented to managers at Sodexo. The team of managers had never heard of the Optimal Foraging Theory, however they consider the layout of the dining hall to hold a very important stake in the way in which consumers dine. Remaking the layouts by said professionals have reshaped Prospect Dining Hall on multiple occasions, and
more changes are soon to come in the upcoming years. I enlightened said group of managers about my capstone research and conclusions. Plymouth consumers are more likely to travel longer distances for what they want to eat, and are less likely to settle for convenient options made easily geologically accessible. One tip that was mentioned during the presentation was again sparked by Brain Wansink in regards to his studies involving cafeteria layouts. His idea was to make dessert, or unhealthy foods, less visible by covering stations with opaque glass and nontranslucent set ups. After consideration of this, it was marked that the ice cream and desserts stations were popular at lunch. Although they are a people pleaser, the institution should chronically keep nutritional health in mind. An opaque covering over the ice cream station may make consumers less likely to choose a food high in saturated fat at midday meals. Therefore, the students are PSU may be deterred from these poor nutrient choices, and instead be drawn to the clear glass showing the many colors of fruits and vegetables. Two of the managers at the above described meeting said that they would try this option sometime in the future, and monitor the amount of ice cream used to see if it actually works.
After reviewing what the most popular and least popular choices were, another variable was brought to my attention for future studies in this field. One of the managers asked if I had observed the same menu choices, but on different days, ultimately asking if I had observed the same controlled variable for food choices. I however did not due to lack of time, so therefore it was decided it would be beneficial to adapt the observation to isolate more menu items to draw better specific conclusions about what students like or dislike.
It was also mentioned there would be new construction happening over the summer for one of the dining sites on the university campus, and there was also talk about changing a few stations in Prospect Dining Hall. The prescribed changes that are being considered is to either
make the salad bar into a main line meal, meaning to take away the availability and convenience of the bar and instead to have it be hand prepared by cafeteria servers. The other change being considered would be to completely take the salad bar away and place it in the dining area, set apart from the other food stations. This idea seems to go against all the research and findings of this project. This would be detrimental to the student consumer’s nutritional health because this makes salad or fresh vegetables sides inconvenient when choosing food items, and also drastically reduces the visibility of the station. That being said, visibility is key. If a student doesn’t see the salad until after they fill their plate, the likelihood that they would return to the main line, grab a new plate, then pursue salad is slim to none. As Wansink’s studies concluded before, “first is most,” meaning what a consumer sees first is what they will consume the most of. By moving the salad station out of sight, the consumer will not be able to fill their plate with
more nutritious options, and instead the fresh offerings will be left to waste, or the institution will dictate decreasing ordering of said food items.
Given the direct observations and time spent within the dining hall and also with the Sodexo team and consumers, I created and propose a remake of the current geographic layout of Prospect Dining Hall in order to ensure minimum effort and maximum result for the nutritional health of the student body. This remake would ensure profitable items that are made more accessible, and the convenient and less nutritious items would be less accessible. If students are paying for food, it would make sense to give them easier access to the most beneficial options to help build healthy and sustainable eating habits, and also to ensure healthy brain functioning for optimal intellectual performance.
New Layout for Prospect Dining Hall:
Below is a remake I propose that will ensure optimal health for patrons at the dining hall.
Room one will be the closest room to consumers. After entering, patrons will have to travel directly to a plate station, located either directly in front of them or to the left. From here, the salad, fruit, and vegetarian station is the first buffet made visible to the consumer. This station is also in the center of the room, and to move through this area, you must travel around
the station, therefore allowing visibility the entire time of this station. Therefore, fresh vegetables and fruit will always be made visible and accessible. Next, I placed the soup station after the plates and drinks, so students would have easy access to another healthy option. Soup is not only affordable to serve on a large scale at a cafeteria, but it also fills up consumers and tends to contain cooked vegetables or proteins. The next stop for a patron would be the “main line,” where the main menu option is freshly prepared and would change at every meal period. After
that, the deli is made available for made to order wraps or sandwiches. Lastly, by placing pre made salads and sandwiches by the exit, a student can “grab and go” a healthy option on a convenient time frame. If the student finds nothing of satisfaction in the first room, the traveling consumer is then made to leave the first dining room into the dining area. This direct division of rooms will make less nutritious food be placed furthest away, making a consumer reconsider needs for certain empty calorie foods, and make them work harder to obtain less profitable foods.
When the consumer enters the second food station area, they will be immediately greeted with the grill which serves fresh proteins and paired meal options to go with the said proteins. To the left, the student will be introduced to pizza, pasta, and baked goods. The opposite end of the
protein grill will again have fruit and vegetable options, that way if the consumer chooses less nutritious options, they will also view healthy options to pair with their first choice. If one wishes to go for that ice cream or slice of cake, they would have to travel through the first dining hall room, through the dining area, and back into the second room, either go around the grill and protein station, or follow the horseshoe shape traffic to get to the dessert station. If one were applying the optimal foraging theory, then one could estimate that the dessert station will not be as popular because it takes the most work and time to get to the least profitable food items.
My Major and Application:
With Cultural Health Studies as my focus in the Interdisciplinary Studies program, this project analyzes the health of the student body in direct relation to its environment. The question of the well being of the student body in relation to their food offerings from the dining hall could not be addressed through a singular discipline since there are multiple perspectives that must be addressed: such as geographic layout, consumer choice, consumer background, economic standing of food provider, and nutritional factors. The only way to pursue and complete this capstone was through many lenses with specific focuses that were drawn out from a multitude of disciplines. There would be a sense of incompletion within my research and conclusions if I chose to only focus on the dining hall in relation to consumer health through just one aspect. A project such as this requires a great deal of thought, time, effort, and a shifting perspective to illuminate variables and underlying concepts behind consumer choice.
Reflection and enlarged understanding:
Before approaching this capstone project, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to find enough information to sustain a project of this caliber. Inversely, to my delight, there were so many ways this study can be conducted and analyzed. My perception of disciplinary expertise has been altered and enlightened, and I have a great amount of appreciation for those who spend time to focus in their fields by working a lifetime on work and conducting studies of their own. I also consider now what singular disciplinary studies seem to lack, broadened perspective. For my project, if I had only focused on the application of the Optimal Foraging Theory, I would have only been able to discuss one aspect of my observations. However, using that theory and combining it with consumer psychology and nutritional science, it helped me find a whole new and exciting end result for my capstone. With the application of multiple disciplines, I was not only able to learn about PSU consumers and their dining habits, but I also learned how to alter those habits and make a positive change in the wellbeing of the student body with a potential remake of the dining hall.
The concept of the dining hall layout and consumer frequency with an emphasis on nutrition and marketing influence has lead me to consider many variables. This project could mold into many other observations that could potentially include a plate survey to understand what students think they would want to consume, but chose not to after putting it on their plate. This issue would bring up the topic of sustainability in the community and food waste. There are multiple avenues that this project could travel down, however finding strategies to cut down on food waste, and therefore food cost, could benefit Plymouth State and the well beings of their students alike.
My original bias was focused on the Critical Interpretive Theory approach, and was aimed to hold a specific party responsible for the health and wellbeing of the student body. My
bias has shifted greatly after conducting my research and getting involved with the student body, and Sodexo who supply food to those students. I now understand that there is a predominant factor in the evolution of something like the dining hall at a college university: politics and economics. Therefore, the whole idea of holding a party responsible cannot be applied to one said party. After the shifting in responsibility from the food supplier to the party that contracts the food supplier, it made me reconsider what kind of campus we have at Plymouth. It is understandable that updates to buildings must be made and there are plenty of places where allocations should go, but to cut back on the quality and availability of food should be addressed on a public level. Not only do student consumers suffer, but something like this can affect potential students. When potential students visit the school and see a limited food selection of mediocre options that are relatively convenient, they might take that into much consideration on their choice of enrolling at the school. For a university that is so focused on the construction of
an ALLWell center, where its focus of studies for both faculty and students is health and exercise science, it is truly baffling to see why they would cut out what fuels not only exercise, but also physical and mental capabilities. I can only hope that the funding for Sodexo foods is not cut any more than it already is because the less money a food supply party has to spend on their
products, the cheaper the products must get. Unless a reform is made in regards to financially supporting the contracted food supply company to support the wellbeing of the student body, Plymouth State students might just become what they eat, which is unhealthy and cheap.
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