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Disgust: Where food, law and emotions converge

2 min read

How many times do people need to be reminded that texting while driving, or not washing one’s hand after manipulating poultry, is a bad idea? Despite the information about accident or illness occurrence under each behavior, most people go on as if it has nothing to do with them. The court is right, this is not ignorance, most of time it is neglect. According to behavioral economics professor Dan Ariely, what should be the rational approach of just telling people that “texting while driving is dangerous,” — just as arguably cross-contamination can be detrimental to health — it is not enough to stop such behavior. He explains that changing behavior must deal first with removing friction, and second, with providing motivation. This seems to have worked in favor of the food industry and against the consumer, poor government inspections and standards leave the latter blindfolded. Artificial flavors and coloring are used to remove the very essential friction that evolved into disgust. What better motivation is there than the reward felt by the brain after sugar consumption.

To turn the tables, consumers must get back in touch with the protections disgust evolved to provide, and it starts at their own homes, passed on to their kids, also taught in school and then showcased in the media. Removing friction does not mean to regulate less, but rather, making it be simple and attainable. Motivation can be attained by celebrating the achievements of those who do things right and shutting down the irresponsible ones; avoiding public disgust for mishandling food, can be a great motivator also. But for disgust to work, the blindfolds of, and the intimacy with the current food system must be removed. As Kevin Higgins points out in his 2018 article, “Why Jack in The Box Still Matters,” there should be “an understanding that the interests of consumers are aligned with the industry’s interests.” If we do not know our food, where it was produced, how, by whom, under which conditions, then the interests are not aligned. By knowing the power of disgust, the consumer, individually and collectively, should know that they hold the winning card, and it most be played properly, and timely, before another tragedy occurs.


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