Instant Gratification

I was happy and surprised to read a Joel Stein article in Time (May 7, 2012) on the application of neuroeconomics to food habits.  It's a slightly funny and much abbreviated approach to the topic, but a good sign that this understanding of behavior is becoming well-known enough that even a humor columnist writes about it.  Absent is a mention of the role of seratonin, but it would not have added a great deal to what was present.


Feeding the Homeless

I was recently part of a group effort to provide dinner to a group of homeless at a shelter.  It was an interesting experience.  About 30 volunteers provided food and hands to feed 70-80 people.  A wide variety of breads was provided by a local grocery store.  Volunteers brought cakes, fruit, green salad, and spaghetti.  A local restaurant supplied meat sauce for the spaghetti.  Everyone was also given PB&J sandwiches to take for the next day's lunch.

After everyone got food, they were able to keep getting more, and many came back 4 or 5 times.  The total plates served was reported as around 270.  Common requests were to not have bread, to have more sauce (or only sauce), and for aluminum foil (which we almost immediately ran out of) for wrapping food to carry out.

The most obvious criticism of this arrangement was the very high proportion of the meal that was made from white flour, and the low proportion of protein.  The spaghetti was light on the meat sauce.  The PB in the sandwiches was the processed stuff.  The recipients, already at risk for nutritional and endocrinological problems, were given foods that compound on these risks and exacerbate problems.  Salad was eaten, and some sadly green bananas were taken, but the overall quality of the meal was poor.

Without being prohibitively more expensive or labor intensive, the meal could have been made from whole grains, and included legumes.  Lose the cake.

Nearly everyone was polite and thankful.  Only one person tried to get more food before everyone got some, one person threatened violence in line, and there were two fights broken up by security that were unrelated the meal.