Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “7-11”

Robbing the Next Generation – Childhood Obesity

There is a certain sense of irony writing a blog post about obesity on this day – seven-eleven – but here we go. My previous post on this topic ruffled some feathers, not least among those who are struggling with overweight and its repercussions. I know it is a sensitive topic and I have no intention of belittling anyone or their health challenges. I applaud anyone who has the strength to take steps to turn things around and am full of admiration for those I see turning up at my gym and pushing themselves daily on the cardio and other machines. 

But obesity is a growing issue in this country and we must address it. Nothing is as difficult as seeing children already walking such  a path at a young age. Parents have so much to struggle with today: the intense demands of homework, the lure of screens, the danger of letting their children out in the streets. All this in addition to the strains of a full time job and often only one parent in the picture. It is hard to find the strength to say no too often, hard to find the energy to cook a healthy meal that doesn’t resemble what children are bombarded with on TV and elsewhere by clowns.

First Lady, Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity turned 18 months earlier this week. Not quite the terrible twos yet, but the First Lady seems to know what she is up against. The skeptics have made sure she knows, claiming that the money poured into advertising and promotion by the huge multinationals that run the food and agriculture industry might make promises but won’t risk their profit margins.

But Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association, is one of many who disagrees and claims that Mrs. Obama “has been a spark plug, raising awareness about the potential future of the U.S. as a nation of fat, unhealthy people unless the trend is reversed.” She acknowledges that Mrs. Obama has been doing it in ways that health food advocates can’t.

She has addressed law makers at every level, school groups, food producer and other constituencies, urging more bike paths and playgrounds, to serve healthier school lunches, and to produce and sell healthier food. Mrs. Obama has visited schools across the country to encourage initiatives such as  fruit and vegetable gardens, healthy options for school lunches, and participating in exercise clinics with children.

Most impressive in my opinion (and it is all impressive), is her work advocating at food manufacturers, beverage makers and stores. A little corner store you might have heard of, Walmart, pledged to reformulate thousands of its store-brand products to reduce sodium, sugar and fat, and provide incentives to its suppliers to do the same. Walmart has also pledged to cut its prices for  fresh fruit and vegetables, and develop a platform that clearly identifies healthier choices. This is a big player move. Walmart’s grocery business accounts for about 15%  of the U.S. grocery industry.

“We are seeing a fundamental shift in our national conversation about how we make and sell food,” Mrs. Obama said when she addressed Walmart executives at the beginning of the year. “That’s something that wasn’t happening just a year ago.”

People get worked up about children, whether they are their own or not. We have saddled the next generation with an enormous debt and a crashing environment. Sometimes these topics seem to massive for us to do anything about it and we feel disempowered. 

But to create a healthy diet and lifestyle for our children is something we can grasp. We can run around with them at the park instead of reaching for Netflix. We can volunteer at our local school vegetable garden, and we can think about what we serve at the dinner table. There is an advert on the radio at the moment urging us to give our children water or fruit juice rather than a can of sugar. We don’t, perhaps shouldn’t, make radical changes all at once, but the next generation’s journey begins with small first steps.

Thank you, Mrs. Obama. Now excuse me if I go and play soccer with my sons.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Brainwashed in 3.5 Minutes (by Roger Ingalls)

The History Channel aired an interesting program a few days ago about the design of convenient stores. It’s amazing how much thought goes into the layout of a 7-11 and other twenty-four hour quick turn stores. Their goal is to get you in and out within three and a half minutes while manipulating you into impulse buys. Convenient stores generate an amazing $1.7 billion every twenty-four hours.

After watching the program, I went online to find out more about retail and convenient store tricks that make us spend more money. Here are some of the manipulating tactics they use.

People usually go to a convenient store for a purpose which means they are headed for a destination in the store. Of course, there are common purposes for being in a 7-11, such as buying milk, soda and coffee. Impulse items are placed between the door and the destination item. This is why most of the stuff we want is in the back of the store.

If you grab a soda from a cooler at a Quik Stop, the cooler door is hinged to close in a way that directs you past more impulse items. For example, if the door swings open from left to right, you will more likely turn to your left when walking away so flashy products are place in that direction. Coffee is a huge seller at convenient stores. Donuts, bagels and breakfast sandwiches are grouped with coffee to entice you into making a package purchase.

Grocery stores are big manipulators too. All the basic real foods like milk, meat, bread, eggs and produce are place in the back and far sides of the store. You must walk past everything else to get to these staple foods. The meat section uses slightly tinted lights to make the items look pleasantly fresh. Did you ever wonder why produce is misted? It gives us a sense of freshness but it actually reduces the shelf-life. Additional produce tricks include displays that put fruits and veggies in crates along with signs resembling chalkboards to give them a farmers market feel even though they may have been trucked in from another country.

Grocery carts and flooring play a big role in how much money we spend. Stores that switch from small carts to larger ones see an average revenue increase of 37%. Have you noticed the trend to put kid carts in stores? Parents who bring their children spend 25% more than if the kids were left at home. Floors are also being modified with color changes every few feet or the physical texture changes to make us watch our step, look around and slow down. The slower pace correlates to a spending increase of 6%.

Even apparel stores are getting into the act. They put harsh lights and plain mirrors at the entrance and then put tinted mirrors and filtered lighting in dressing rooms. Once we are in the changing room, our appearance is improved giving the illusion that the clothing made the difference. Many retailers are also engaging in the practice of vanisizing where the sizes of the clothes are actually larger than what is on the tags. We can now fit into pants, dresses and shirts that were previously too small so we make a vanity feel-good buy.

There are many more tricks to get us to buy and spend; the more human behavior is understood, the longer the trickery list gets. I don’t know…maybe I’m making a big ado about nothing. After all, the economy is driven by commerce.

But I just hate being manipulated!


Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

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