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OCT. 2, 2015

Decisions Abound – Food Cornerstone Day at OA

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Arrington McCoy, Dean of Students

In his book The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz posits: “the fact that some choice is good doesn’t necessarily mean that more choice is better…there is a cost to having an overload of choice. As a culture, we are enamored of freedom, self-determination, and variety, and we are reluctant to give up any of our options. But clinging tenaciously to all choices available to us contributes to bad decisions, to anxiety and stress, and dissatisfaction—even to clinical depression.”

Nowhere is our overload of choice more obvious than the average American supermarket. In general, however, we are so accustomed to the dizzying array of options that the abundance seems normal. For our food themed Cornerstone Day, OA students entered two Brevard grocery stores—one a chain, the other a mom and pop health food store—under the auspices of being food anthropologists. They were armed with questions like: “How does the layout, lighting, arrangement and ambiance of the store affect your buying experience?” “Can you easily find sustainably raised chicken?” “How much does one pound of sustainably raised chicken cost compared to one pound of conventionally raised chicken?” “Can you easily tell which produce is local or organic?”

The real test of the day however came when the students learned that they would be buying their dinner that evening using the same $2.60 per person budget that our kitchen manager adheres to. It was a bit of a social experiment (and possibly one with questionable ethics) to release twenty 15 year olds, whose food choice for a month has been scripted, except for their elected flavor of decaffeinated tea, into the cornucopia of the modern American grocery store with nothing more than a budget to guide their shopping. There was tension. There was stress. A frozen pizza per person was considered, as was ice cream as an entrée. In the end, after much angst and the savvy move of signing up for the BiLo bonus card in order to capitalize on deals, the students came home with chicken (conventionally raised), pasta, alfredo sauce, bread, brownie mix and a boat load of cheap soda. They had the boon of supplementing this meal with produce from the Outdoor Academy garden, which was free to them, but of course expensive in labor costs. With the addition of roasted potatoes, stir fried green beans and a mixed green salad from the garden, we truly had a feast, and had soda on the table for the first time in Outdoor Academy history.

food blog 2

Our day, which began on a local Brevard farm learning about and interacting with cows, chickens and a pig, ended with lively dinner conversation about the complexity of our food system. I asked the students at my table if they were glad we didn’t usually have soda with dinner, and they unanimously and genuinely said yes, while happily sipping away.

This nod towards the virtue of moderation and their ability to enjoy the exception felt like a perfect end to the day.

Arrington McCoy, Dean of Students