Why Eat Bugs #4: Sustainable Paleo

July 27, 2014


There is a great article in the July 28th New Yorker overviewing the concepts and history of the paleo diet movement as writer (and environmental expert) Elizabeth Kolbert goes full paleo for her family for  a week.

With Kolbert’s entertaining and informative flair, she runs through the highlights and arguments for the paleo diet (namely, how agriculture is the worst mistake man has ever made…an idea popularized in the landmark piece by Jared Diamond).

Although she comes across cautiously supportive of the diet, she nonetheless ends the article by dismissing it for its unsustainability:

Whether or not agriculture was the worst mistake in the history of the human race, the choice, once made, was for the good. With a global population of 7 billion people, heading rapidly to toward 8 billion, there’s certainly no turning back now. Pound for pound, beef production demands at least 10x as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost 20x as much energy…All of which to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.

I wonder if she conferred with her New Yorker counterpart Dana Goodyear, who’s awesome 2011 article on entomophagy got me thinking about the whole bug thing.

I’ve already written about the sustainability advantages of insect husbandry over traditional forms of animal protein production. But I’m only now realizing how well bugs fit in the paleo lifestyle.

I’m not super into paleo, but I do the Crossfit thing and it’s inevitable that you get introduced to the diet at your local box. I agree with a lot of paleo principles and did try going full paleo for a month. It took a lot of adjusting with me doing a lot of cooking and working with a lot of new grocery (coconut flour… who knew?). After going through a sluggish period of what I can only understand as “gluten-withdrawal,” I felt awesome and lost a few pounds.

Although I continue to try new paleo dishes and limit my intake of processed flour (but not sugar… holy moly I have a problem there), ultimately it’s a pretty time-consuming, repetitive, and expensive diet to maintain whole hog.

But if I had access to a cheap, healthy, and very paleo food source…

Insects were most definitely part of the original paleo diet. Cavedudes were more likely crunching on cicadas than they were on bacon-wrapped avocados.

And certain bugs are very nutritious food sources with high protein, fiber, vitamin, and mineral content. For example, the recent United Nations report calls out mealworms as having a similar offering of protein, vitamin and minerals as in fish and meat. Furthermore, the Robb Wolf blog also makes the paleo-bug connection and posts some actual numbers on the nutritional content of a variety of bugs. For example, see how well some bugs compare protien-wise to beef and fish…


From the great The Food Insects Newsletter, July 1996


Insect Protein (g)
Giant Water Beetle 19.8
Grasshopper 20.6
Caterpillar 28.2
Beef (Lean Ground) 27.4
Fish (Broiled Cod) 28.5

Already, the savvy Exo are selling on the paleo-bug connection with their protein bars made from nuts and cricket flour, with each bar consisting of an equivalent of 25 crickets. (BTW…If anyone has tried these things, let me know. I’m on the fence on going all in on a $40 box.)

However, I’m guessing the production costs and processing involved with getting crickets into the protein bar form would limit the sustainability. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

But a cricket that is straight-up simply roasted with a little chili-lime flavoring might prove to be a very “sustainable paleo” offering.


Luckily, the San Francisco food cart Don Bugito is offering this online. I just bought some for a very reasonable $5. Will let you know how it goes…

Some Things I Learned From SALT SUGAR FAT

July 21, 2014

This is an excellent food marketing book with a focus on the 3 bad boys of processed foods–SALT SUGAR FAT.


By devoting a section to each, Michael Moss examines how big food’s disingenuous marketing and addiction-inducing formulations have helped to drive our obesity epidemic and continuing bad-food choices, where we now consume:

  • 3 times as much cheese we did in 1970
  • 22 teaspoons of sugar a day (the AHA recommends 9)
  • Double the recommended amount of salt

By showing how we came to this sugary-salty-fatty Gomorrah, it’s insightful to learn how it wasn’t inevitable, but the unintended outcome of myopic profit-seeking strategies.

For example, in the 1980s Wall Street began moving money from blue chip companies (that included established food businesses) to the tech and financial industries for their quicker returns. This put the pressure on food companies to deliver a similar rate of return. So foods became more convenient, more alluring, and came in bigger portions…damn the resulting fatties…and the $90 billion annually we all have to pay from the health effects of obesity.

Food companies were able to get us to consume more by taking advantage of how our brains don’t know what our body needs. Our cravings are not the result of physical needs, but the result of emotional triggers that food companies have become expert in manipulating. This body/mind dissonance is due to quirks in our evolutionary development, where our body is so afraid of starvation it freaks out with hunger signals when it comes across any cues that the body may need food.

I learned a ton so will take a tasty and nourishing morsel from each section…

  • SUGAR: Sensory-Specific Satiety. “We like foods that have an identifiable strong flavor, but we tire of them quickly.” This is to help drive our body’s need for varied nutrients, whereby the power of one overwhelming flavor can trigger a feeling of fullness for that flavor, and direct it to another. Those spicey garlic pork rinds may be good for you in how they can immediately trip the fullness switch with one mind-boggling bite. However, most big food companies exploit the inverse of this phenomenon, where we don’t feel immediately as full from less flavorful foods. This explains the success of Coke over Pepsi. Pepsi repeatedly wins in taste tests for its distinctive flavor. But Coke maintains its dominance (and insidiousness) because it is forgettable in such a way that the brain continues to want more of it.
  • FAT: No Bliss Point for Fat. Food industries scientists seek food formulations that achieve the “bliss point” for consumers…that precise amount and mix of flavors that sends us into a narcotic euphoria and craving (just before sensory-specific satiety sets in). However, this point is for the most part a curve (more accurately, it’s plateau-shaped). You can make a cookie or a potato chip too sweet or salty so that it becomes less enjoyable. But experiments have found that this isn’t so true for fat. Test subjects only went so far with sugary or salty formulations, but they did not stop with the fatty ones. No matter how rich the food, it was so pleasing to the brain that it never gave a signal to stop eating…which may be due to our evolutionary need for energy-dense foods. This has contributed to the rise of the main vehicle for saturated fat: processed cheese. When skim milk became popular, this left food producers with an excess of milkfat on their hands. They found they could still make a profit on it by sneakily reintroducing it back to the consumers who were trying to avoid it…but putting cheese into everything. In crust, in Lunchables, mixed with chocolate…
  • SALT: We Are Not Born with a Taste for Salt, Nor Is It Irreversible. Although babies are born with a craving for the sweet, this is not true of the salty. A study of 2 groups of babies—one subjected to their parents’ normal salt-heavy diets, another who were on a salt-restricted diet—demonstrated how the first group developed an increasing desire for salt (getting into licking salt piles right off the plate), whereas the second could care less. The more we are exposed to salt, the more we want it. So food companies effectively created a salt craving where none existed…resulting in an epidemic of high-blood pressure and heart disease. However, this salt addiction can be reversed. It was also discovered that those put on a low-salt diet eventually reduced their taste for it.

And if we’re talking food, I’m eventually going to talk bugs (I’m a great dinner guest).

The industry often defends its use of salty-sugary-fatty-ness as a means to produce tasty but cheap foods, which will help meet inevitable food crisis we’ll have with 9 billion mouths to feed. However, the devastating health consequences of using these ingredients to make processed food palatable make this problematic at best, and kinda evil.

Instead, the low cost of processed unhealthy food are thwarting the development of healthier ways of feeding the world.

Like with bugs!


Why Eat Bugs #3: Humane Husbandry

July 14, 2014

Debeaking chickens so they can’t peck each other to death in their cannibalism-inducing close quarters. The “docking” (or dismemberment) of piglet tails to avoid insanely bored pigs from eating those tails off.  The feeding of cows to cows in the form of bovine-rendered protein disguised in their feed like a banal farm-version of the meat-pie scene in “Titus Andronicus.”

Industrial animal husbandry is a horror show.

And yet, however much I am disgusted by this horror show, the disgust is forgotten or compartmentalized or overwhelmed when I’m confronted with a plate of golden-fried chicken, the aroma of BBQ ribs, a medium-rare peppercorn-encrusted rib-eye. I can very much enjoy the delicious ends, however vaguely aware I am of the monstrous means.

Nonetheless, unease persists. I can’t bring myself to watch the industry footage in documentaries like PETA’s “Meet Your Meat.” In part, this avoidance is out of an anticipated annoyance of PETA’s expected shrill and self-righteous rhetoric (even if it’s delivered in the rich baritone of ).


But it is also out of a refusal to confront the discomforting (and let’s face it, unnecessary) recognition of my own complicity in perpetuating institutionalized cruelty with my meat-heavy food choices.

Because with that recognition, my latent conscience will demand some action. And perhaps what keeps me in this passive denial is a sense that there are no viable alternatives.

Expensive and dubiously-labelled free-range options? Expensive perhaps as ethically-questionable pescatariansim? Bland and complicated veganism?

At my best, I practice moderation to mitigate the feelings of guilt. I go vegetarian once a week. Sometimes. I think. It’s been a few weeks. (Months.)

But what if chickens loved being crowded together? What if pigs naturally teemed in some wild pork pyramid? What if cows naturally and unproblematically feasted on each other?

Crickets, worms, ants, and many other edible insects prefer and thrive in these conditions. The despicable practices of commercial farming are humane when applied to insects. So these long-standing practices that have proven effectiveness in maximizing yields could be applied lovingly to insects without invoking the hypocritical outrage of folks like me.

Even better, many insects consume organic waste. So entomophagy can mitigate both my animal cruelty guilt along with my recycling guilt.

Tiny Farms even gives you the opportunity to practice you’re own ethical husbandry with their open-source farm kit. (I’m thinking about it…)

However, it still remains to be tasted how good of an alternative this is. I have not yet eaten a bug-only meal and am skeptical despite my fondness for the unconventional.

But I’m hoping there is more to bug-eating than just the superficial appeal of the bizarre. There are a lot of good reasons for eating bugs. (I have already considered feed-conversion rates and entomophagy’s carbon footprint. The humaneness of its production may also amplify the enjoyment. A lot goes into pleasure.

And I would be remiss in bringing up ethics without addressing the qualms of killing a living thing that feels pain. Genius David Foster Wallace’s perfect essay “Consider the Lobster” (that appeared in the 2004 issue of Gourmet as the most beautifully mispublished works in American journalism) tangled with the morality of boiling a creature alive for one’s pleasure.

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Maybe this requires its own blog post. For now, I can only admit my own perhaps flawed moral scale. I feel better about the consumption of a cow’s weight in crickets than putting one cow through the institutionalized terror of commercial beef production.

And speaking of lobster… if we can get over and actually charge a premium for the consumption of such a weird-looking gross bottom feeder (that eats whatever is on the ocean floor, like fish carcasses, droppings, filth, etc.), it may not be so much to get into a similarly-carapaced arthropod like the grasshopper that only eats grass in the open light of day. Seems like a pretty good alternative.

Some things I learned from THE POWER OF HABIT

July 8, 2014

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The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg was a fun behavioral econ read about how our brains turn one-time decisions into repeated behaviors, and how that can be manipulated or optimized—for ourselves, organizations, and society. 40% of our actions are the result of habits, and not conscious decisions—so it’s wise to think about what we spend a lot of doing and not thinking about.

I have some minor gripes with the book. Duhigg goes off the rails in applying the habit framework. Instead of interpreting clearly identifiable habits, he applies it to behaviors and trends that strain the definition (like the civil rights movement). The book suffers from that condition of a hammer, to whom everything looks like a nail. To this guy writing about habits, everything looks like a habit.

Nonetheless, it’s written with an enjoyably brisk journalistic style and I learned a bunch, including…

  • Habits have a 3-part structure: Our brains form habits as a means to conserving effort. I once exerted precious brain-energy to actively seek out some sweet fresh morning bakery. Now I just automatically make a bakery stop on the way back from my Crossfit workout. (The brain is good at habit formation, not so good at mitigating cognitive dissonance.) The habit structure is as follows: 1. the cue (I’ve finished my sweaty morning workout); 2. the routine (I eat a sugary baked treat); 3. the reward (I exalt in the sugar-endorphin haze).


  • It’s more effective to tweak an existing bad habit than it is to eliminate it: When it comes to the self-help portion of the book, there’s no new age (and grammatically incoherent) talk of being “more present” in our actions. Duhigg accepts habit formation as inevitable. Such brain-energy-saving strategies are how our brains are able to function.  I could try to just stop wolfing down pain au chocolats in my sweaty gym cloths, but that’s unlikely to work. Once a habit is formed, it’s difficult to eliminate altogether. It’s more effective to tweak the unwanted routine part of the “habit loop.” This is how Alcoholics Anonymous can be effective. For many alcoholics, it’s not the drunkenness that’s their reward, but the bar-room social interactions that accompanies it. So AA responds to the loneliness cue that might compel one to a bar by replacing the evening drinking routine with an evening meeting routine, while generating the same social reward. However, this takes an acute awareness of the cues and rewards that drive a habit, which isn’t immediately evident. For my post-workout bakery routine, is my cue the workout? Should I really stop blasting my quads? Is my reward really the sugar-endorphin buzz? Some helpful suggestions are posed on how I might go about figuring this out.
  • The strength of weak ties: This insight came out of the problematic portion of the book regarding the habits of societies, and how the civil rights movement was mobilized from out of a society habit formation pattern. I’m skeptical of how much habit formation plays into this, but I thought his description of the role of social networks in motivating action was insightful. Rosa Parks was not the only African American to be arrested for sitting in the wrong part of the bus in Montgomery in 1955. But she was extremely well connected, as an active member of many organizations. As a result, she had many “weak ties,” many acquaintances from these social groups.  Weak-tie acquaintances can be more important than close friends because weak ties “give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong,” introducing us to new ideas or opportunities or issues we would not be familiar with. In this way, our weak ties can be more influential than our strong-tie relationships. Parks’ many weak ties help to encourage the Montgomery masses to get involved after her incarceration, and not the many racist bus incidents that preceded it. (So if this bug-eating movement is to take off, I need more shallow pals…)

Why Eat Bugs #2: Carbon Footprint

July 6, 2014


In my continuing effort to persuade myself to get into eating bugs (or entomophagy…or “Prairie Shrimping”), it’s compelling consider the impact it would have on carbon footprints.

Not to poop in everyone’s 4th-of-July BBQ, but conventional animal protein production requires a huge energy expenditure, for…

  • growing a massive amount of feed,
  • transporting the feed and animals,
  • operating the feed mills, factory farms, slaughterhouses, and meat-processing plants,
  • keeping the meat refrigerated

Here are some comparisons to give context to the amount of fuel needed for your meat-orgy of a picnic…

  • It takes as much fuel drive a car 10 miles as it does to produce 1 half-pound beef patty.
  • It takes 1 gallon of fuel to produce 1 pound of grain-fed beef.
  • To provide the yearly average beef consumption of an American family of 4 requires over 260 gallons of fuel.
  • It takes 28 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of meat protein.

[CONFESSION: I'm no carbon-abstaining saint (yet). I did buy 16lbs of shoulder meat this weekend for an epic ancho-flavored slow-roast. The amount of carbon dioxide this caused is equivalent to a drive from Madison, WI to Little Rock, AK... but this trip would in no way be equivalent in epicness to the resulting smoky-spicy tacos.]

The United Nations estimates that livestock-related emissions comprise about 14.5% of all manmade greenhouse gas output. That is a huge amount for an activity that doesn’t even register for many of us as a big energy consumer. (The top 2 are electricity at 32% and transportation at 28%.)

The world’s population is projected to grow almost 30% in the next 35 years, reaching 9 billion in 2050. If conventional animal protein continues to be relied upon, the already huge food-production emissions will continue to rise.

So about the footprint. A recent University of Oxford study determined how our eating choices impact our carbon footprint. Here’s a comparison of kilogram of carbon dioxide produced per diet-type…

  • Heavy Meat Eaters (“heavy” means 3.5oz a day…the average American eats 4oz): 7.19 kilograms of carbon dioxide
  • Medium Meat Eaters: 5.63
  • Low Meat Eaters: 4.67
  • Fish Eaters: 3.91
  • Vegetarians: 3.81
  • Vegans: 2.89(!)

To go vegan more than halves your carbon footprint. No need for public transportation or recycling to be an environmental good guy. Even just eating less meat can have a significant impact.

Although there are no numbers on the carbon footprint for a bug-only diet, because no one does this (yet… I think…), one can imagine it would be equivalent to the pescatarian/vegetarian numbers or lower. In insect-protein production, you do not have the extensive feed and processing needs of conventional animal protein.

So whenever I do confront my first insect meal, I can be consoled that I’m going from a carbon hoof-print to a teeny-tiny carbon ant-print. But will it taste as awesome as a 4-hour-roasted pulled-pork taco… eh…


20 Crossfit Haiku

July 1, 2014

When I first started Crossfit awhile back, I tweeted out a haiku for the first 20 times I went. Here they are…


Day 1:

Did many deadlifts

With men who bloodied themselves

Scraping weight up shins

Day 2:

Too many burpees.

One hundred kettle bell swings.

High-fives all around.

Day 3:

Sore from yesterday.

Bruised wrists from kettle snatches.

And now more abuse.

Day 4:

First time I fall down

Snatching what I could not catch.

More shaken than sore.

Day 5:

Run, burpees, deadlifts.

Old, tired, but I finish first.

Coach yells, “3 MORE ROUNDS!”

Day 6:

Headstand day is a

bad day to wear loose short shorts.

Blood-filled head don’t care.

Day 7:

Now, I expect that

Crossfit heart-attack feeling.

Not just scared by it.

Day 8:

Coach: “You triathlete?

You can live in the pain zone.”

Me: “No. But I know.”

Day 9:

My olympic lifts

Are not much of an event.

Children outlift me.

Day 10:

For kipping pull-ups,

I rubberband myself to

The bar, slingshot up.

Day 11:

In warm-up, girl says,

“You look like the guy from ‘House.'”

Limping, rumpled, pissed.

Day 12:

Coach eyes the one thir-

ty-five I’ll try 5 thruster

sets with. Asks, “You sure?”

Day 13:

My hands blister from

Eighty-eight deadlift burpees.

I wince to high-five

Day 14:

Hand-release pushups

Are a self-waterboarding

When you sweat a lot.

Day 15:

I do headstand holds

Even though I have a cold.

Runny nose runs up.

Day 16:

It’s easy to trick

Myself to do what I can’t.

Recovering ain’t.

Day 17:

My hang power clean

Is not what one would call “clean.”

I’m working on it.

Day 18:

Today’s WOD: AMRAP

WB’s, DL’s and

KB’s. FML.

Day 19:

Coach posted a pic

Of me doing KB swings.

Gut looks distended.

Day 20:

They play nu metal.

Compelling us to work out

To barking psychos.

Why Eat Bugs #1: Feed-Conversion Rates

July 1, 2014


I don’t eat bugs. Not in a significant self-aware way, at least. But there are many good reasons to. I want to list the reasons I find most compelling—mainly as an exercise of pre-emptive self-persuasion. So that when I am confronted with a bowl of crickets, I can use these reasons to help me to overcome my culturally-constructed food avoidance.

In other words, I will use reason to get over the gross-out.

By the way, there’s a word for bug-eating. It’s “entomophagy…” an ugly stuffy-sciency word that’s another barrier to overcome.

One big reason eat bugs involve feed conversion rates. It’s well known how unsustainable current animal protein production is. However, compare this to insect protein production.

For example, if you take 10lbs of feed, it gets you the following conventional animal protein:


5lbs of chicken


3lbs of pork


1lb of meat

However, if you take the same amount of feed—10lbs—and give it to crickets, you get…

cricket9lbs of cricket meat!

That’s so much protein!

Since bugs are cold- blooded, they are much more efficient at converting feed to meat than their warm-blooded buddies…which have to waste energy keeping themselves warm.

From sustainability point-of-view, the advantages are clear. You get almost twice as much insect protein from the same amount of feed than you would from chicken. You get 9 times as much as you would from a cow.

With increasing population rates, this type of food source could be a reliable and efficient protein source. It’s already happening in Thailand. 

However, is this enough for entomophagy (or better… maybe call it “land-crabbing”?) to take off in the US? Although it’s a lot of crickets, they are still crickets.

Although, I haven’t (knowingly) eaten crickets yet (can’t wait!), the efficiency of their production is a good reason.



Some of the Many Things I Learned from Richard Sennett’s THE CRAFTSMAN

October 26, 2009

sennettbookIt’s been awhile since I’ve been able to post. 2 reasons. Reason #1: Life. Reason #2: The Craftsman is a freaking dense 300-page book.

It’s dense, but it’s a rewarding density. Sennett is no marketing guru or new media Johnny-come-lately, but a real deal philosopher. He name drops fellow American pragmatist Richard Rorty and is probably a little too fond of his cello playing. So don’t walk into this thing expecting charts, slick lingo, or brisk case studies.

But walk into this thing you should (and expect to stay awhile). It is very much a work book. And a foundation shaking one, one of those special works which fundamentally changes you (like Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, and who also reviewed this book for the NYT). It is a game-changer, workspeak Sennett would never use.

Sennett’s central premise is how “making is thinking.” He uses craftwork, or the work you do with your hands, as a means of thinking about all work. It’s an awesome premise, brilliantly utilized. Sennett will start by talking about very concrete things like chopping vegetables or crafting a violin, and then extrapolate from these common or highly technical activities larger themes of universal applicability that both deepens and informs what it means to do a job.

This book makes you like work. It makes want to work better.

Comprehensive assessment of this book is impossible. There are numerous digressions into areas wide-ranging and esoteric (from Julia Childs’ recipe writing to Wittgenstein’s construction project). But if you’re able to hang onto the central conceit how making is thinking, how doing physical manual labor allows us a very effective means to think and improve on all kinds of work, you’ll acquire new sensitivities to and appreciations of worklife. Here were a few of the many neat ideas…

  • The Anti-Social Expert If you have (or are) one of these types in your work organization, it means something’s very wrong with your organization. Like violin craftsman Stradivardi who kept all the secrets to his craft to himself such that no one can reproduce his instruments, working in a structure that allows this isolation leads to downfall of this organization. The goal is to connect these experts to the non-experts, to make the experts accountable to the non-experts by making their skills understandable to all. By making the skills of your best understandable to the entire organization, it enables an overall understanding of quality and the means to achieve it.
  • The Hand: Unequal Strengths Working Together Look at your hand and how the pinky would have no chance in the ring with the thumb, or even forefinger. But that’s not to say it has nothing to contribute. From thinking about the hand’s coordination, Sennett draws larger insights on how to coordinate work among all such situations of unequal strengths. For example, like learning how shape a chord on a guitar, it happens best when practiced together.
  • Begin with Cleaving a Grain of Boiled Rice How should you approach any new task? What is the true demonstration of skill? You take the cue from master Chinese chefs who espouse the virtue of minimum force. Not by going all out, but by establishing a baseline of the minimum necessary power to get the job done. Less mess, more precision. It is also a means of self-government. Self-control is yet another form of mental understanding that emerges from hand skills.

There’s a lot more here. Maybe I’ll do another post.

Some Things I Learned from Chris Anderson’s FREE: THE FUTURE OF A RADICAL PRICE

August 24, 2009

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The latest from Chris Anderson, of The Long Tail fame. And like The Long Tail, it’s pretty upbeat about the trend it takes on: the increasing prevalence of free as a price. But, unlike The Long Tail, I’m left feeling unconvinced.

This could have a lot to do with having read Malcolm Gladwell’s critical assessment before picking up the book.

Anderson spreads himself really thin in a short book (short at least for the topic). And the bare parts show in many cases. For example, musicians facing the loss of CDs as a revenue stream, can only hope to be compensated by incessant touring or becoming Madonna-famous and sign a 360-deal. Journalists, where media institutions are undermined by opinionated crackpots freely blogging in bathrobes, can only hope to excel with their craft so as not to be compensated for practicing it, but by becoming a teacher and teaching it… and be compensated by teaching the crackpots how to write. How you get crackpots out of their bathrobes to register for a journalism class is beyond Anderson’s willy-nilly scope.

But because it is a short read, it’s still worthwhile to pick up. Anderson writes well enough, and he’s in touch with many of the examples of “free” pricing strategies and their effects that this book still still qualifies as a good start. Here are a few things I learned:

  • We are drawn to free because of our fear of loss. Drawing from Dan Ariely’s awesome behavioral economics book, Predictably Irrational, he references Ariely’s study with the chocolates and insights on why people seem to overvalue that which is freely offered. He spends on day selling 2 kinds of chocolates: cheapy Hershey Kisses for 1 cent and fine Lindt chocolate for 15 cents (way below market cost). People are kind of split and go for both. The next day, gives away the Hershey’s and sells the Lindt for 14 cents. Even though there is rationally no difference between the comparable values (14 cents), people pretty go for the free Hershey’s… not considering the value they get for the Lindt at 14 cents. I tend to think it’s just that people don’t want to bother trying to find the 14 pennies. But Ariely feels it’s that people fear loss. In our minds, by not paying, we risk nothing, so nothing will be lost.
  • Each new abundance creates a new scarcity. When you have free video games or music, you end up with scarce free time and attention. The excessive corn production has given us a lot of cheap crappy food, but not a lot of affordable and diverse produce or healthy people.
  • Information wants to be free and expensive. That famous annoyingly ridiculous cliche that information “wants” to be free is only a part taken from a paradox observed by Stewart Brand (counterculture dude behind the Whole Earth Catalog … which established the theory which created the WWW). He was discussing the ways in which information exists in this free-expensive paradox, it wants to spread meme-like, but it also creates/produces value. Anderson interviews him and asks why he gives information agency in the quote. Stew anthropomorphizes information because “it’s more poetic that way.” I can’t for the next programmer dude to tell me what information wants to do.

Anderson also references Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, which I’ll say again that this book will blow your mind and should be read immediately.

Some Things I Learned from Martin Lindstrom’s BUYOLOGY

July 20, 2009


This book is rad. Clearly written with great and compelling counter-intuitive ideas, and neat and new research to support them.

A lot of reviews of this book have challenged the legitimacy of the research presented in Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. However, the key benefit of the book is not exactly about the legitimacy of the research. The data from new fMRI brain scan technology is so cutting-edge no one’s really too sure how to interpret or apply it with great effectiveness. I’m not sure the point of the book is to prove the veracity of the data.

Rather, this great book explains how the insights from this (however dubious) research is actively employed in advertisements and marketing strategies everywhere. Whether it’s about manipulating our mirror neurons, or taking advantage of our secondary brand associations, this book does a great job of calling our attention to the more subtle selling strategies that constitute the majority of the most exciting (and disturbing) marketing these days.

In addition to improving marketing practice, becoming aware of how the less conscious parts of your brain are actively targeted (I think) will be increasingly essential to what it means to be a self-aware person. It won’t just be about scrutinizing your belief system, but how the world is shaping your tastes and instinct.

For example, the sound your straw makes when it punctures the cup lid at McDonald’s is completely engineered for you to associate it with the restaurant. That sound becomes linked to thirst and the fast food meal in the sucker of a brain we all seem to have.

There are some many great ideas in this book. Here’s a few that will stick with me.

  • The Vampire Effect: Sex sells, but it only really sells itself. Or so Martin and crew discovered with a study analyzing people’s retention of sexually explicit ads vs. non-sexual ads. The sexually explicit ads certainly got more attention from our brain, but they didn’t do anything to effectively sell the product they were used in the service of. People had a much harder time recalling what the sexy ad was about than the not-sexy ad. Sex in advertising is said to have a “vampire effect,” effectively sucking our attention away from the content of the advertising message. Hot chix may be great, but don’t expect them to move vacuum cleaners.
  • Mirror Neurons: Martin describes contagious yawning as a function of mirror neurons, the neurons that fire for someone when they observe the actions of someone else. In the brain, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the observed’s action, as though the observer were his/herself acting. Thus, contagious yawning, as well as the thrill from watching action movies, and hunger when we see others eating. It is this neurological phenomena that marketers and advertisers manipulate repeatedly and with increasing sophistication. Beware of your reaction to ads portraying people doing stuff…you’re getting played.
  • Product Placements Don’t Work: Product placements, for the most part, do not work. Whether we see Brad Pitt nonchalantly take a bite of a Pizza Hut pizza, or Zooey Deschanel sneeze outside a FedEx Office, it does nothing to induce us to pursue (or even remember) that product or service. Only in the instance where the product is used as a key part of the plot (Reese’s in E.T.) does the placement have any resonance with the audience. Get ready movies where Joan Allen freaks out when her Cinnabon doesn’t have enough frosting…My screenplay, Joan Allen Spazzes at Cinnabon, has been optioned.


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