Wetenschap - 27 september 2012

Enjoy your app

Chatting about food around a virtual kitchen table. No more 'preaching' about healthy eating.

8-app-screenshot.jpg
8-app-screenshot.jpg

Foto: .

!!!photo caption: Virtual chat around the kitchen table: exchange knowledge without the preaching.!!!!!What happens if you pair up a rational scientist with a creative spirit and then give them free rein? Science festival Food4You bravely took this risk, with a surprising result. Laura Bouwman, assistant professor of Health and Society, was paired up with game designer Berend Weij. And now they are presenting...the virtual kitchen table.
This app enables users to swap stories about eating: how often you eat meat, what inspires you in the kitchen or a personal story. The developers assume this informal exchange of information will improve users' eating behaviour. An approach that is entirely in line with Bouwman's research field of Salutogenesis, based on the philosophy that we should look for sources of health rather than focusing on avoiding the causes of disease.
Facebook
Bouwman thinks that chatting around the kitchen table is one of those sources. According to her, experts and marketing dictate what we should eat these days. Apparently, these constant messages from above alienate consumers from their food.  Bouwman: 'We need to reinject inspiration for healthy eating into everyday conversations around the table.'
In practice, users see a dining table on their tablet, computer or smartphone with a set of menus. You personalize these with photos and your own stories. You can also hunt through other people's stories, including one or two experts, and comment, share and 'like' via Facebook, of course. This is precisely the process Bouwman wants to research: 'This app really shows you what people say around the kitchen table and how social norms relating to food are determined.'
Of course the ultimate idea is for the program to lead to a change in behaviour, but indirectly and without preaching. 'Often the aim of changing behaviour is too obvious,' says Weij. 'You need to arouse people's curiosity instead and get them involved socially.' 
Firm indicators
It is difficult to say when this goal has been achieved. Bouwman can imagine other scientists will be decrying the lack of quantifiable evidence: 'We are not weighing and measuring the users so it's difficult to find firm indicators for success. We are aiming for active involvement in food choice as an indicator for success; we will be coming back to the problem of how to measure that exactly.'
The makers themselves are having a lot of fun with the app even before the first user has registered. They speculate enthusiastically about participants who start virtual cooking clubs. Or a big party where they meet up. But first the app has to be promoted at Food4You. The location - inevitably - is a real kitchen table. 

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