Maybe I’m hungry. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’ll eat Cheerios for breakfast. Maybe I won’t. I don’t quite fully grasp a tautology yet, but my vocabulary, along with my worldview, was greatly expanded yesterday while in conversation with a good friend as we exercised. The benefits of working out along side a mathematician.

Defined, a tautology is:

1) a needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word (i.e. “he’s a rookie in his first year).  (From Merriam-Webster Online).

2) an empty or vacuous statement composed of simpler statements in a fashion that makes it logically true whether the simpler statements are factually true or false; for example, the statement “Either it will rain tomorrow or it will not rain tomorrow.” (From freedictionaryonline.com)

I thought of tautologies as I went through my day yesterday and tried to make connections to food. I can spend most of my day debating whether or not I am hungry. Maybe I am truly just a tautological being.

This morning as I read the unhacked New York Times I came across Michael Moss’ article discussing some nudge marketing research taking place in grocery stores. The research is being conducted by Colin Payne, a protege of Brian Wansink, who as a post-doc completely fooled me into eating many M&Ms. “Nudge marketing calls for applying just the right amount of pressure to persuade: not too little, not too much,” states Moss. In stating that most marketing schemes that attempt to get people to eat more fruits and vegetables fail, the subtleness of persuasion may be a welcomed trick.

In one of Dr. Payne’s studies, yellow duct tape was used to divide grocery cart’s baskets in half. A flier told customers to place fruits and vegetables in the front half of their carts. Produce sales more than doubled, from $3.99 per person to $8.85. And better yet, overall sales stayed the same, indicating shoppers were buying less of other, hopefully less nutritious, foods.

In a second study mirrors were placed in the grocery carts. Imagine looking at yourself while deciding whether or not to buy the Oreos. A subtle reminder that the apples might be a better purchase today. At least until you hit the fitness center. Regularly. Preferably with a mathematician who can explain what tautologies are.

What does a tautology have to do with our behavior in a grocery store and why we eat? Probably nothing. But as I walk down the aisles of the local shopping venue battling myself to stay away from the ice cream while alternatively answering “yes” and “no” to the question of “Do I really need this in my freezer?” I can rest comfortably knowing that my battle is defined by logic.

I’m a beginner who is just getting started.

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