Political Science Educator: volume 26, issue 2
Debra Leiter, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Students in an environmental politics class often express frustration with the non-sustainable practices of others. Given that many of these students act with sustainability in mind–public transportation, reusable water bottles, etc.–their frustrations are grounded in their own experience. As political scientists, we recognize that changing public attitudes and behaviors is one of the political world’s perennial issues, and public opinion formation and change is a robust area of political science research. Yet getting students to understand and engage with theories of public opinion stability is challenging. How do you get students to understand why changing behaviors and attitudes is difficult when they have adopted behaviors in line with their political preferences? One answer is to have them put their mouth where their mouth is.
The way America eats is not particularly sustainable. Our high protein diets tend to emphasize livestock that is high in land usage and emissions (Pimentel and Pimentel 2003). One solution to this problem is to use a more efficient source of protein: insects. Entomophagy is practiced by more than 2 billion people globally, and insects are a more sustainable and affordable protein than other forms of livestock (Huis, Gurp, and Dicke 2014). Yet the most common response of Americans to this dietary change is one of disgust (Sogari et al. 2023)
We thus have a perfect situation for a lesson in persuasion and public opinion change: crickets! While many students practice other sustainable practices behaviors, very few have eaten insects. Thus, students come face-to-face with the challenge of changing their own behavior. In the recipe below, I lay out the instructions for this two-part lesson in public opinion change. In part one, students experience and engage directly with edible insects themselves, and in part two, they are charged with persuading others to try them.
Recipe: Cricket Brownies à la Public Opinion
Prep Time: At least one week of public opinion lectures
I recommend introducing this lesson at the end of a unit on public opinion. This background enriches the experience for the students and gets them to see the connections between theory and praxis.
Cook Time: Two Class Periods
I recommend using two class periods for this lesson. The first will allows the students to try the insects themselves, and the second will acts as an applied lesson by having the students try to persuade others.
Group-work makes this easier to scale to larger classes. The greatest limitation is the time and cost of producing cricket brownies for student consumption.
- Cricket Brownies (100)
Rather than having students start with edible insects on their own, I recommend using insect protein powder in baked goods, as this is a lower barrier to entomophagy, and helps to reduce both neophobia and disgust responses (Gurdian et al. 2021). Practically, brownie mix is easy to acquire, and some edible insect companies offer pre-made insect brownie mixes. I mixed standard brownie and cricket brownie mixes, together and then cut the brownies into bite- sized pieces.
- Class Emphasizing Public Opinion or Behavior
Entomophagy has been used as a teaching tool in environmental sciences classes to great effect (Petersen, Olson, and Rao 2020). I have expanded on these models by connecting it to political behavior and attitudes, both as an opportunity for to allow students to reflect on their experiences self-reflection and to teach students learn the tools of persuasion. Our attitudes towards food are similar many ways to parallel our political attitudes. Food attitudes are shaped through socialization and social pressure (Vermeir and Verbeke 2006), affected by framing (Berger et al. 2018) and correlated with our ideology (Guidetti, Carraro, and Cavazza 2022). Of course, as food become politicized, it can reflects political beliefs more directly (Mosier and Rimal 2020). The connections here are broad and easy to connect for students to make, which is especially. This makes a particularly useful lesson in classes with non-political science majors.
- Optional: Roasted Crickets
Everyone loves brownies. About 75% of my students in class were willing to try cricket brownies. When it came to roasted crickets that still look like crickets bugs, however, which look like crickets, fewer than half of the class took a bite. Students reported it was much harder to get others to try roasted crickets. This creates a useful comparison for students in identifying strategies for environmental change.
- Food and Sustainability Lecture (Day 1)
In the first class, we discussed the issues of sustainability in protein consumption and how insects could be a solution. The lecture began with a conversation on whether students would be willing to try kangaroo (my university’s mascot) as a way of engaging the students with the questions of what is acceptable and unacceptable to eat and why. Following this, we discussed the challenges of protein access worldwide, the issues of sustainability with livestock, and its food’s contributions to environmental quality. The students took an entomophagy attitudes survey (La Barbera et al. 2020), which established a baseline to share with the class.
- Insect Consumption
Students were invited to try cricket brownies. I made sure that students knew that trying the crickets was not required, and that everyone should be comfortable with any decision. I recommend making this an opt-in decision, rather than an opt-out one. Next, in what I label “hard mode,” students were invited to try roasted crickets. Since these still look like crickets, fewer students were willing to try them. This allowed for a useful discussion on the underlying resistance to insects, but also highlights why some behaviors are easier to change than others. The class period ended with an exploration of the sources of public opinion change and stability, along with a general discussion of the experience and the reasons behind students’ willingness or reluctance.
- Persuading Others (Day 2)
The following class period, students were asked to put these theories to the test. Working in groups, students were given a large supply of cricket brownies and roasted crickets. At separate tables across campus, I asked students to persuade passersby to try the free cricket brownies. They could not use deception. Anyone trying a cricket brownie had to know up front what they were trying. Beyond that, students could use whatever tactics they wished to test. This was one of the most engaged lessons I have ever observed. From social pressure to education to environmental impact to pure novelty, students employed a variety plethora of tactics and approaches with varying success. One student created two different flyers emphasizing different frames and handed them out at different tables to see which was more persuasive. Another student asked if they could move it to a more populated part of campus. Other A group started a chant when people would walk by and offered to taste the brownies together. Others messaged their friends and encouraged them to come by. By the end of just an hour, the students had given out all of brownies.
As the final part of the assignment, students were asked to write a reflection paper on the experience. I asked students to discuss their own experience, what persuasive strategies worked and why, and how this experience connected with one or more theories of public opinion discussed in class.
Students responded incredibly well to this lesson. The quality of the papers was high and student engagement in the persuasion activity was noteworthy. By taking the lesson outside of the classroom, students were given a workshop in persuasion. In doing so, in engaging others, and challenging themselves, they learned why change can be so difficult; but importantly, they also learned that change is possible, and driven by human intent. So, the next time you want to teach students a lesson in public opinion, let them eat brownies.
Berger, Sebastian et al. 2018. “When Utilitarian Claims Backfire: Advertising Content and the Uptake of Insects as Food.” Frontiers in Nutrition 5:88.
Guidetti, Margherita, Luciana Carraro, and Nicoletta Cavazza. 2022. “Dining with Liberals and Conservatives: The Social Underpinnings of Food Neophobia.” PLoS ONE 17(1): e0262676
Gurdian, Cristhiam E., Damir D. Torrico, Bin Li, Georgianna Tuuri, and Witoon Prinyawiwatkul. 2021. “Effect of Disclosed Information on Product Liking, Emotional Profile, and Purchase Intent: A Case of Chocolate Brownies Containing Edible-Cricket Protein.” Foods 10(8): 1769.
Huis, Arnold van, Henk van Gurp, and Marcel Dicke. 2014. The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet. New York: Columbia University Press.
La Barbera, Francesco, Fabio Verneau, Pernille Nørgaard Videbæk, Mario Amato, and Klaus G. Grunert. 2018. “A Self-Report Measure of Attitudes toward the Eating of Insects: Construction and Validation of the Entomophagy Attitude Questionnaire.” Food Quality and Preference 64: 120-125.
Mosier, Samantha L., and Arbindra P. Rimal. 2020. “Where’s the Meat? An Evaluation of Diet and Partisanship Identification.” British Food Journal 122(3): 896–909.
Petersen, Matthew, Olivia Olson, and Sujaya Rao. 2020. “University Student Perspectives of Entomophagy: Positive Attitudes Lead to Observability and Education Opportunities.” Journal of Insect Science 20(5): 30.
Pimentel, David, and Marcia Pimentel. 2003. “Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(3): 660S-663S.
Sogari, Giovanni, Francesco Riccioli, Roberta Moruzzo, Davide Menozzi, Daylan Amelia Tzompa Sosa, Jie Li, Aijun Liu, and Simone Mancini. 2023. “Engaging in Entomophagy: The Role of Food Neophobia and Disgust between Insect and Non-Insect Eaters.” Food Quality and Preference 104: Article 104764
Vermeir, Iris, and Wim Verbeke. 2006. “Sustainable Food Consumption: Exploring the Consumer ‘Attitude – Behavioral Intention’ Gap.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 19(2): 169–94.
Debra Leiter is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Published since 2005, The Political Science Educator is the newsletter of the Political Science Education Section of the American Political Science Association. All issues of the The Political Science Educator can be viewed on APSA Connects Civic Education page.
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