By Norman Knight

Ah, fluffy little bunny rabbits hopping with their long ears through the grass twitching their tiny noses as they gently explore the world around them — what’s not to love?

Most of the year, I, too, feel the natural affection as I consider these timid creatures going about their business. But, that changed last week when I noticed our just emerging green bean plants had been nibbled down to where only stalks remained. No longer did I see them as cute, fluffy Easter bunnies. No, these annoying creatures had morphed into destructive garden pests of the same ilk as disgusting and slimy leaf slugs.

Becky and I spent part of the morning constructing a fence around the beans while I pondered my change in attitude. I was aware that although the animals were the same, my words for them had changed.

After our work I sat down to relax and read. Maybe it was a coincidence that I came across an article mentioning green beans and changing perceptions.

The article from a Stanford news release describes a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showing that how one describes a cooked vegetable can determine how likely it is that people will choose to eat it.

The study was part of an effort to find ways to encourage consumers to make healthier dining choices. In other words, Mom reminding us to eat our vegetables is just one of the strategies to get us to eat right.

A slew of studies over decades show that obesity is an ever-growing problem here in the United States and around the world. The rate of increase in obesity worldwide has grown by 28 percent since 1980 while here in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than one-third of adults are classified as obese.

The Stanford study was undertaken in response to this epidemic. The assumption is that eating healthier foods is one way to combat this problem. That’s where the green beans come in.

The researchers wanted to see if labeling foods with “indulgent” and “decadent” descriptors might have an effect on how people perceived food. One problem cited by Bradley Turnwald, lead author of the study, is that previous research shows that people tend to believe ”healthy” food is not as tasty or enjoyable as standard food. Healthy foods are also seen to be less filling and satisfying. I get that. Who believes a low-cal, “health-conscious” dairy shake is as good as a real milkshake?

Researchers conducted the experiment working with a Stanford campus dining hall to provide the same vegetable — green beans, in the article’s example — labeled using four categories: basic (“green beans”); healthy restrictive (“light ’n’ low carb green beans and shallots”); healthy positive (“healthy energy-boosting green beans and shallots”); or indulgent (”sweet sizzlin’ green beans and crispy shallots”).

Over the course of an academic quarter, they found that using the indulgent description resulted in more diners choosing vegetables and overall a greater amount of vegetables being served.

Considering this was a college student population, it might be interesting to do a similar study on Ramen noodles and cold pizza. I also wonder if utilizing studies on the psychology of food names might be helpful for parents trying to get their kids to eat something besides chips, candy and soda pop.

“Here, Honey, indulge your senses with this glass of decadent chilled libation procured from exotic bovines. Oh, and finish your green beans.”

I know a few people who don’t like green beans or vegetables in general. I feel sorry for them. I love veggies and look forward to eating some homegrown later in the summer — if I can stop those annoyingly destructive, evil hopping creatures from eating through my garden, that is.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.