The Growing Experience

What do two SGAers do when they have time on their hands? They start a nonprofit using community-based social marketing (CBSM). Say hello to Appleseed!

Philip Kao, Adam Quinn and pediatrician Ruth Chiang Kao founded Appleseed, a nonprofit with SGA roots that aims to inspire the choices and actions that matter most for the future of our children and planet. They’re doing this through projects that improve nutrition and agricultural sustainability.

Their first project brought them to The Growing Experience farm in the Carmelitos housing development. Once an abandoned field of sod, The Growing Experience is now an urban farm operated by Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles. The farm was facing a particular problem: minimal participation in their fresh fruit and vegetable programs from the surrounding community.

Appleseed saw the potential of this farm, along with its untapped benefits for the community, and suggested a solution: CBSM! Using the tried-and-true methods of CBSM, Appleseed gained insights from residents of the housing development and quickly realized that residents felt that the garden wasn’t theirs. Not only that, but the concept of sustainable food felt foreign to them. Learning this, the Appleseed crew immediately set out to bridge these gaps by planning and organizing an event that would A) give residents a chance to connect with their local farm and its farmers, Jimmy and Holly and B) signify to residents in this community that this garden was open—for them!

The very first annual Community Cook-Off event was held at The Growing Experience and was a great success. Six residents participated in a cook-off competition, where they prepared delicious dishes using fresh vegetables from the garden. An amazing turnout of over 60 guests and kids came to visit the garden for the first time, where they tasted and voted for their personal favorites in the competition. An awesome community member, Purpose, volunteered to MC and DJ the entire event. Did we mention there was a talent show for the kids?

With stomachs full and new relationships formed, the event came to a close with an air of excitement for next year’s cook-off. And just recently, Appleseed received word from farmer Holly that a number of the cook-off guests had begun stopping by the garden to pick up their fruits and vegetables! If success was a picture, I think it would look something like this:

For an inside look into the event, check out:

Bravo, Appleseed! To follow Appleseed’s progress and hear about their upcoming project in Guatemala, subscribe to their monthly newsletter at

Do We Get Happier With Age?

What makes us happy? Is it lots of money and a big house? How about a cute puppy or a hug from a loved one? Perhaps it’s a combination of things, which varies for everyone. Even so, there is a common theme when it comes to how people perceive happiness – a thread that can tell us a lot about our own emotional state.

Or perhaps it is something even simpler: maybe we just get happier with age. It makes sense if you think about it, we learn how to enjoy life more the more practice we have at it. Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen explains in the following TED talk that research demonstrates that as we get older we become happier and more at peace with the world at large. Not a bad thing to look forward to, as we all get older by the year.

Choice is Complicated

When I go to a restaurant, I like to order a-la-carte. Unless it’s a killer package deal, I prefer to get the appetizer, main dish and dessert of my choice for a three-course meal. Unlike me, my mom and her friends like to get prix fixe meals where all the thinking has been done for them.

Everyone has different tolerance levels for choice. I bet chefs sometimes wonder if choice should be given to those asking for their steak well done. Or check out this funny story about how the Japanese feel about a woman’s choice to drink green tea with sugar.

Choice has always been held high up as a veritable human right and part of the virtues of freedom. But is it?

The market seems to believe the more choices the merrier (consumers want their 40+ kinds of near-identical bottled water, coffee, toothpaste, etc). Then we learned that too much choice is paralyzing (the famed jam study). But wait, it’s not that choice alone is bad, it’s that what we really want is limited choices (Malcolm Gladwell makes the case around spaghetti sauces).

At the end of the day, however, we irrational human beings usually regret the choice we make and immediately think we could have made a better choice.

So what are we to do? What choice do we have?

Here are some surprising findings around our so-called freedom to choose. In fact, research has shown that we are not as free in choosing as we think.

  • Anchored: once we have set a price for something, we are swayed by that anchor independent of the choices’ merits or pitfalls, as seen in this research paper
  • Not a copycat: we have strong impulses to be unique, even if doing so goes against our real preferences, as seen in this case study on beer ordering
  • Decoy: setting up an unlikely but present choice helps to sway us to a more likeable choice, as seen in many restaurant menus that have a $45 steak item that makes everything look super cheap

The bottom line is that choice isn’t good or bad and is in fact a lot more complex in its cultural and irrational layers.

Three Myths of Happiness

In recent years, happiness has become an increasingly popular topic in the field of psychology.  But as many researchers have found, it is a tricky topic to study. Happiness is easily misread, difficult to measure, and often created by counter-intuitive actions.
One researcher at the University of California Riverside, Professor  Sonja Lyubomirsky, has made some significant strides towards understanding what makes us happy.

In her book, “The How of Happiness” she creates an interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive guide to understanding what happiness is – and what it isn’t – based on her cognitive research of thousands of individuals.

To start, her research suggests that 50% of our happiness is set based on our genes, 10% is based on life circumstances and 40% is based on intentional decision we make. So while 60% of our happiness is out of our control, 40% is in our control… and yet many of the decision we make do not align with increasing our happiness. And to compound that problem, many of the expectations of society (i.e., societal social norms) push us towards a path that actually decreases happiness. Continue reading “Three Myths of Happiness”

The Psychology of Wine Tasting

At their annual conference in Princeton, New Jersey, the American Association of Wine Economists, reenacted a famous wine tasting from 1976. The study was comprised of a blind tasting of the best wines from France versus the relatively unknown but burgeoning wines from Napa Valley. The results back in ‘76, showed the Napa wines famously standing toe to toe with the very best wines from France and in many cases even beating them. This result catapulted Napa onto the oenophiles map as a preeminent region for wines.

Well, at their recent conference they decided to reenact that now famous (at least for Wine Economists) event, however, this time with a twist. This time the wine tasting panel tested the best wines from France versus America’s finest wines from the great vineyards of …New Jersey. On hand were some of the best wine judges from France, Belgium and the US to help with this unexpected tasting. Lo and behold, some of the New Jersey wines ranked second, third and fourth in the whites and third and fifth in the reds…all the while coming in at 5% the cost of their French counterparts (that would be 5% the cost, as in 1/20 the price of French wines)

So why do French wines cost 20 times what their comparable New Jersey counterparts do? Because they’re French, and general society says that French wine is the best. This is our tendency to superimpose our narrative story of the world into our sensory perception. And in honor of this quirk of our mental circuitry and in the spirit of this great research project, SGA annually conducts its own blind wine tasting. Continue reading “The Psychology of Wine Tasting”