TEDxMontclair Features Montclair State Professor

Professor Debra Zellner serves up her food research at TEDx conference

Photo: Mike Peters

Professor Debra Zellner speaks at the TEDxMontclair conference.

Montclair State University Psychology Professor Debra Zellner joined national and local leaders and thinkers as a featured presenter for the TEDxMontclair conference held at the University Conference Center on November 9. With the theme, “Eat. Play. Live.,” the conference focused on how people can live healthier, better lives.

Zellner spoke about her research into food pairing and presentation and its effect on how much people like the taste of the food. Two discoveries from her research could be used to encourage people to make healthier food choices: When a food is presented on the same plate with foods a diner dislikes, it tastes better than when presented with more appealing foods, and food styled artistically and beautifully on the plate is perceived as more delicious than the same food served with less attention to the presentation.

“My research shows that you can make healthy food taste better simply by serving it on the same plate with something less tasty or serving it artistically,” Zellner says. “It could make a big difference in getting people to eat healthier.”

TEDx speakers are selected by the organizers from among a pool of applicants. They are limited to 18 minutes or less to get their message across and the conferences are famous for these fast-paced, dynamic presentations. “I found all of the talks interesting and enjoyed meeting the other speakers,” says Zellner. “I was particularly pleased to meet Nancy Easton who talked about how she has been working to increase healthy eating in New York City schools.”

“Finding ways to encourage healthy eating is obviously a topic getting a lot of attention,” Zellner adds. “There were a few of us at TEDx whose work focuses on this important issue.”

Zellner hopes to take a sabbatical next year to team up with the Vetri Foundation, which started a school lunch program with low-income school children in Philadelphia. “I hope to collect data looking at the efficacy of different aspects of their program, using what I have learned from 30 years of laboratory investigation,” she says. “The research could have positive real-world applications.”

Read an article about the event in The Montclair Times.

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