Social psychologist Traci Mann studies self-control, health behavior, and how we diet at the University of Minnesota, where she is an associate professor; she moved to Minnesota in 2007 after over a decade at UCLA. Before participating in a panel on whether health propaganda works, she talked about food in the Zócalo green room: L.A. sushi, Minnesota ice cream, and what astronauts miss most about the food on earth while they’re up in space.
What do the Twin Cities have over L.A.?
What they really have, why I chose to leave L.A. and go there, is because they have good public schools for my children. We also have better ice cream, and people don’t realize this—if you think about it, we’re right next to Wisconsin, and you think of Wisconsin as having great ice cream. But Minnesota has unbelievably great ice cream. I’ve been known to say my favorite thing about Minneapolis is the taxi line at the airport—it’s indoors, it’s heated and you don’t get cold, and there’s never a line. But it’s bad if my favorite thing about a city is getting away from it.
What’s the best part about coming back to L.A.?
I ate sushi today. That was pretty awesome.
What’s the first thing astronauts want to eat when they return to earth?
I don’t actually know that. I’m studying astronauts. I’m studying what they eat in space and how we can make that better for them. NASA sent us all the exit interviews with astronauts—when they get back they do a long interview about their experiences. They sent us just the parts on eating or stress. None of them said anything about a particular food they wanted to eat, but there was a lot of talk about their being sick of the food up there—and being excited to smell their food.
What’s the last habit you tried to kick?
I tried to stop biting my fingernails. [Holds up her hands.] And see how well that went.
Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
My brother called me Ray; it’s short for my name in Pig Latin. It’s the stupidest nickname ever. He still calls me Ray. Nobody else calls me that. My cousin called me Spacy Traci, but that was not accurate. I always thought, yes I get it, it rhymes. But I was a very serious, bookish kid.
What item would you bid for on eBay?
My purses. I buy some things on eBay, what can I say? My purse is from eBay. I bought some clothing on eBay—it’s embarrassing. I would bid on a goofy thing—like if some author I like autographed something.
It’s your last meal; what do you want to eat?
Oh dear God, can I have lots of stuff? Well maybe because we just talked about it, sushi and ice cream—those would definitely be part of it. Maybe something with blue cheese. What else do I want? You’re just getting what I want right now. I’m pro-eating; I’m anti-dieting. I guess Marshmallow Peeps would figure in for sure. What else? Nothing is striking me as crucial other than that. Some alcohol—like a good cocktail.
Whom or what do you root for?
I was rooting for Tony Kushner at the Oscars the other night; he lost. In general—boring—I root for my kids. My son had a solo in a band concert last spring, and I think I was holding my breath during it.
What’s your hidden talent?
I’ve dabbled in standup comedy. I hate to say it because that makes it sound like I think I’m good at it, but I’ve tried it and enjoyed it, and I’d like to try it again if the opportunity ever were to arise. Which it won’t …
If you had one more hour in the day, what would you do with it?
I’m so slothful as it is. It’s almost like I don’t even need it, because I already do things I want most every day. It’s a terrible thing for a working mom to say. I think I would like to have a more leisurely dinner with my husband without my kids around. Sorry, kids!