Influences on Food Choices

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There are many factors that determine what foods a person eats. In addition to personal preferences, there are cultural, social, religious, economic, environmental, and even political factors.

Individual Preferences. Every individual has unique likes and dislikes concerning foods. These preferences develop over time, and are influenced by personal experiences such as encouragement to eat, exposure to a food, family customs and rituals, advertising, and personal values. For example, one person may not like frankfurters, despite the fact that they are a family favorite.

Cultural Influences. A cultural group provides guidelines regarding acceptable foods, food combinations, eating patterns, and eating behaviors. Compliance with these guidelines creates a sense of identity and belonging for the individual. Within large cultural groups, subgroups exist that may practice variations of the group's eating behaviors, though they are still considered part of the larger group. For example, a hamburger, French fries, and a soda are considered a typical American meal. Vegetarians in the United

Someone who is repeatedly exposed to certain foods is less hesitant to eat them. For example, lobster traditionally was only available on the coasts, and is much more likely to be accepted as food by coastal dwellers. [AP/Wide World Photos. Reproduced by permission.]

States, however, eat "veggie-burgers" made from mashed beans, pureed vegetables, or soy, and people on diets may eat a burger made from lean turkey. In the United States these are appropriate cultural substitutions, but a burger made from horsemeat would be unacceptable.

social group: tribe, clique, family, or Social InfluSflCSS. Members of a social group depend on each other, other group of individuals share a common culture, and influence each other's behaviors and values. A

person's membership in particular peer, work, or community groups impacts food behaviors. For example, a young person at a basketball game may eat certain foods when accompanied by friends and other foods when accompanied by his or her teacher.

proscription: prohibitions, rules against Religious Influences. Religious proscriptions range from a few to many, from relaxed to highly restrictive. This will affect a follower's food choices and behaviors. For example, in some religions specific foods are prohibited, such as pork among Jewish and Muslim adherents. Within Christianity, the Seventh-day Adventists discourage "stimulating" beverages such as alcohol, which is not forbidden among Catholics.

Economic Influences. Money, values, and consumer skills all affect what a person purchases. The price of a food, however, is not an indicator of its nutritional value. Cost is a complex combination of a food's availability, status, and demand.

Environmental Influences. The influence of the environment on food habits derives from a composite of ecological and social factors. Foods that are commonly and easily grown within a specific region frequently become a part of the local cuisine. However, modern technology, agricultural practices, and transportation methods have increased the year-round availability of many foods, and many foods that were previously available only at certain seasons or in specific areas are now available almost anywhere, at any time.

Political Influences. Political factors also influence food availability and trends. Food laws and trade agreements affect what is available within and across countries, and also affect food prices. Food labeling laws determine what consumers know about the food they purchase.

Eating habits are thus the result of both external factors, such as politics, and internal factors, such as values. These habits are formed, and may change, over a person's lifetime. see also Diet; Popular Culture, Food and.

Judith C. Rodriguez

Bibliography

Haviland, William A. (1990). Cultural Anthropology. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Kittler, Pamela G., and Sucher, Kathryn P. (1998). Food and Culture in America: A Nutrition Handbook, 2nd edition. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth.

Klimis-Zacas, Dorothy J., ed. (2001). Annual Editions: Nutrition 01/02. Guilford, CT: McGraw Hill/Dushkin.

Lowenberg, Miriam Elizabeth; Todhunter, Elizabeth Neige; Wilson, E. D.; Savage, J. R.; and Lubawski, J. L. (1979). Food and People. New York: Wiley.

Schlosser, Eric (2001). Fast Food Nation: The Darker Side of the All American Meal. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

ecological: related to the environment and human interactions with it

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