Cultures effect the behavior towards food and what we eat. This means that some cultures will not eat certain foods as they see it as wrong. For example, Hindus will not eat cows, as it is seen to be sacred.
People also create schemas of what a food is and what is not a food, this is influenced by what we see as the social norm. Despite the UK is seen to be culturally diverse, there are still foods that would be surprising to be found on a menu, like agouti (skewered rat), which is seen as delicacy, along with giant leafcutter ants, whcih are a delicacy in the Guane Indias in Columbia.
It is belived that this is due to social learning theory (learning through role models and observation) or simply what is availible to eat in the area. It is suggested we like food that we are familiar with, e.g. if parent's provide children with chicken nuggets from a young age then they will prefer them. Whatever foods we are exposed to from a young age, we develop a preference for.
We often try to eat healthy as well. The media now floods us with information on the importance of a healthy diet. We are advised to eat less fat, salt and eat more complex carbs, as well as 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. The scares of health problems encourages/motivates people to change their diet and eat more healthily.
In modern society there is now also the choice of more healthy food, that are low in fat, salt ,etc. Some foods now even help lower cholesterol and protect against cancer and heart disease.
There are also television programs aimed to change the diets of people, so they eat more healthily. Programs like Jamie's 30 minute meals' and 'You are what you eat'. These programs use scare tactics to show the effects of a unhealthy diet. The aim is to re-educate people and encourage them to eat more healthily, to have a more prosperous health in the future.
Emotions have been proven to effect how we eat, what we eat and how much we eat. It has been suggested that obese people eat due to emotional problems and non-obese people eat when they're hungry, this is known as a mask theory for obesity.
The emotional states overeating is used as a defense mechanism to try to cope with emotional distress. Eating lots of food causes a temporary euphoria effect, due to the high calorific food intake.
It is also suggested that anorexia and bulimia under eat (alphagia) and over eat (hyperphagia) to manage their emotions (Bruch (1965)) It is believed that stress causes people to eat more or less, studies aim to provide scientific evidence to prove or disprove this theory.
Despite globalisation of the food market, we still have certain food preferences in different cultures. Wardle et al (1997) interviewed 16,000 young people, in 21 countries and found that:
People in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Holland ate the most fiber.
People in Portugal, Italy and Spain ate the least fiber, but ate the most fruit and veg.
People in England and Scotland ate the least fruit and veg.
People in Poland and Portugal ate the most salt.
People in Sweden and Finland ate the least salt.
However, Lesham (2009) found that cultural diets stayed with us, even when we move to a completely new environment. He compared Bedouin Arab women who lived in the desert, Bedouin Arab women who'd lived in a urban environment for at least one generation and compared them to a urban, Jewish family.
He found that both Bedouin groups had similar diets, which were very different to those of the Jewish group. The Bedouin groups ate more energy, especially carbohydrates and protein, they also ate more salt. This supports that culture plays a more important role than environment.
This shows cultural variation, but we cannot conclude if this is due to the environment or nurture, rather than inherited tendencies (nurture).
A UK government study of the parents of 900 children found that children between 7 and 16 found that 42% were concerned with food related diseases and illnesses like bird flu, fat, sugar and salt content of food etc. 82% said eating healthily was a personal important, but obesity and the consumption of processed food is up and 27% of children in the UK are over weight (in 2006).
Scientific evidence has shown that it is important to eat healthily and that there are serious consequences if we don't. Therefore the UK government has been trying to promote healthy diets. But clearly it depends on the active participation of parents to change the diets of their children. It requires a lot more time, effort and possibly money to provide healthier meals, compared to buying ready made meals, especially since in most families both parents work.
Jamie Oliver has campaigned for years for healthier diets for school children, the fact that it's taken years and the campaign is still finished show how long it takes to shift established beliefs towards food.
Stepoe et al (1995) carried out a large scale survey and found that health was one of many motivations for food choice. There are other factors like price, mood, etc.
Emotions (stress) (AO2/AO3)
Vernplanken et al (2005) carried out a correlational study and found that those with low self esteem were more likely to impulse buy.
However, the correlational study doesn't provide cause and effect and there is a question of gender bias, as most of the participants were female.
Popper et al (1989) found that marines had decreased food consumption during combat situations.
Stone and Brownell (1994) did a longitudinal study on 158 students, for 84 days and found eating less was the predominant reaction to stress.
All 3 studies also have the question of individual differences, so it is hard to draw conclusions about the role of emotions and eating behavior. The studies also relied on self reports, which may have been influenced by sociably desirably answers.