- One factor that has been found to influence our eating behaviour is that of exposure to food through culture. People learn what is regarded as food within their culture and develop attitudes and preferences through exposure to different kinds of food.
- Additionally food preferences can stem from those within a culture trying to maintain their ethnic identity. Acculturation is the accepting and conforming to another culture. For example a person will be more open to the other cultures food preferences if they are more accultured. However if a person is less accultured they will be less likely to try new foods and eat a traditional/native diet to help maintain their ethnic identity. Therefore a person’s eating behaviour will depend upon how accultured they are and how much they wish to maintain their ethnic identity within their culture.
- Finally religion can also play a big role in peoples eating behaviour and preferences to food. Some dietary laws are based on religious writings and fundamental beliefs. Therefore if certain foods are banned according to the religion you follow, the person is therefore likely to avoid that substance and choose alternatives in order to stay abide by their religious scriptures. For example in the Jewish religion only animals that are ruminant (chew its cud) and have split hooves may be eaten. This therefore means that people who follow the Jewish religion cannot eat meats such as pig and shows how religion can influence a person’s attitude towards food.
+ There has been research conducted which supports cultural influences on food preferences. For example Flight (2008) conducted a study which compared 2 groups of Australian high school students aged 12-18 from both remote and city areas. The study found those in cities had greater exposure to cultural diversity and were far less neophobic with new foods, meaning they were more willing to try new goofs compared to those from remote areas.
+ This would therefore suggest that exposure to different cultures can influence ones attitude towards food as those exposed to different cultures on a daily basis were far more experimental.
+ The explanation of culture is further supported by the research conducted into religious practices. For example Muslims are forbidden from eating pork as it is considered unclean. This demonstrates how religion can restrict ones diet through religious beliefs and therefore impact their food preferences as a result.
+ Due to the fact that the main assumption of culture influencing attitudes towards food have been consistently supported by other researchers in this field it can be argued that the theory is high in external reliability. This makes the theory more scientific as increased reliability makes it easier to establish a cause and effect relationship and as such we can be sure that culture is one of the main factors influencing food preferences due to consistent supporting evidence. Therefore food chains around the world should consider the culture they are selling to when devising a menu.
- However there are problems with the cultural explanation of food preferences due to methodological issues surrounding the supporting studies. For example Flight's study is ethnocentrically bias due to it being carried out in Australia and as a result is only representative of those living in Western cultures.
- This gives the study low population validity and as such results found cannot be generalised to Eastern cultures. For example, they are often less economically developed which means the quality of life differs greatly from those living in a Western culture. This therefore means that individuals living in Eastern cultures may not have a choice in what they eat as they are maintaining their survival and therefore food preferences in such cultures would be less pronounced.
- As a result of these cultural differences we cannot be sure that culture has a significant influence elsewhere subsequently weakening it as an explanation for food preferences.
- Another factor that influences eating behaviour is mood. It has been suggested that individuals who do not choose a healthy diet do so due to low self-esteem. Alternatively this is known as emotional/comfort eating where food can be seen as a way to deal with feelings. This explanation indicates that our attitudes towards food are influenced by our disposition and those prone to low self-esteem may indulge in over eating.
- In addition to this the serotonin hypothesis can help to explain eating behaviour as for example chocolate contains the amino acid tryptophan which increases the production of serotonin in the brain, in turn elevating mood. Consequently chocolate, in the short term, can help to improve our mood therefore helping to explain why some people in a bad mood turn to eating foods such as chocolate due to the positive outcome it fabricates.
- Lastly it has been suggested that when people are in an apprehensive state they may turn to food in order to help lift their anxious state of mind. This therefore indicates that a person may have more favourable attitudes towards food such as chocolate and sweets when in an uneasy mind-set.
+ Empirical research has been conducted in support of the explanation of mood towards food preferences. For instance Verplanken (2005) conducted a correlational analysis on mood, impulse buying and snack consumption. The findings from this study showed that those with low self-esteem were more likely to impulse buy and consume snacks than those with high self-esteem. This could be due to the fact they are attempting to deal with the emotional distress caused by their low self-esteem. This can explain why those with low self-esteem have a poor diet.
+ Further research by Macht and Dettmer (2006) supports the serotonin hypothesis as they found that after eating chocolate an individual’s mood improved, showing how serotonin can temporarily improve a person’s mood, and therefore can explain why those in a mood may turn to unhealthy foods which promote the production of serotonin.
+ Finally, there is further evidence to suggest anxiety may influence eating behaviour. For example Wegner (2002) got students to record their eating for a two week period and found that binge days were characterised by low mood compared to non-binge days. This shows how eating habits vary depending on mood, thus suggesting a correlation between bad mood and bad eating habits.
+ Due to the fact there is supporting evidence which upholds the main assumptions of the mood theory for food influence it can be argued that the theory is valid. As such we can be sure that mood is a big factor when influencing our attitudes towards food. This can be helpful for nutritionists as they can focus recommended diets around preventing a drop in mood.
- A common problem with research into mood is that the research is based on the method of self-report. This leaves the research vulnerable to demand characteristics such as social desirability as people may not have answered honestly about their self-esteem or their dietary entries through fear of judgement or self-denial. As a result we cannot be sure that the research in this area is accurate and as a result the internal validity of the research is lowered. This makes it compromised and therefore we cannot be sure that mood does in fact influence food preferences and so conclusions drawn from such research should be used with caution.
- The explanations used to explain food preferences are both reductionist. The cultural explanation only considers social factors when considering what influences our attitudes towards food, completely excluding biological and cognitive factors. Similarly the explanations of mood do not consider social factors and this reductionist outlook can be a problem as it means we may not get a valid and in-depth understanding of all the contributing factors which influence or food preferences.
- As a result the explanations are less scientific as the internal validity is lowered, subsequently the accuracy of the explanations have been compromised. Not only does this make it harder to establish a cause and effect relationship between culture, mood and food preferences but it also means we cannot establish a paradigm when considering attitudes to food as other approaches have been excluded.
- However being reductionist does have its strengths as it allows us to analyse the explanations of culture and mood in greater depth and get a full valid understanding of that one factor alone.
- Overall a holistic approach would be more appropriate when considering attitudes towards food because it considers how these differing influences such as culture and mood interact with one another to steer food preferences.