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Food is any substance that is taken by a living being to help in the production of energy and growth. This definition addresses only the biological side of food, but there are other aspects of food. The pertinent question is why people eat. People eat for various reasons other than for metabolic purposes. Such reasons include eating to pass the time, have fun, bond, and celebrate. In addition, food can be used as a remedy for stress, among other reasons. Owing to such reasons, food plays an important role in people’s lives beyond the biological processes.
The food habits of a group of people/community can be described as the reasons for eating, the methods used while eating, the types of food eaten, and the mode of storage. Food habits have a major impact on society and the development of culture. In most cases, food habits are subject to age, gender, environmental changes, acculturation, religious beliefs, personal health, and the financial status of an individual.
Food habits may vary from one individual or family to another. However, some food habits are common amongst particular groups of individuals, for example, the practice by some Muslims to eat from one plate. On the other hand, culture is the uniform way that a community of people conducts its activities. Culture is passed on from one generation to another through learning, and it is not constant (Kittler, Sucher & Nelms, 2012). This assertion means that culture changes with time, and thus it may differ from one generation to another. It may include the mode of dressing, the mode of worship, the family hierarchy, and the traditional foods, among other aspects. This paper will look at the factors that influence the different food habits and culture.
Factors that Influence Food Habits and Culture
One of the factors that influence food habits and culture is the availability of food. People have a tendency to eat what is readily available (Dindyal, 2003). For example, junk foods are readily available and cheap. Consequently, a majority of people end up eating junk foods due to availability, despite the desire to have a healthy lifestyle. The cost and season of food determine its availability. Rare foods are expensive, and thus they are not readily available. Most people live on an average income, and thus they can only afford to buy what is readily available because it is affordable. Foods that are in season tend to be cheap and readily available as opposed to those out of season (Dindyal, 2003). Therefore, factors like the availability and the season of the food make food habits seasonal and flexible. In addition, such factors tend to define the identity of the person relying on them to determine his/her food habits.
The second factor that influences food habits and culture is the lifestyle of a person. People with medical conditions that require the consumption of a specific diet will adopt a certain lifestyle. For example, a person suffering from diabetes or blood pressure will tend to avoid foods that have excessive sugar (Kulkarni, 2004). On the other hand, such an individual will concentrate on foods that are rich in specific nutrients. Vegetarians will eat foods that are void of animal products. Strict vegetarians avoid all animal products, whether they have meat or not, while other vegetarians avoid animal products that have meat only. Some people have also adopted healthy lifestyles, and thus they cannot buy or take any foods that are deemed unhealthy (Kittler et al., 2012).
Therefore, such people cannot take junk food even when it is readily available. People take such personal measures to ensure healthy living coupled with avoiding lifestyle diseases. For example, some people will take white meat only and avoid red meat. According to such people, white meat is safer than red meat. Such aspects can be used to determine the eating habits of a person.
The third factor that influences food habits is the social background of a person. Eating is considered a social issue. Therefore, social circles influence the eating habits of different individuals (Lasn, 2000). It is very had to maintain a personal eating habit when spending time with different people. For example, when people spend a lot of their time at work or school, they are highly likely to adopt the eating habits of the people that they socialize within the different settings, thus forsaking their personal eating habits (Montanari & Sonnenfeld, 2006).
Culture is the fourth factor that influences food habits. Interactions with different cultures influence the food habits of the involved people (Helstosky, 2009). As people interact, they tend to borrow or copy from each other, and food habits differ from one culture to another. Culture influences how people prepare, store, cook, consume, and get rid of their food (Messer, 2007). For instance, the culture of food in France is different from that in the UK or the US. When people from these cultures settle in areas, which are different from their home regions, they continue to practice their traditional food habits and culture while adopting and learning new cultures as well.
The result of this interaction is a cultural exchange of food habits. For example, the Latinos in New York will seek identity by practicing food habits that are allowed in their cultures. However, they will be more flexible by combining their cultures with those of the New Yorkers.
The fifth factor that influences food habits and culture is religion. Religion plays a major role in influencing individuals’ food habits (Pena & Lawrence, 2011). Certain religions prohibit their believers from taking certain foods. For example, the Muslim and Jewish religions discourage their followers from eating pork because the source of the meat is an allegedly cursed animal according to their beliefs. In addition, the Hindus do not take beef because they believe that the source of the meat is holy and a symbol of their god. Some religions view the consumption of wine as a form of drunkenness, while others have no problem with such issues (Counihan & Esterik, 2008). Therefore, people who subscribe to these religions will adopt a food culture that does not contravene such teachings and beliefs.
Personal skills and experience also play an important role in defining the food habits of an individual (Dindyal, 2003). Some people love making food, and thus they have perfected their culinary skills. Such people prefer to make their own food and experiment with new recipes, and they would love to make their own foods as opposed to visiting restaurants. Other people are not passionate about food or the kitchen, and thus they prefer buying ready-made food. Such people do not mind eating from restaurants and cafes. In such a case, the person’s perceptions of food and the process of preparing it to influence his/her food habits and culture.
Another factor that influences food habits is a person’s beliefs and knowledge about food. Some people are very keen on the nutritional benefits of different foods, and thus they engage in research on different meals. Such people are considered as food enthusiasts (Freedman, 2007). Other people hold a certain belief on certain foods, and thus they will avoid or take it even more. For example, some people consider pizza and burgers as junk, hence unhealthy. Such people will adopt a food habit that does not include pizza and burgers in their diet. Others hold the belief that beetroot is nutritious, and it helps to increase the blood levels in the body. Therefore, such people will ensure that they increase their intake of beetroot. Such perceptions develop a food habit that becomes part of a person’s lifestyle.
A person’s schedule can also determine his/her food habit (Dindyal, 2003). For example, people who are constantly busy to make their own food will develop a habit of ordering food or eating from food joints. Others will tend to skip certain meals or take light meals due to their tight schedules. Such conducts determine the food habit that the affected individual will adopt.
The availability, season, personal schedule, perception, health concerns, moods, and social circles are some of the factors that influence the creation and adoption of food habits and culture. Understanding such factors will help individuals to adopt healthy lifestyles, and thus improve the quality of life.
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