Cultural Impact on Food Choice and Nutrition

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People have a tendency to live together. Over the course of human evolution, humans have organized themselves in the forms of tribes, villages, cities, states, and countries. Within all of these organizations of people developed cultures that distinguished what people should consume and what they should avoid (Barilla Center For Food & Nutrition). Food choice and nutrition are influenced by multiple facets of culture. Culture is defined by Cambridge Dictionary as “the way of life of a particular people”. A person’s diet is influenced by and regulated through the cultural facets of faith, heritage, and the vernacular.

A person’s diet is influenced by and regulated through the cultural facet of faith. This facet is based on the fact that certain belief systems set dietary rules and guidelines. Societies differ in their adherence to these religious dietary rules and guidelines, but those with higher numbers of orthodox and devout religious followers are more likely to adhere to them and oppose genetic food modifications. Followers of orthodox Judaism follow kosher diets - diets based on Jewish laws. Some examples are Jewish diet laws include consuming no pork or seafood products and limiting alcohol consumption to wine made by faithful Jews. Followers of orthodox Islam have similar but different dietary restrictions to follow compared to their Jewish counterparts. Similar to Jewish law, pork consumption is forbidden. Unlike Jewish law, all forms of alcohol are forbidden for followers of orthodox Islam.

Followers of orthodox Islam and Judaism also get their diets impacted through periods of consuming no food in order to observe days or periods of fasting (Heiman, Amir, et al). The religious act of fasting is associated with different meanings and purposes depending on the religion. In the Abrahamic religions, the act of fasting is associated with learning modesty, patience, and spirituality as well as being a symbol of one’s faith (Barilla Center For Food & Nutrition). Some faith systems also set guidelines that relate to socio-economic status. Hinduism is one such faith system that does this is when it is accompanied with the caste system. Hinduism does not strictly forbid the consumption of foods, but sets standards to determine how “polluted” or unclean certain acts, foods, and drinks are. In general, members of socio-economic lower status consume food and drinks that are considered to be less clean. In addition, Hindu followers that maintain a vegetarian diet are regarded as having a higher status than their meat-eating counterparts because any interaction with dead animals is viewed as polluting (Stephon, Yehudi).

A person’s diet is influenced by and regulated through the cultural facet of heritage. Heritage and tradition shape what a culture views as ideal for sizes of meals and body shapes. In January, 2018 a cross-sectional study of 81 adult Kiribati and European male seafarers was conducted to better understand cultural differences in food, body image attitudes, and eating behavior. The study was setup to make cultural background the primary difference between participants. This was done by limiting participation for the study to four transatlantic merchant cargo ships that were operated by the same company and shared similar diets and access to recreation. The study found that the Kiribati participants consumed more food and displayed larger body shapes than their European counterparts. Researchers found that this correlated with the Kiribati participants saying that larger body shapes are more respectable despite slimmer body shapes being more attractive.

European participants on the other hand reported slimmer body shapes being more respectable and attractive (Westenhoefer, Joachim, et al). Another example of cultural heritage impacting food consumption can be seen through analyzation of how plate size influences how filling a meal will or will not be. In October, 2017, a cross-cultural analysis was published on this phenomena. It observed a correlation of western cultures objectifying perceived fullness from food based on plate size which is not shared by Asian cultures. Potential reasoning for this correlation lays behind the practice of western cultures to load their plates at mealtime prior to eating whereas Asian cultures tend to fill their plates at mealtime with smaller portions throughout the time they spend eating (Peng). The influence of how varying plate size can be used to perceive fullness in western cultures can be utilized by meal preppers and restaurants to encourage consumers to eat more or less food.

Cultural heritage influences what foods and drinks people will consume. Traditional diets based off of the available resources of a particular area can influence what forms of food are or are not acceptable. For example, Japan has a seaside culture that dates back thousands of years and has incorporated raw fish into traditional recipes, sushi being an example. On the other hand, sushi and other raw fish meals have only recently begun to become acceptable in western cultures (Nordström). The phenomenon of cultures varying what is acceptable to eat has roots in the evolution of human survival. Being biologically omnivorous, humans have a wide array of food that could be edible. As humans started to live together, they were able to share ideas of what food was safe to eat and what was not. They also were able to share ideas regarding why to eat or not to eat certain food, how to prepare food, and how food should be eaten. In addition to culture limiting the food choices consumers choose, other cultures’ food choices can be used to differentiate them and begin to assess relatability or perceived threat level (Barilla Center For Food & Nutrition). The narrative of a population’s origins can also strongly influence what a culture consumes. An example of this is the culture of the Guatemalan Maya. There culture has an origin story that states that people originated from maize. As a result, maize is incorporated into almost all of all meals, and a feeling of ‘fullness’ or satiation lacks without it (Fischer).

Vernacular culture influences a person’s food choice and nutrition. This cultural facet is based on the idea that people are influenced by what is perceived as socially normal and food selection being limited what the local food culture demands. This facet can be utilized analyzing the food culture of the United States. The United States food culture has been undergoing a change in the nutrition of their diets. Compared to the 1970s, Americans in 2010 consumed more than twice the amount of cheese and poultry while consuming less red meat and dairy milk. Between the 1970s and 2010,average fruit and vegetable caloric intake dropped by 1.3% (DeSilver). One reason for the shift of consumption rates is the push or strive for Americans to eat healthier.

Consumer demand and grocery suppliers have not ignored this changing diet and research done by Catalina Marketing found that a majority of shoppers have observed increased rates of food options and “healthful foods and beverages” in their grocery stores. Despite the increased rates of food variety and healthy options, the United States remains as the top meat consuming country in the world with its meat and poultry dominating its 2012 agricultural industry production (Reynolds). Within the greater food culture is subculture of consumers who do not consume meat. This sub-culture of vegetarians and vegans consist of 4.4% of the United States population. The American Dietetic Association acknowledges that following meatless diets has many potential benefits beyond getting enough nutrients such as developing a resistance to obesity and cardiovascular diseases. However, the prevalence of meat consumption in American culture makes the act of following a meatless diet counter-cultural and has potential to cause alienation due to the cultural tendency to bond over meals (Potter-Dunlap, Tse)

A person’s diet is influenced by and regulated through the cultural facets of faith, heritage, and the vernacular. Cultural adherence to certain faith systems limits what food and drinks people are allowed to or will consume. Cultural heritage establishes standards for how people can view nutrition differently and determine what foods and drinks are favored or acceptable to eat and which to avoid. Vernacular culture sets standards for what people will eat when they gather together and can affect the diets people choose to follow to avoid social alienation.

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Cultural Impact on Food Choice and Nutrition. (2019, Feb 20). Retrieved July 12, 2024 , from

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