Social and Cultural Influences

As Douglas, a famous anthropologist, stated, food is not feed, and food and eating serve many nonnutri-tional social functions, such as the expression of identity whether individual or national, the maintenance or rupture of social relationships, and religious and symbolic functions. These subtly influence not only what we eat but also how and where we eat and with whom we eat. Food and drink are not taken at random, but within the context of social exchanges between people and within social contexts, such as the family. Therefore, argue the social scientists, to understand the food choices of individuals we must understand the social contexts within which they occur and also the social rules that influence many aspects of our food choice. These can be seen to work at a number of different levels or in a number of ways on the food choice of individuals.

At the most basic level, it is arguably cultural rules of food use that specify the edible versus the inedible. Although the definition of 'food' might appear to be self-evident, there is huge variation cross-culturally in what is classified as edible. This is perhaps illustrated best by examining differences in what are considered edible animal species in different societies (guinea pigs—a tasty snack or domestic pet?). Beyond this basic definition of the edible versus inedible, in all cultures foods are further classified into complex subgroupings, such as hot and cold foods, foods appropriate for meals, snacks, and special events, foods to be eaten/avoided during pregnancy, and so forth. Cultural rules may also specify the food needs of different categories of people (e.g., the young or the pregnant), meal formats and their patterning over time, the way in which food is eaten and prepared, and the allocation of food within an household.

Taken as a whole, sociological studies of food can be read as a form of lay epidemiology that illustrates that not only are the attributes and values that we give to food largely culturally derived but also beliefs about food are culturally constructed and not the product of ignorance or irrational prejudices. Social science approaches to food choice thus study how choices about food are constructed and negotiated in the context of everyday life and how social rules and contexts influence this, and they can offer insights into what otherwise might appear to be irrational or dysfunctional food choices.

Table 1 A hierarchical model of food choice

Edible substances (as defined by culture and physiology) Excluded by Subsets of

Culture and rules of allocation Permissible foods Availability and cost Available and affordable foods

Palatability preferences, Preferred and chosen foods attitudes, experience

The Most Important Guide On Dieting And Nutrition For 21st Century

The Most Important Guide On Dieting And Nutrition For 21st Century

A Hard Hitting, Powerhouse E-book That Is Guaranteed To Change The Way You Look At Your Health And Wellness... Forever. Everything You Know About Health And Wellness Is Going To Change, Discover How You Can Enjoy Great Health Without Going Through Extreme Workouts Or Horrendous Diets.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment