Why We Eat What We Eat ?

There are two major reasons why food is very important to human beings. They derive pleasure from eating while at the same time get nourishment needed for the upkeep of their bodies as well as the energy needed to perform day-to-day activities. Before the Age of Industrialization and the breakthroughs in telecommunication and transportation, dietary intake was closely linked to agriculture and the fact that people eat by the sweat of their brow.

But nowadays a person can sit in an office all day long and without doing any manual labor can afford to purchase food, enough for two to three people. On the other hand there are those who work hard all day long and yet struggle to feed their family. The idea that people are what they eat is closely linked to socioeconomic factors, but in the 21st century this means more than affluence, poverty, nourishment and malnutrition; it also means that there are health problems associated with the overabundance of food supplies and the consumption of foodstuffs that have no nutritive value.

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Acquiring Food In ancient times, up to the present century socioeconomic factors continue to influence the way people eat as well as their diet composition. But this time a nation’s relative wealth as well as the per capita income of its people is creating problems that are non-existent centuries earlier. Although famine and malnutrition are as ancient as the Bible, obesity, diabetes and coronary heart diseases linked to overabundance of processed food is something that may have been existence in the past but has only become an epidemic in the present.

It is therefore imperative to know how people acquire food, how they consume food and why there are people who are struggling to eat three times a day while there are those who struggle to keep their weight down despite the fact that these people have the opportunity to live healthy lives. Aside from income and culture there are other factors that influence what people buy or how they prepare food for themselves and for their family. The input of mass media and the impact of globalization help shape the way people consume food and complicate the idea that people are what they eat.

It can be argued that for the majority of the world’s population food is first seen as a commodity that eases hunger, give comfort and pleasure It is only after one has more than enough can he take a step back and appreciate food from another vantage point. In highly civilized societies food is no longer just a meal that is needed to satisfy the most basic need. First of all men and women from rich countries are very particular in the kind of pleasure derived from eating. It is no longer enough to feel the contentment from a full stomach as opposed to the discomfort of an empty one.

There is a need to enjoy food. The first manifestation of this is the development of fine cuisine where high-priced chefs create sophisticated entrees to satisfy the most discriminating palate. The twelve course meals as well as the complicated preparation of rich man’s food can be found at one end of the spectrum while on the other extreme are the dietary intake of those who still survive through subsistence farming or through hunting and gathering practices as seen in the tribal cultures of Africa.

These people have no capacity to be finicky in terms of their food choices. They also are not capable of purchasing expensive ingredients and deal with traders to supply them with fruits and vegetables that are not in season or not indigenous in the area. For tribesmen they eat what they can find. They cannot depend on farmers living thousands of miles away to deliver diversified and high-quality produce because there is no existent system where it is possible to do so.

They are at the mercy of Mother Nature. They know what it is like go hungry and yet it is erroneous to think of them as malnourished. To the contrary, if they have a bountiful harvest from their hunting and gathering sorties, they had the capacity to consume a balanced diet, complete with the needed vitamins and nutrients. Fine dining has always been the mainstay in the homes of the rich and famous as well as members of the nobility.

But with the coming of the industrial age many countries all over the world learned the efficiency of railroads, boats, airplanes as well as the impact of telecommunication. This created a new group of people called the “middle-class” that are in between the two extreme polarities of the have and have-nots. On one side are men and women who can afford not to work and therefore have time to cook their own meals or ask their servants to cook for them. On the other side are the people who struggle to make a living and does not have access to expensive food items.

In between these two are the middle-class people who have the purchasing power to buy food that are as nutritious and as expensive as those consumed by rich families as well as non-expensive ones that can increase girth and the risk of a heart attack. Socioeconomic Factors Before going any further it is important to first point out that breaking down the statement: “You are what you eat” can lead to almost anywhere, meaning there can be a discussion related to philosophy, health, physical appearance, etc.

In order to limit the scope of this study it is imperative to state that the examination of the aforementioned should be conducted from a socioeconomic perspective. The socioeconomic perspective can then be broken down into the following components: • Culture or Ethnic background – There is no need to elaborate on how culture and the person’s ethnic background can influence food consumption and diet composition. One only has to look at the different cuisines available in different parts of the world.

There is a major difference when it comes to how African Bushmen prepare their delicacies such as roasting insect larvae on hot coals as compared to the highly complex preparation of raw fish by sushi masters in Japan. Another example of cultural differences in food preparation is the stark contrast between French cooking techniques that require the use of the modern cooking utensils as compared to the simple food preparation that can be seen in impoverished countries.

A sauce pan may be an indispensable tool in French cuisine but the same thing could not be said of primitive cultures that can survive by simply boiling fish and vegetables in simple earthenware cooking pots. • Income – Even within a particular culture there are difference in the way people prepare, acquire and consume food. For instance, in Indian culture one can find a few ingredients that dominate most of the cuisine such as curry and other spices.

But rich Indians undoubtedly have access to more expensive spices as compared to poorer Indian who may have to contend with cheaper alternatives. • Knowledge or Educational background – In the past knowledge with regards to cooking and consumption of food is linked to culture, ethnic background and religion. This time knowledge is now associated with the ability to discern between processed food and unprocessed food and the preference over organic food as opposed to foodstuffs produced using traditional means of farming and harvesting crops.

Knowledge can also mean the ability to determine the nutritive value of a particular product as well as the health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables as opposed to a diet containing only meat and carbohydrates. In other words people in ancient times acquire, prepare and consume food based on seasonal harvests, traditional recipes and religious restrictions but this time people in many countries consume food based on scientific considerations. It is interesting to know the results of a study where habitual physical activity such as TV watching and exercising in the gym can produce differences in diet composition.

Those who like to spend a considerable amount of time in front of the TV set had diets consisting of high fat and high sodium rich foods while those who exercise regularly consume meals and snacks with less fat and salt content (Tsintsifa, E. et al. , p. 208). While it is true that, “…people usually shop for food and not nutrients…” more and more people are learning about the hazards of eating processed food stripped of their nutritive value (Turrell ; Kavanagh, p.

375). These changes will in turn affect the prices of commodities and create inequalities. Knowledge Knowledge and the person’s educational background play an important role in food consumption. Knowledge can be seen from a religious point of view. There are many restrictions found in many sacred texts. For instance Muslims are forbidden to eat pork while there are Indians who consider cows as sacred and hence not fit for consumption.

Knowledge can also mean the ability to distinguish which plant or animal matter is edible or poisonous – this information can then be handed down from generation to generation and explains why a particular culture can enjoy eating exotic foods while other prefer to stay away from eating insects, root crops, and certain sea food. In the 21st century, particularly in highly industrialized countries knowledge can transcend beyond religion and traditions and therefore food choices can be influenced by scientific knowledge. On the other hand, knowledge can also come from other sources such as the influence of mass media.

Thus, the power of the TV and the Internet to dictate trends in food consumption is as powerful as folklore and religious doctrines forbidding the consumption of food. For instance an image of a celebrity drinking from a Styrofoam cup with the words Starbucks printed on it can encourage many people all over the world to try drinking one. TV commercials and print media can bombard men and women all over the world with images of celebrities eating a particular product and chances are many will follow. Health Globalization can change eating patterns and move it into two different directions.

Firstly, mass media and giant corporations can easily dictate food consumption. The availability of popular brands such as McDonalds, Coke, Starbucks, and other processed products coming from the United States and other European countries can flood the global market and change the eating patterns of many people. On the other hand, the forces of globalization and mass media that made it possible for a former communist state to consume foodstuffs manufactured in the Western hemisphere can be used to inform them of the health problems associated with eating junk food.

Mass media such as the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web can effectively disseminate information regarding the dangers of consuming processed food. Thus, “…heightened awareness of diet-health relationships, favorable attitudes about healthy eating, and better knowledge of the nutrient content of foods lead to healthier food choices” (Variyam, p. 282). So globalization can facilitate the flow of ideas in both directions and therefore one can see an increase in the consumption of unhealthy food products as well as the consumption of foodstuffs that are of high-nutrient content.

Thus, in this century more and more people will become aware of the dangers of eating junk food. This is made possible by the relatively cost-free campaign that can be sustained through the World Wide Web. A simple message regarding the physical as well as financial difficulties caused by diabetes and heart disease is enough to persuade others to examine their lifestyle and eating patterns (Povey ; Clark-Carter, p. 931). This can have a snowball effect and there will be many people who will desire for a healthier lifestyle but on the other hand it will also increase the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables as opposed to processed food.

This will create inequalities that in turn will make it harder for poor people to achieve the quality of life that they want for themselves and their children. Income A revolution may ensue from a global dissemination of information such as the sophisticated conclusion made by health experts who asserted that, “Age-appropriate nutrition education throughout childhood is critical for the development of lifelong healthy eating habits” (Melanson, p. 26). While access to this type of information can be increased exponentially this does not guarantee that the majority of the world’s population will follow this advice.

From a socioeconomic perspective there are other forces at work. It is not only about religion, traditions, indigenous knowledge or scientific knowledge that will dictate the person’s eating pattern, income and the nation’s wealth can play a decisive role in nutrition. But there is more. Food choices are not the only thing that can be affected by rising prices and shrinking income, changes in income as well as food prices can create a chain-reaction of events that can alter the way people eat entirely (Huang, p. 162).

It is therefore not easy to isolate the impact of various socioeconomic factors. These forces can easily change the pattern of food consumption especially when it comes to pricing and availability. It is becoming increasingly clear that although beliefs, traditions and knowledge play an important role in dictating dietary composition, it is income that ultimately decides what type of food can be consumed by the individual and the family. Conclusion There is a popular saying that goes like this: “You are what you eat!

” this is arguably one of the most richly layered statements that can be found in the history of human communication. And this is because of the fact that it deals with a very basic need – food. This expression can be interpreted using different points of view and that an anthropologist, nutritionist, social scientist and food connoisseurs can work together to interpret this statement and they will come up with different interpretation as well as conclusions. In order to simplify the discussion the proponent of this study decided to examine the aforementioned statement from a socioeconomic perspective.

From a socioeconomic perspective food acquisition, preparation and consumption can be linked to culture, religion, traditions and indigenous knowledge with regards to the best way to enjoy food but in the 21st century there are other forms of knowledge that dictate the dietary intake of many people. Knowledge created from exposure to mass media can mean the consumption of processed food or the awareness of the need to increase the span of healthy life, and reduce health discrepancies (Crane, p. 111).

While it can be argued that religion, traditions, and indigenous knowledge can temper the impact of mass media, numerous studies have shown that people buy food and not nutrients and therefore income will play a major role at the end. This means that people will buy the cholesterol and sodium rich foods at McDonalds not because it is the best choice but simply because it offers value for money, meaning hunger pangs are satisfied without breaking the bank, so to speak. Works Cited Crane, Nancy, Van Hubbard, ; Christine Lewis.

“American Diets and Year 2000 Goals. ” Retrieved 05 February 2009 from http://www. ers. usda. gov/Publications/AIB750/ Huang, Kuo. Role of National Income and Prices. Retrieved 05 February 2009 from http://www. ers. usda. gov/Publications/AIB750/ Melanson, Kathleen. Lifestyle Approaches to Promoting Healthy Eating for Children. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2(1): 26-29. Povey, Rachel Clare ; David Clark-Carter. Diabetes and Healthy Eating: A Systematic Review of Literature. The Diabetes Educator. 33(6): 931-955. Tsintsifa, E.

et al. Interactions Among Habitual Physical Activity, Eating Patterns, and Diet Consumption. Angiology. 2006. 57(2): 205-208. New York: Westminster Publications Turrell, Gavin ; Ann Kavanagh. Socio-economic Pathways to Diet: Modeling the Association Between Socio-economic Position and Food Purchasing Behavior. Public Health Nutrition. 2005 Queensland University of Technology. 9(3): 375-383. Variyam, Jayachandran. “Role of Demographics, Knowledge, and Attitudes. ” Retrieved 05 February 2009 from http://www. ers. usda. gov/Publications/AIB750/

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