What Are the Biggest Influences on Peoples Food Choices?
How do people choose what they eat? Our food decisions are a delicate cocktail of social, health, and hedonic factors that tie together in a complicated knot that’s often hard to untie.
Fooducate recently wrote an article about what makes low-income people choose healthy food. The article suggested price was a big factor:
A research paper published in Public Health Nutrition posits that price is less of a factor in deciding to buy vegetables and fruits. Rather, it’s the convenient access to quality produce that increased purchases.
I think the truth is that no one really knows what makes people….low income or otherwise…..make the food decisions that they do.
In general the food you eat has to fulfill the following requirements:
- The taste needs to be palatable
- Its method of preparation needs to fit within your lifestyle
- It needs to mold with the social forces governing your life
- It needs to be healthy (maybe)
Within those confines, there’s room for a lot of variation. Like, a lot.
Lack of Consensus
They pointed out the one study, but there are lot of conflicting stories and nothing adds up to a consensus. Not too long ago there was a popular story in the Los Angelas Times that stated putting grocery stores in the middle of inner-city ghettos didn’t make a scintilla of difference in people’s food choices. The problem wasn’t that the food was too expensive, it was that no one wanted it to begin with.
I’ve written before that price often influences food choices, but convenience, attitudes, and a variety of peripheral lifestyle factors all play a role.
For example, it’s been demonstrated that people don’t buy fast food because it’s cheap, but because it’s easy. And in the health food arena, buying particular foods is often an act of self-expression moreso than a diligent effort to eat right. After all, the price increase in specially branded “health food” cannot be justified by the health benefits alone. And why else do you see health food brands make alliances with causes and organizations that have nothing to do with food?
Healthy Living Is A Skill
The food you eat is often about communicating a social signal. Or if you have people with different dietary preferences than you, it can be an act of social conformity.
I think the folks at Fooducate are right about the problem of not knowing what to do with healthy food. To really eat right is not just an act of will power, but a learned skill. You need to learn how to cook and have a few easy recipes that don’t taste like sawdust. And while you don’t have to be a dietician, a little knowledge of the ABC’s of good nutrition certainly helps.
Otherwise, you have the situation they described in their posts. A bunch of vegetables and stuff….and no clue what to do about it.