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.

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