How culture could influence the choices of food
Culture is another factor influencing food choice. While a specific culture is a body of shared beliefs, symbols, behavior, and assumptions, diversity can also exist within a culture. An increasingly diverse population accompanied by people traveling more and communicating over longer distances, has contributed to a more worldwide community, and a food industry that continues to “go global”. Many foods once considered ethnic are now commonplace: pizza, tacos, beef teriyaki, pastas, and gyros. More recently arrived ethnic foods, such as Thai, Indian, Moroccan, and Vietnamese, are constantly being added to the mix to meet the escalating demands for meals providing more variety, stronger flavors, novel visual appeal, and less fat.
Culture influences food habits by dictating what is or is not acceptable to eat. Foods that are relished in one part of the world may be spurned in another. Grubs, which are a good protein source, are acceptable to the aborigines of Australia. Whale blubber is used in many ways in the arctic, where the extremely cold weather makes a high-fat diet essential. Dog is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries. Escargots (snails) are a favorite in France. Sashimi (raw fish) is a Japanese tradition that has been fairly well accepted by most consumers. Locusts, another source of protein, are considered choice items in the Middle East. Octopus, once thought unusual, now appears on many American menus.
Birthplace influences the foods a person will be exposed to, and helps to shape the dietary patterns that are often followed for life. Salsa varies in flavor, texture, and color depending on whether it was prepared in Mexico, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, or Peru. Curry blends differ drastically depending on where in the world the recipe evolved. In Mexican cuisine, the same dish may taste different in different states. Some of these differences have to do with geography and climate, and it was not so long ago that these factors were the main determinants of what foods were available to be chosen. People ate foods that were grown close to where they lived and very rarely were presented with the possibility of eating those of a more exotic nature. For example, guava fruit grown in tropical regions was not even a consideration in an area such as Greenland. Now the wide distribution of formerly “local” foods throughout the world provides people, especially in the “developed” world, with an incredible variety of foods from which to choose.
Place of birth not only influences what types of foods are chosen, but the way they are consumed and the behavior surrounding their consumption. In some parts of India, for example, only the right hand is used for eating and manipulating utensils; the left hand is reserved for restroom duties. Foods may be served on banana leaves or wrapped in corn husks. It may be eaten with chopsticks, as is the custom throughout Asia, or with spoons, forks, and knives as in Europe and the Americas. It is considered impolite in China not to provide your guest with a bountiful meal, so an unusually large number of food courses are served when guests are present. Belching heartily after a meal in Egypt is considered complimentary to the host.