Food is essential for growth and bodily functions (Wahlqvist and Briggs, 2010). Therefore, in this paper, theories that influences food choices will be discussed and applied to my food choices. Lastly, this paper will conclude on my understanding on others food practices and what changes can improve their food choices.
Based on the food choice model, the first medium that influences one’s food choice is developmental. Food choices are often developed and influenced through exposure over the individual’s developmental lifespan. From the child is born, his family would be the primary medium for his exposure and socialization to the food that he consumes. Usually, the food consumed would belong to the culture which the child family stemmed from. Rarely would the child be allowed autonomy over the choice of food. (Fieldhouse, 1998).
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Applying this to an Asian context which I was born in; since young, I was exposed to Chinese cultural foods where lard, soy sauce, sugar and salt was often used to enhance the flavour and fragrance of meals. I was used to eating these daily and never would have thought I would be exposed to other food choices. This exposure came when I progressed into adolescence where a secondary type of socialisation took place – school, media, friends or an older sibling. When a child enters school, and gets exposed to friends and the media, they will observe what their peers consume and get exposed to food advertisements on the media, all which grabs their attention and leads them to change in their food habits (Fieldhouse, 1998; Ogden, 2010). Remembering vividly back to high school, if my peers or elder sister ordered a meal, I would order the same meal as them due to my perception that they know what food tasted better. In addition, when shown food advertisements, it often makes me crave a bite.
The second medium is our cognition. Based on the Theory of Reasoned Action (Ogden, 2010, p44), it posits that an individual’s attitude and his subjective norms drives his intention to perform the behaviour which then leads to the individual performing the behaviour.
Again, applying it to Chinese cuisine, it is the subjective norm that one should use all parts of the animal (e.g. chicken)-including the organs- during cooking as they have nutritional values. Therefore, I feel it is normal to cook every part of the chicken (attitude towards behaviour). Given that a whole chicken can be conveniently bought at any supermarket, I would turn the various parts into different dishes for my family (performing of specific behaviour). Despite, knowing that animal organs for example are high in saturated fat and can cause heart diseases (Jesus, 2015).
The third medium is psychophysiological. Food choices can be based on the 5 senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. (Ogden, 2010) Hearing food sizzling, coupled with the smell and sight increases our likelihood of consuming the food. When food touches the tongue, pleasure is obtained from the texture, perceived sweetness or saltiness of food. Food choices can also be influenced by one’s mood and stress. (Ogden, 2010) Personally, intense stressors from school would cause me to engage in mindless eating as a mood booster.
Convenience is defined as the accessibility to food products. After living in different countries, it got me appreciating how different countries have different accesses to food products. For countries with supermarkets conveniently located near train stations, it is easy for the residents to get a wide array of food choices. This is unlike countries where supermarkets are scarce with limited food choices.
Cost can also influence food choices. It is of relevance to the individual socio-economic status; with more access to money, one can made more food choices. But, being a student with no source of income, I must be thrifty and limit my choices.
Food choices can also affect how one manages their relationship with others. Given that most of my peers and family love fried food, I would cook them frequently to satisfy their taste buds. By doing so, I am bonding with them even though I know that it is unhealthy.
After understanding the influences in my food choices, the basics of the theory of planned behaviour (Ogden, 2010, p45) could be used to explain how my choices changed. During a lecture, I learnt that consuming healthy food would improve one’s health (i.e. healthier weight, positive mind set, decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol level) and reduces the likelihood of developing chronic diseases. With so many health benefits, this has motivated and drive me to make the change. Based on the theory, I am showing a change in my attitude towards the behaviour (i.e. a healthy lifestyle).
This change towards a healthier food choice was further made easy through the context that I am in. Having peers that were studying the same course who hold similar goals – to have a healthy diet -, it thus seems like a subjective norm to have healthier food choices. I am also blessed to have housemates that are supportive to my changes.
Making the move here to Adelaide alone had also given me full control over food choices. To start the change of food choices, one needs to have adequate knowledge. Through my research on the healthy eating guidelines, I have learned to consume a wide range of reduced fat dairy products, vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, lean meats, have ample of plain water and reduce consumption of foods high in saturated fat, salt and sugar. (Commonwealth of Australia, 2015)
A second change that I made was through how I did my grocery shopping. Prior to purchasing any food, I would read the ratings and food labels. As healthier products are costlier, I would purchase fresh vegetables and healthy products that are on offer to reduce my expenditure whilst eating healthier.
A third change that I made was in modifying my food practices arising from the Chinese culture. It dawned on me that Chinese cuisines are usually high in salt due to the salt and soya sauce combination added into the dish. To ensure that I eat healthier while still satisfying my sensory needs, I created variations like omitting salt if soya sauce is used, using olive oil and different spices. I have also substituted white rice for brown rice for its health benefits and replaced junk food (e.g. chips) with baked nuts (e.g. walnuts).
By making such changes in my food choices decisions, it has changed how I view food. I have learnt to appreciate food for their natural taste, am more conscious on what I eat. It has also made it harder for my peers or the media to influence my current palate.
Having been to the outskirts in Thailand; Chiang Rai, I will be analysing their food practices.
In Chiang Rai, there are limited food options for the locals. As supermarkets are usually located in town and there are no public transports available; one would have to drive about an hour to get fresh groceries. Due to these inconveniences, the food options for locals are preserved foods as it is affordable and can be stored longer.
In addition to limited food options, the locals are also presented with a reduction in their food choices. As most locals hold manual labour jobs, their food choices were mainly limited to an increased consumption of carbohydrates (e.g. white rice); as it is presumed that higher consumption of carbohydrates will keep one full for prolong hours. It was also hard to incorporate fresh food into their diet as they do not have the appropriate storage place (e.g. fridge) to prevent the food from turning bad.
Lastly, the locals at Chiang Rai differs in their cooking practices. The meals prepared are often seasoned either with sugar or salt as they believe that this is the only way to ensure that the meal tasted delicious.
After analysing their food practices, it can be deduced that their diet resulted from poor accessibility to food choices, awareness on healthy diet, money and the proper amenities to store their products.
The individual’s accessibility to the supermarket is of first importance. The government should target such population and make public transport available. This will allow greater accessibility to other food choices. If creating a public transport route is not feasible, another alternative would be for the supermarkets to offer free delivery services. Not only would this be beneficial to busy working adults, but this will also be of great help to elderlies who has decreased strength and mobility and are unable to lug heavy groceries home.
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Of second importance is educating them. When I started making the change, I enriched myself with healthy eating guidelines. Therefore, I believe that with adequate education on how to prepare healthy meals with affordable ingredients and introducing them other natural alternatives that enhances their meals (e.g. herbs and spices); making healthy food choices (e.g. reading food labels) and changing their perceptions (e.g. educate them to choosing high fibre food which can help them to be full easily too) towards food.
Making groceries more affordable would be of third importance, supermarkets can consider selling seasonal vegetables and products that are expiring within two months at a cheaper price.
Lastly, there could be community funding projects conducted to raise funds for such population to afford a fridge to keep their fresh groceries.
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