This is a guest post from Allison Gamble. Allison has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing.
Most people are familiar with the old adage “You are what you eat.”
But did you know that it’s true beyond the metabolic reality? Most of the time, a hungry person grabs a can or package of food from his pantry for reasons beyond just his hunger.
It doesn’t take a psychology degree to know that checking out a person’s pantry provides clues to an individual’s personality, history, and lifestyle. According to the European Food International Council, the foods people eat are influenced by biological, economic, social, physical, and psychological factors.
So let’s check out what your pantry might be saying about you!
Biological determinants, such as hunger, appetite, and taste can influence what a person wants to eat and keep on hand. For example, a single, middle-aged man who always has cookies, pasta, and chips in his pantry is reacting to their palatability – the pleasure he receives from eating these foods.
Maybe he has always loved sweet food. Maybe he likes the feeling of the simple sugar rush. The EFIC research suggests that we develop our taste preferences at an early age based on familiarity and our taste buds.
Nick: This is really fascinating if you think about it. The idea that some people are inclined to eat certain foods from the beginning of their lives is really crazy.
Economic reasons, such as food costs and income, could also be affecting one’s pantry supply. Fruits and vegetables are more expensive, which is why lower-income people are more prone to an unbalanced diet.
According to the Economics of Obesity research performed by economist John Cawley, the price of fruits and vegetables has risen by 17 percent in recent years. This kind of shift in price makes produce too expensive for some consumers.
Additional social factors also influence the foods that one stores in his/her pantry, such as culture, family, peers, and meal patterns. Our food attitudes and habits are often honed through our interactions with others.
For example, a 35-year old female nutritionist who lives in a rural community where everybody buys organic or locally grown food will most likely stock her pantry with organic staples, such as rice milk, gluten-free cereal, apples, avocados, and hummus. She is being swayed by social determinants.
European Food International Council research also shows that social support is a strong determinant of one’s diet and food selection, especially in the area of fruits and vegetables.
In some social circles, it’s looked down upon and regarded as an insult to local farmers, as well as a detriment to one’s health, to eat junk and/or processed foods. Therefore, sometimes individuals might buy organic food, knowing they would feel embarrassment if a neighbor found a package of Oreo’s or Top Ramen in their cupboard.
Buying organic food for your pantry can be a very socially conscious decision.
Physical factors, such as access, education, skills, and time constraints also determine the food we buy and consume. Educational level and how well we apply nutritional knowledge influences one’s diet. The higher the level of education, the greater likelihood that an individual will buy healthy food.
In the case of our example 35-year old woman, her occupation as a nutritionist and extensive food knowledge has probably helped her load up her pantry with healthy foods. If she earns a decent wage, she most likely has access to healthier foods.
European Food International Council research also suggested that a person’s overall mood, stress level, and guilt can dictate what foods a person leans toward. For example, a heart-broken man, unexpectedly dumped by his girlfriend two months ago, may be using food for emotional comfort. His steady pantry supply of Coors Light, chips, dip, high-fat burgers, and mac ‘n cheese has more to do with his temporary emotional state than his usual healthy pantry choices.
The amount of healthy food one stores in his/her pantry is also contingent on one’s current stage in life. For example, a man recently diagnosed with heart disease, facing the possibility of open-heart surgery is less likely to stock his pantry with high-fat and cholesterol-laden foods.
Meanwhile, a 21 year old athlete playing football and running track, and needs 4000 calories a day just to maintain his weight is more inclined to grab a juicy burger, some cheese fries, and/or a few slices of pizza.
Do you find yourself reaching for the chips and dip at the grocery store? Snack foods also reveal a person’s characteristics and lifestyle. A snack study conducted by Dr. Alan Hirsch, a researcher at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago highlighted interesting results.
Individuals who prefer chips in their pantries are usually high achievers that enjoy the perks of success in their personal and work lives. What about the person whose pantry is stocked with mostly pretzels and meat snacks? These people are probably friendly and full of energy, living up to the “life of the party” label. Both of these groups are also pegged as adventurous, seekers of new things, with pretzel lovers enjoying abstract concepts and avoiding boredom. Loyal pals, meat-snackers usually stand by their friends through thick-and-thin.
Pantries that are stocked with cheese curls and tortilla chips are on a similar wavelength. These eaters are associated with high ethics and integrity. They are people who care about humanity, the community, and society’s injustices. Often tagged as perfectionists, tortilla lovers tend to hold themselves to elevated ideals while cheese curlers hold their families and partners to high standards.
How an individual stocks their pantry can reveal much about their personality, lifestyle, diet, self-esteem, and worldviews. Whether a person’s pantry is overflowing with chips and cookies or chock-full of organic pasta and vegetables, a statement of personality is being made.
Nick: All of this is kind of a lot to take in. According to the research that Allison summarized, it seems like almost everything you eat can be attributed to some aspect of your life other than “Taste.” Heck, even what tastes good has possibly been determined for you by your genes.
One thing that research like this reinforces is how important it is not to judge people based on the food they are eating and/or purchasing. While you might think that something is bad, it’s impossible for us to know what’s going on in that person’s life. The background of things that could be causing them to make the decisions they are making is way more complicated than, “Hey I want those cookies.”
I would love for people to leave comments and discuss any factors that you think might contribute to food choices.
Photo by Sifu Renka.