A young boy whose face is covered in chocolate, eating a muffin

How do we decide what to eat and what influences our choices?

Why do we eat and drink what we do? And what kind of things affect the food choices we make? Olivia Wills investigates

My partner loves Orange Clubs so much he’ll eat eight of them in about 10 minutes. Then there’s my housemate, who thinks his porridge-pasta-rice-curry is the greatest meal ever (it isn’t). People have strange tastes. But why do we like what we like? Well our upbringing, surroundings, social life, and even gender, have got something to do with it. Here's why.

An Orange Club biscuit

Remember when we were kids?

The foods we regularly eat are the ones we’ve learned to eat. Much of this goes back to childhood - it might be the smell of Sunday dinners, soggy cheese triangle sandwiches at a ‘it’s-raining-but-let’s-do-it-anyway’ picnic, or the plate of Party Rings which sit there at the party, practically screaming ‘BIRTHDAY’!

The importance of learning to eat in childhood is such a big deal in Finland, that all Finnish pre-schools include lessons on ‘varied food habits’. Imagine that - actually going out foraging for berries, tasting herbs and spices and probably getting covered in beetroot, all in pre-school!

A paper plate covered in Party Rings

I’ll have what she’s having

Food is a social thing. Whether we’re meeting friends, family, colleagues or clients, chances are there’s going to be some kind of food or drink involved. The size of the group, who they are and what they’re eating can all nudge us a bit in what we choose ourselves.

Gender expectations can make us eat more of what we think we should be eating - apparently women can’t get enough of laughing alone with salad and chocolate (preferably the delicate Flake, not the testosterone-packed Yorkie) and men needn’t bother with a plate which isn’t packed with meat.

The idea of the emotional female relationship with food - cue crying woman spooning ice-cream from the tub - is enough to have us believe that women loving chocolate and men needing meat are hard-wired facts of life. But it’s more about how we associate identity with food that may make us end up adopting these preferences ourselves, not to mention how advertising reinforces these stereotypes.

A smiling woman eating salad

Two goji berry smoothies please

Ah, 2015. Remember that? The year we ate avocado and poached eggs for breakfast, cashew pesto courgetti for lunch and kale-topped cauliflower-based pizza for dinner. The year in which Prosecco became casual, and snacks came pre-pulped by the Nutribullet.

Like it or not, food trends can be a big deal when it comes to choosing what we eat, and they often start from humble beginnings - a recipe book, blog or menu, or a newly declared superfood, which catches the eye of enough people. Demand is quickly met by shops, cafes and restaurants, which makes it even more accessible and before we know it, BuzzFeed is giving us 13 Perfect Gifts For The Avocado Lover In Your Life.

I’m lovin’ the real thing

The food and drinks industry is fiercely competitive, and so never stop pummelling of our eyes with powerfully emotional advertising. Who knew tear-jerking brotherly love could be so well expressed with a bottle of Coke?

Advertising is so persuasive that junk food adverts on TV are banned during prime-time in some countries. Cancer Research UK surveyed primary school children about their responses to adverts, with one girl saying “It makes you feel as if you’re happy and excited, and it feels like you want to try it because the guy’s dancing in it, because he’s eaten it and it tastes good.”

Okay, so adults might not be so easily persuaded by happy dancers, but the persistence of images of food that promises to improve our lives in some way, affect what we end up deciding to eat. That’s why the companies spend all that money! For example, McDonald's spent some $802m on advertising in the US in 2015.

That's a wrap

So there we have it - just some of the factors that drive and influence our food choices. And our decisions to eat what we do then shape the wider economy - those who our food - the same economy which influenced our choice in the first place! Phew, after all that, I could do with a snack.

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