Do you have food prejudices?
If you think about it, we all have foods we think or feel negatively about, and would not eat at all, or only unwillingly. What is often behind such a food prejudice?
1. Childhood Food Trauma
Often, a negative reaction to a type of food may stem from unpleasant childhood experiences with those food items. For example, many people have an aversion to vegetable types such as spinach, broccoli or pumpkin, perhaps because their parents made them eat large amounts of them, or made them eat them against their will.
Additionally, a food item or a dish may be associated with a specific traumatic or painful event such as choking as a child, or it may have been served when something negative and painful happened.
In parts of the world where food shortage is common, people may develop an aversion to foods that they have been forced to eat repeatedly due to lack of affordable alternatives.
2. Negative Associations
Sometimes, food prejudices may stem from negative visual, semantic, historical, social, personal or other associations attached to a food item or a dish. For example, some people who did not grow up near the sea find it difficult to eat shrimp, prawns and other delicacies because they may visually remind them of unsavoury creatures such as caterpillars.
Sometimes, food items are also associated with a social or historical stigma. In many places, for instance, there are foods which were called ‘poor peoples’ food’. Only later did such foods – including pizza and dumplings – climb out of this designation into the league of favourite foods of the world.
3. Lack of Familiarity
We often react negatively to foods whose acquaintance we have not yet made, or whose acquaintance we made late in life. Often, they do not belong to our circle of comfort foods, to which we have developed a strong positive emotional bond.
For example, many people who live in Europe or America many not be able to enjoy cooked banana the first time they try it, just as many Africans may need time before adopting radish, black bread or types of cheese.
Besides, we may feel that our taste circuitry is already wired for life. We may be unwilling to interrupt or modify this pattern of tastes.
4. Social Prejudice
The most disturbing form of food prejudice is when it is rooted in a prejudice towards a specific group of people. How often we hear phrases such as ‘these people are like this and that because they eat this and that’.
There are many people who extend their negative view of an ethnic group or other social group to the foods these peoples cherish as delicacies, such as snails, frog legs, sheep, sheep’s head, locusts, cassava leaf, dog meat, insects, caterpillars, as well as methods of eating, such as eating with the fingers.
Of course, choosing to consume certain food items or not is a purely personal choice. It is only unfortunate when our food prejudices betray a more dangerous prejudice towards other human beings, other cultures, or other ways of life.
Here is a short exercise to test your food prejudices:
1. Make a list of all the foods you plainly hate, dislike, or eat only unwillingly.
2. For each food item or dish, write a sentence about what comes to mind when you think of, smell or see the dish or food item.
3. Decide whether it is due to a childhood food trauma, negative social, visual or historical associations, or whether the food prejudice is related to other, deeper prejudices. Or you may have another reason not discussed here.
4. Write down one sentence about what you think would help to change the food prejudice, and whether this step is at all necessary.