The Social Side of Food

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When living in a food mecca like Singapore, the whole experience of eating is almost akin to a religion; devoting yourself to the pursuit of good food, building connections through shared eating ‘rituals’, and using food as a means to attain happiness or a sense of well-being.

What you decide to put into your body may seem like a very individualistic and rational choice, but we often underestimate the extent to which our eating behavior is influenced by external factors such as culture, society, the media, and the environment we live in.

We might think we eat healthy – when we dine alone or are in easy access of nutritious meals – but you may well be surprised to find out the reasons why you don’t seem to be losing those extra few pounds or pesky love handles!

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Eating is a Social Activity

Food and eating is ubiquitous in Singapore with every little occasion (eg. birthdays, anniversaries, promotions etc.) being an excuse to try that new hipster cafe or trendy upscale restaurant. There’s just something about bonding over a spread of hearty delicious food that warms the soul and invites new conversations.

Studies have shown however, that we tend to eat more in a group setting, than if we were eating alone; perhaps due to a prolonged eating duration, lack of attention to how much you’re actually eating, and excitement to sample as many dishes as possible – #FOMO (fear of missing out).

Often, we also adapt our regular or preferred dietary choices to be congruent with that of friends or family in order to avoid judgement, fear of not ‘fitting in’, or because of peer-pressure to conform to the eating patterns of others.

Tip: We’re all for indulging in a bit of junk food once in a while – we’re only human! Just be more aware of what you are putting in your mouth, how much you’re eating, and if you are eating for your own enjoyment, or for the enjoyment of others. 

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Background, Culture and Ethnicity

Forming the basis of our eating habits growing up, the food that we’re brought up with may subconsciously influence our food preferences as adults; from what foods we find appropriate, preferable and palatable, to how often and how much we eat.

This is also largely influenced by our culture, ethnicity and religion which uses food as a means to express identities and pass down traditions. Overtime, generations come to recognise these foods as familiar, comforting and part of everyday diet, even if those foods are high in unhealthy fat, cholesterol, and sugars.

As our eating habits are deeply entrenched, it’s no wonder why it’s so difficult to alter them later in life. Any alteration would require a long-term disciplined approach and a change in values and attitudes toward food.

Tip: Embrace your culture and heritage! If you are doing the cooking, change up recipes by reducing fat, sugar and salt, but keep the flavours distinct to the dish. You can also practice better portion control and take small steps in working toward healthier eating habits and incorporating a larger variety of nutrient-dense foods into the meal. 

Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Media and Advertising

Media and advertising is a double-edged sword; it could have a positive or negative impact on our eating habits.

Research has shown that there is a direct correlation between images in the media and our eating behavior. Have you ever wondered why eating healthy has been such a growing trend? We can all agree that vegetables aren’t exactly the ‘sexiest’ looking of foods, yet more and more people are transitioning to a plant-based or vegan diet.

We would like to think it’s because people are taking an active approach to educating themselves about food and its impact on health. But could it also be the proliferation of social influencers on digital platforms (eg. blogs, social media sites, YouTube etc.) touting their ‘perfect’ healthy lifestyles and clean eating recipes – green smoothie in hand, leading people to believe that they can look and feel just as good if they emulate their way of life?

On the flipside, advertisements for unhealthy foods are widespread; they can be seen on billboards, building facades, at bus shelters, plastered on the bodies of public transportation. They are both pervasive and persuasive, tempting us wherever we go with their attractive colours, and manipulating us with clever messaging.

It doesn’t help that we’re all familiar with the high we get when eating high fat, sugar-laden foods (due to the release of dopamine – a feel-good neurotransmitter), and advertisers bank on this, nudging us in the direction we are already pre-set on.

Tip: Of course it’s not necessarily a bad thing to promote healthy foods. However, we should be fully aware of our motivations to eat healthy (or not), and do it for the right reasons. Always take what you read and see with a pinch of salt, and make your own informed decision.

 
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Socioeconomic Status

We all make poor food choices at one time or another, but there is evidence that those in the lower-income brackets tend to make poorer food choices, regardless of their education level.

This is probably because pre-packed/pre-prepared processed and unhealthy foods are usually quick and convenient to obtain, and also more inexpensive. On the other hand, lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables (especially organic), and freshly prepared nutrient-dense meals come with a higher price tag. With a lower spending power, food choices are naturally limited.

Our socioeconomic status also affects where we live. Ergo, our proximity to healthy food providers. Unfortunately in Singapore, there seems to be a lack of healthy food providers in the heartlands as compared to town or the Central Business District (CBD). For many, options for healthy food are thus limited when at home or if work is outside of the main CBD area. It’s just too convenient

Which would you choose? Traveling 45 minutes into town for a delicious salad packed full of nutritious ingredients, or walking 5 minutes to your local coffee shop/hawker centre for a fragrant plate of chicken rice or nasi-lemak?

Tip: Yes, eating healthy is important but spend within your means. Meal prep for the week or cook healthy meals at home. Shop fresh fruits, vegetables and meat from your neighbourhood wet market or supermarket, and don’t succumb to the conveniences of eating out too often. 

Conclusion

At SaladStop!, our movement to Eat Wide Awake is not just about knowing where your food comes from and how the food production cycle impacts the welfare of others and the environment. It is also about understanding how and why we eat, and the social factors which directly or indirectly influence our eating habits and patterns.

With all this information at our fingertips, we can then begin to eat and live more mindfully!

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