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8.2: Food Selection

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    A lot goes into the how and why for why we choose the foods that we choose. Whether done consciously or unconsciously food selection criteria may be thought of as falling into 5 categories:

    Sensory: choosing foods based on our sense of taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch.

    Nutritional: choosing foods based on whether or not they meet our current nutritional needs. Do they work for a particular dietary pattern? Do they trigger food allergies or sensitives?

    Cultural/Religious: Are there practices and rules that are governed by religious practice? Are there traditional foods that are consumed or avoided to honor ancestors or in observation of a holiday?

    Sociological/Psychological: choosing foods for more than just nourishment. There may be an influence or endorsement from a well known celebrity or influencer. Perhaps we are peer pressured to try a food we otherwise wouldn't. This category also describes the feeling of choosing foods based on environmental impact and how these foods make us feel.

    Budget/cost: How much does food costs and how much we have to spend on food is a major driver of food selection.


    Choosing foods based on how they look, feel, sound, taste, and smell are all ways in which we may be influenced. Again, these may be done cosciously or unconsciously. Have you ever been walking down the street and started to smell the distinguishable scent of freshly baked bread in the air? Did you then go and buy the bread? Or maybe you just thought about it as you walked down the street. This example would demonstrate the sensory aspect of foods. 

    Children are particularly in tune with their senses when choosing foods. Think about it, how often have you heard a child say, "that looks gross, I'm not eating that!," or, "this food smells funny!". We can develop likes and dislikes from a young age basing them soley on our sensory food selection criteria.

    Smell: How a food smells. Is this good? Bad? Does the smell drive you a way or pull you in?

    Taste: Do you have a memory of how the food tastes or perhaps based on prior experiences and the smell the food has you can guess that it will taste good. Enjoying the taste of a food is a major driver for choosing that food again. Meanwhile, disliking the way a food tastes is another major driver for not choosing that food again if it is offered. 

    Texture: Have you ever craved something crunchy? If you have, you may have picked up a bag of chips, crackers, or pretzels to satisfy that craving. In this example you were driven to choose a food based on texture criteria. Mouthfeel of a food would also fit into this category. For example, diet colas would taste flat if bulking agents were not added in to simulate the effect sugar has on mouthfeel. No one would want to drink it if those were omitted. 

    Sight: We use our eye sight to help and aid us in making lots of every day decisions such as which direction to take, what to wear, and given our current discussion what to eat. We can use our sense of sight to see if food has spoiled or gone bad or looks good to eat. Sometimes all it takes is a picture which is why advertisers spend lots of money making their food look the best in their ads using specialized techniques. It is also why chef's will use garnishes on plates or strategic plating methods to make the food look as visually appealing as possible. 

    Sound:  Sounds that food makes is a lesser thought of sensory aspect to food choice but is a driver in the reasons behind making some food choices. The sound a bag of chips makes is an example of a sound that may make you want to then snack on a crunchy snack. We can also tell if soda is flat if there is an absent of noise.


    Nutrition, both perceived or verified, is the second greatest motivator in food preference and selection. Perhaps someone has made weight loss goals or is on a specialized diet due to allergies these individuals are going to choose foods that fit into their lifestyle and dietary needs. 


    There are greater than 4,000 recognized religions worldwide so it would be impossible to cover them here. How does or would religion alter food choice? Religions may have different "rules" to follow in either what is acceptable to eat (or not) and how the food is prepared. In some instances there are even rules about where the food is prepared and by whom. It is important to recognize that not everyone who follows or observed a certain religion follows all of the (or any) of the dietary recommendations. There are some individuals who are considered devout who follow the written or estabilished doctrine closely and then others who choose not to follow any. As opposed to listing any specific religions here and outlining dietary practices I encourage you to read about cultural aspects in food choices here.

    Cultural aspects to food selection go beyond religion as well with cultural "norms" and traditions. Getting an alcoholic drink on one's 21st birthday (legal drinking age in the U.S.) would be an example of this or serving cake at a birthday party.

    Sociological and Psychological:

    Peer pressure falls into this category as well as hospitality norms and choices. These two are listed together instead of separately because there is often overlap in the two categories. These are often intertwined with cultural normals as well. 

    Budget and Costs:

    Food costs have skyrocketed over the past couple of years with increased inflation in the United States. At home food costs, meaning food bought at the grocery store to prepare at home, increased 12.4% from October 2021 to October 2022. In comparison food inflation cost from 2019-2020 was around 3.4% and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic the average food-cost increase was around 1.2% per year. With increasing costs, many individuals are now dealing with choosing their foods based on cost alone or higher towards the top of the list. Food insecurity is also a major issue in the U.S. with sides arguing whether or not access to food is a human right or on the individual. As such, there are many grass-roots efforts to bridge the gap for many Americans to provide them with foods in order to provide nutritious foods. 

    Ways to over-come costs of food many people turn to store discount cards and coupons. Another way to cut costs at the grocery store is to choose store brand or generic brand over name-brand labels. 

    Souces: U.S. Labor and Statistics

    Nuance and Food Selection:

    While at first glance it may seem very simple as to why people choose the foods that they do there is a larger system at play that many are not aware of. The social determinants of health play a major role in how access, costs, beliefs all work together to either improve health or reduce ones health outcomes. 

    To learn more on this topic of food selection please visit this website The Determinants of Food Choice. It has a lot of information that explains the nuance behind food choices.

    8.2: Food Selection is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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