How your identity affects your food preferences


Growing up in a rural area of the northern US that was populated mostly by German and Scandinavian immigrants, I ate a lot of food that some folks would find, shall we say, uninspiring. Even though much of it was on the bland side, I still fondly recall many of the dishes like knephla soup, kraut strudel, and cold creamy cucumber salad. If I had not grown up in this region and strongly associated myself with it, would I like this carb-heavy and spice-light food as much? Probably not, according to science, as NPR’s The Salt explains

A recent study of US Southerners and Canadians found that the stronger your sense of social identity with a group, the more likely you are to think that the foods associated with the group taste good. Even though the researchers anticipated this result, they are still not sure of the exact mechanism for it. One theory “is that people are more sensitive to the different dimensions of the food when it’s associated with their identity,” notes the article. A different concept is that the foods are familiar, self-affirming, and therefore considered good. 

This study differed from previous research in that the subjects were “primed” about their association with a group – reminded of their identity. When this occurred, people were more likely to think of their culture’s foods as tasty. The study can help us “understand how people make complex food decisions in society with a great diversity of options,” and showing potential new ways to help people make better food choices. 

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