We like to think of college as a place to reinvent ourselves. A fresh start. A place to escape any embarrassing high school memories. An opportunity to learn new things and meet new people. I was extremely hopeful for this fresh start as a I came to Santa Clara University and I am sure all of my new classmates were as well. However, as I transitioned into my new environment, one that was very different from my home town, I started to realize that there some things about a person that, no matter how hard they tried to reinvent themselves, they really couldn’t change overnight. These were things like their mannerisms, their experiences, their ways of living, their ideals, etc… Whether we want these things to change or not, it is hard to outgrow 18 years of habit involved in them.
Looking back on it now, especially after taking two quarters of my Critical Thinking and Writing course titled “Food Porn”, I found an one thing that seemed to be an accurate insight into a person’s past that they certainly would not be able to change over night: food. I know, food seems like a weird thing to think about when thinking of one’s identity, but after multiple essays on topics surrounding food, I have come to the conclusion that our food experiences truly do shape who we are. Upon my first realization of this, I decided to write my first food-related essay on the ways that our backgrounds with food can shape our personalities.
As a side note and a little bit of information on my own background: to call my family “foodies” would be an understatement. A picky eater would not have survived growing up in my household. Whether traveling the world and eating exotic foods from foreign countries or cooking traditional Japanese meals in the kitchen with my mom, I have always found food to be a wonderful way to connect with the cultures of my family and of other people.
Going off of this idea, I started to explore the ways in which my experiences with food shaped who I am today. The first thing that popped into my head was the relationship between openness to new foods and openness to other cultures. I read about a study conducted at a midwestern university that found that “an individual’s attitudes and behaviors towards new foods/cuisines could serve as an indicator of their openness [to new people and experiences]” (Rajagopal 257). Similarly, I found a study of an after-school cooking club in a UK secondary school, that concluded teaching students multicultural recipes led to better “citizenship skills and an understanding of the needs and wants of other cultures” and “increased the knowledge and understanding of peers from different cultural backgrounds” (Gatenby et al. 111). People who had grown up with exposure to foods of other cultures and were willing to try them were more open to new experiences, people, and cultures in general.
Additionally, I found that people who had grown up with household dinner-time traditions, whether they be chores or just meal traditions, tended to be more grounded. Through our special family traditions, however big or small, children are taught about family values and they strengthen their bonds to others. Similarly, according to a study conducted on adults to see how their childhood eating rules affected their current eating habits, it was found that “‘clean your plate at each meal,’ ‘you must eat your vegetables at dinner,’ ‘you cannot have dessert until you finish your meal,’ ‘you have to at least try or taste new foods,’ and ‘don’t take more than you can eat’” (Puhl 287) were the most common eating rules in the sample groups household, all of which they still took into account today. The study concluded that food rules, like those I mentioned, can have a large impact on a child’s future eating behaviors. For instance, when parents enforce certain eating rules on their children, it can be beneficial in teaching them discipline; however, when a parent uses food to punish or reward behavior, it can lead to unhealthy binge eating behaviors in the child’s adulthood. For this reason, it matters not only what we eat while growing up, but also how we eat.
Of course, knowledge about the ways in which food affect us wouldn’t be complete without at least a little bit of information on the nutritional side of things, so I decided to write my next essay about sugar addiction. Through my research, I found out about not only the prevalence of sugar in American food, but how easy it is to literally become addicted to it. Addiction may seem like an exaggeration when talked about in terms of sugar, but when looking at the country’s obesity rates, Type 2 Diabetes rates, and the rates of other severe health problems caused by sugar intake, it is undeniable that sugar addiction is no small matter (Johnson).
According to a study conducted by the Princeton Department of Psychology, sugar intake can lead to the four stages that classify a drug addiction: “bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization”. In the case of this experiment, bingeing refers to the increased amount of daily sugar intake, withdrawal refers to the anxiety or depression experienced by someone who is deprived of sugar, craving refers to the feeling of needing sugar, and cross-sensitization refers to the lasting effects of the sugar even after consumption has stopped. In substance abuse, these four stages signify a dependence to the substance that the user is taking (Avena). Since sugar intake can lead to these four stages as well, it can be concluded that a user’s dependence to sugar can form.
For my last food related essay, I decided to take my research in a new direction: politics. One of the most politically debated food issues that I could think of was genetically modified organisms (GMOs). I set out to find the truth about whether or not I should support GMOs or not, thinking this would be relatively easy to find out. However, i found that the prevalence of politics and large profit-based corporations like Monsanto in the discussion of genetically modified crops leads to polarizing views, biased information, and misconceptions on the topic that make it impossible to find an unbiased truth on the matter, and, consequently, mask the possible benefits of genetic modification. The issue, just like so many others, is so politicized and polarized that it eliminates all possibility of compromise. The need to be completely on one side of a debate is what causes extreme polarization and eliminates possibilities of a compromise. If consumers, politicians, and companies were more willing to see eye to eye, then maybe the food industry would be able to work towards more productive use of GMOs while eliminating companies like Monsanto from the equation.
Although all of these issues may seem like the most unrelated food topics that I could have chosen to write about in this blog post, I truly do believe that our experiences with food issues like these truly do shape the type of people that we are. Through the way we grow up eating we form our mannerisms, our ideals, and our traditions. Through the way that we are fed, we form eating habits, whether healthy or not. Through the role that we take on as consumers, we take a political stance. My work in CTW I and II has taught me that my food experiences are things that I cannot change, but can learn from and observe in others. I think this is important to keep in mind when I am involved in the food experiences of those around me. Our food is powerful. Our food is more than our diet. Our food is part of our identity. Food for thought.
Avena, Nicole M. “Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Pergamon, 18 May 2007, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763407000589.
Gatenby, L. A., et al. “Cooking Communities: Using Multicultural after‐School Cooking Clubs to Enhance Community Cohesion.” Nutrition Bulletin, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 16 Feb. 2011, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2010.01877.x/full.
Johnson, Richard J. “Potential Role of Sugar (Fructose) in the Epidemic of Hypertension, Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Cardiovascular disease1,2,3.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , Oct. 2007, ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/899.short.
Puhl, Rebecca M. “f You Are Good You Can Have a Cookie: How Memories of Childhood Food Rules Link to Adult Eating Behaviors.” Eating Behaviors, vol. 4, no. 3, Sept. 2003, pp. 283–293.
Rajagopal, Lakshman. “Use of Food Attitudes and Behaviors in Determination of the Personality Characteristic of Openness: A Pilot Study.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations, vol. 33, no. 3, May 2009, pp. 254–258.