Psychology of food

Submitted by admin on Thu, 08/18/2016 - 18:02

I want to mention some other psychological perspectives that I have 'discovered' involving food:-

  • Historically, the main emotion around food has always been fear  - fear that we didn’t have enough, fear that good food would be spoiled or inedible, fear that pests would consume it. (plus envy of others who had more than us). Now these problems are largely resolved in our Western societies, but other feeling and phenomena have arisen.
  • There is a 'collective amnesia' about our food production systems. Products are advertised by showing idyllic country scenes, but in fact nearly all food is produced and processed by an industrialised agricultural system. People do not know that the food they eat is mostly industrial products, and as they may not even WANT to know this, I think it may be a selective amnesia. It could also be described as a delusion, but whichever word is used, this seems to be a society-wide psychological syndrome, a deliberate blindness.
  • many children's books have talking animals in a traditional farmyard - I jokingly call this the "Farmyard of Eden". This is one of the first things that most children are taught. From their first books and toys, they get an idea of 'cuddly' friendly animals in the farmyard, who love us and love each other. This myth seems to have replaced the "Garden of Eden" myth and the collection of religious ideas which dominated for centuries. It also seems to have taken exactly the same role as the religious myths, as a direct replacement. Unfortunately, there aren’t any farmyards any more, except for rich “hobby” farmers and in “petting farms” (debatably children have always been told about talking animals, e.g. Aesop’s fables from around 550BC)
  • many people have a 'Sacrament of Meat' - in conversations, people say they couldn't live without it, they have to have it every day. This is very widespread. One gets an impression that people feel their world would collapse without eating meat, and perhaps that the more meat they eat, the more 'real' they feel. It seems to be a very strong desire, even a compulsion, and there may be religious elements - for some, it is literally a sacrament (of blood?).
  • people nowadays seem to hate (fear ?) to see soil on their food, otherwise supermarkets would not be so careful to ensure the purity and cleanness of the food on the shelves. Much food is sterilised and irradiated to kill all infections.
  • many people use food in irrational ways - for comfort, in anorexia/bulimia conditions, to display wealth. There is also widespread obesity.

These are some exploratory thoughts, but the sum total of these observations gives an unusual and worrying psychological picture of our society, which I cannot do justice to. (Maybe Foucault's investigations of sexuality give a way forward in thinking about it more, and it could make a good PhD project for someone).

The factors that I have mentioned above seem to be operating at another level, at a mythic, or generally irrational level, but they still deeply affect the contents of our shopping baskets. In the same way that there is little discourse about the industrialisation of food production, there are seldom discourses about 'farmyard myths', sacramental food, and sterility of food. The discourses about eating disorders usually focus on psychological and medical factors.

Note. I am not claiming that these issues are linked, except that they all involve food, and the food itself is “blameless” - for all the faults and shortcomings of modern food, I don't think it can directly cause psychological issues, are eating disorders always a symptom of other more psychological problems ?