Outline and Evaluate Evolutionary Explanations of Food Preferences

Published: 2021-07-29 03:30:06
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Category: Evolution

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These make us sensitive to a range of taste qualities. For example, sweet foods are usually associated with carbohydrates that are a great source of energy. Sour food allows us to identify food that has gone off and would therefore contain harmful bacteria. Salt food is vital for the function of our cells. Bitter tastes are associated with plant chemicals that could be linked with poison, again a hazard for our health.
Finally, umami allows us to identify meaty and savoury qualities in food that indicate a source of protein. In addition to this, humans are regarded to be full omnivores, since the split from the great ape line more than 6 million years ago. The introduction of protein to our diet allowed us to develop a larger brain. This is the basic success of the human race. Evaluation (A02/03) Through evolution, other distinctive eating behaviours have emerged that the evolutionary approach can explain. For example, the use of spices (onion, garlic) in cooking, especially in hot countries where food tends to go off quickly.
These spices contain chemicals that can kill the harmful bacteria and thus protect people from poisoning. Secondly, food neophobia is a behaviour related to the fear of new foods. In the past, our ancestors would avoid new food as they would be fearful of the dangerous effects it can have to their health. Frost (2006) offers support for this behaviour, as it is still evident today. However, our liking for new food can increase with familiarity, as shown by Birch and Marlin (1992). It took children a minimum of ten weeks to reverse neophobia into preference. Therefore, in avoiding new food we eliminate the risk of ecoming ill. As we become familiar with it and see that it has no harm to us, we may build a preference to it. Thirdly, taste aversion learning is evident in all animals, including humans. They learn to avoid food that makes them ill. This is a powerful mechanism that can help keep them alive. A research study by Garcia et al. , (1977) provides support for this. They made wolves sick with poisoned lambs meat. This results in the wolves avoiding the live sheep they would usually attack. This suggests that by learning that it once made us ill, our preference towards it changes.
In other words, we learn to avoid it in order to avoid damage to our health. Finally, the evolutionary approach can explain morning sickness. It is a form of nausea associated with the early months of pregnancy. It drives a mother to avoid some foods (coffee, tea, eggs, meat, alcohol) as shown by Buss (2008). With regards to the evolutionary approach, it argues that each of these foods could damage the developing baby. This may be due to the harmful bacteria found in eggs and meat or the high levels of caffeine found in coffee and tea.
This is known as the Embryo Protection Hypothesis, put forward by Profet (1992). However, a criticism of this is that it is hard to test directly. Nevertheless, 75% of women in Buss’ study reported significant morning sickness and the prevention of particular foods. This demonstrates again, that by avoiding certain food we help keep not only ourselves, but even out babies alive. A problem with the evolutionary approach is that it is speculative. It is impossible to test food preferences using scientific experimentation. Instead, most of the explanations rely on observations of our modern eating behaviour.
This is then compared with speculations about eating behaviour in the era of evolutionary adaptation. Therefore, the evolutionary explanation of food preferences may not be wrong but it lacks direct support. It can also be criticised for being reductionist. It only focuses on a limited range of evolutionary factors. They ignore the important role of psychological, social and cultural factors that influence our eating behaviour in today’s modern world. For example, the use of Government campaigns which help promote a healthy balanced diet to the wider public.
Many might be persuaded to begin eating healthy and thus change their food preferences. However, they can provide quite convincing explanations. For instance, increased levels in obesity today can be explained with regards to the evolutionary approach. It suggests that our evolutionary ancient feeding mechanisms cannot cope with the change to high carbohydrate diet and over abundance of food. Therefore, there can be both positive and negative sides to the evolutionary approach in explaining food preferences.

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