Food choices are not just determined by our own hunger but are in fact driven by a complex chain of related factors.
I will discuss the above statement showing that food choices are indeed driven by a complex chain of related factors. The main factors which I will refer to are religious beliefs, household income and also fair trade consumerism.
The first factor which I believe greatly influences food choices is religious beliefs. Almost every religion has some influence on our food choices. In Catholicism we are told that meat should not be eaten on Fridays and on Holy days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday meat should not be eaten and one must fast between meals. This has some impact on the way Catholics live their lives and has an influence on the food choices. While Catholicism may have some guidelines they are not too extreme and are not enforced with penalties for breaking the rules.
Islam on the other hand sets out far more rules when it comes to food choices. Unlike Catholicism where specific foods are forbidden on certain days of the year Islam lists several foods which are prohibited at all times.
These include pork, lard, all carnivorous animals and birds of prey, meat coming from an animal that died before slaughter and alcohol is also forbidden at all times.These beliefs are set out is the Qur’an which states that “he makes pure / right / good things lawful to them and forbids them from what is wrong / evil / harmful. Qur’an 7:157” (http://www.faithandfood.com/Islam.php)
Not only are Muslims restricted in what foods they are allowed to eat but also by the fact that they are not permitted to eat in any restaurant that serves the forbidden foods or alcohol.
Muslims are also required to take part in Ramadan. “Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a mandatory fasting period that commemorates the period when the Qur’an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad”. (http://www.faithandfood.com/Islam.php)
During the period of Ramadan drinking and eating is prohibited from dawn to sunset.Other religions also have forbidden foods. Hindu’s do not eat beef as the cow is seen as a sacred animal in the practice of Hinduism. All other meat and fish are either restricted or avoided. Judaism also prohibits pork and shell fish consumption.
Household income is also a main factor when it comes to food choices.This is seen when it comes to low family incomes. Many families cannot afford to dine out at luxurious restaurants everyday and eat Mark and Spenser’s croissants for breakfast. Low income families survive on what they can afford. This many mean that they will have to settle for the 30cent orange juice from Lidl instead of 3.50euro freshly squeezed juice from a Juice bar. According to the Population Reference Bureau 2005 “More than half the world lives on less than $2 a day”.
In Ireland income greatly influences food choices. The family income will decide where they can afford to shop and where they can afford to eat out. It will be the deciding factor in the quality of the meat you eat and wine you drink.
However in the West we are not so deprived. In Ireland a low family income may mean eating reduced products from Tesco in other countries a low family income may result in not eating at all.
In Tanzania 73% of the country’s population live on less than $2 a day. For them even a euro saver Mc Donald’s burger is out of the question. They will have to spend their money on the best value food they can find and even then many will go hungry for days on end.
In Malawi there is a daily struggle to feed the population of 12 million. One aid worker comments that out of a population of 12 million “3 million people have been recognised as being in dire need of food”. One single mother tells of how she gets upset when her children have no food to eat. “They go to their friend’s house and envy them eating, as an adult I can bear the hunger, the little ones cry”. (What in the World Malawi) For the people of Malawi there is no food choice. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are hungry. The only choice they have it to either eat the little food they can get or die.
Fair trade foods also influence our food choices. While 20 years ago fair trade goods may have been seen as products for the elite now they are becoming more and more accepted. Fair trade tea and coffee can now be found in many cafes and restaurants across the country. Many restaurants and hotels pride themselves for converting to fair trade. Hotel chains like the Marriott hotels now only serve fair trade tea and coffee and many college campuses including UCC now offer the fair trade option.
Fair trade is seen as something good to do. We all feel good about ourselves when we choose fair trade tea over Lyon’s or Barry’s tea. It is like doing our bit for charity. However if you ask many people what the difference is between fair trade goods and other consumer products they probably will not be able to tell you.
The truth is that in countries like Guatemala the locals are highly dependant on fair trade. In 1997 6 fair trade co-ops were set up selling coffee to countries like Ireland, UK and US. 60% of the coffee grown was sold into fair trade. The rest was sold at home in the local villages for a good profit. Up until this the coffee farmers were getting less than 1% of the income made from the coffee. The coyotes used to buy the coffee and pay the farmer what ever they wanted to. The introduction of fair trade coffee has given the people of Guatemala a better quality of life. The Fair Trade group Manos Campesina’s insures that the farmers are paid well. “This group has brought a 40% increase in income”. (What in the World. Guatemala)
By making the choice to buy fair trade coffee we are in turn giving the people who make the coffee the income that they need to be in charge of their own food and lifestyle choice. As on member of the fair trade Manos Campesina’s group said “The fair trade market has suited us better because the price we were getting was very low and fair trade gives us a bit more so we make more money with what they pay us we can educate our children and we can grow other crops with what they pay” (What in the world Guatemala).
I believe that all of the above points have illustrated the fact that food choices are not just determined by our own hunger. For Muslims their religion decides which foods they can and cannot eat, for low income families they have to accept whatever food they can get and for fair trade groups our decision in the West to buy fair trade products feeds the farmers that are producing the coffee.