One of the major influences on what we decide to eat is our initial perception of how it looks. Whether its out to dinner, at the university dining hall, or making food at home, we often choose the food that looks the best. According to an article by Science of People , a very substantial influence on initial food choices we make are due to visual interpretation. This is to say that we often eat with our eyes, rather than our stomachs. The old saying “Big eyes, small stomach” attests to the idea that our initial visual perception of food has substantial influence on how we gauge its conclusive pleasure, even though it may not properly reflect the actual result.
Discover good nutrition is a nutritional information website that discusses a variety of aspects in relation to food choice. The site is not strictly scientific, but rather is geared in discussing the multiple facets of food choice in a way that is understandable to the general public. According to their section on food choices, there are a lot of aspects that go into how we decide what to eat. One of the most likely reasons that you chose something based on aesthetics is because you thought it would taste good. As such, there seems to be clear connection between aesthetic pleasure and expectations of taste, so what happens when food does not look good? Does it change the way we think it tastes, or effect our decision to eat it in the first place?
Well, we can look at a few factors that are involved with aesthetic qualities of food to get a better idea of the scope of its consequences. Here, we will look at the aesthetic notions of food choice in relation to packaging, presentation, advertising, and environmental hot-words such as GMO and organic.
In Food Quality and Preference volume 62, Gregory Simmonds and Charles Spence discuss the nature of packaging style and its influence on consumer choice. An excerpt from their article reads, “Packaging is far more than merely a convenient means of getting a product to the store/consumer without damage . Over the past couple of decades, it has increasingly been realized that product packaging constitutes a powerful marketing tool in its own right and as such requires the same and techniques used in other areas of marketing to maximize commercial success”, (Simmonds, Spence)
So packaging has evolved to serve as an attraction for the consumer. Supposedly, the packaging may even influence your perception on how the food taste just because it is aesthetically pleasing. Well packaged and well branded items often are considered higher quality, even if the product inside is not so good.
In the same article by Simmonds and Spence, there is a section on the effects of seeing food. As it turns out, seeing images of food activates several stimuli in the brain that are triggered based on what you want to satiate you. You may want something salty, or you may want something sweet because you have already been satiated by salt. The sight of food and how its presented leads the brain to make assessments of whether they want it based on levels of current satiation and satiation desire (Simonds, Spence)
Essentially, we use aesthetic characteristics of food to make assessments on how it will effect us. So because something looks sweet or salty, we will either choose to eat or not. But, do we actually know if it is salty or sweet? Not necessarily, its just an aesthetic assumption.
Very often, the way a food is advertised or illustrated effects the way we think it will taste, according to the 2013 Journal of Obesity. In the 2013 Journal of Obesity, there is an article that analyzes the connection between childhood obesity and commercial food targeted toward children. Examples of this include meals like KidsCuisine and Mcdonalds, where children are encouraged to eat these products through targeted advertising.
These are adds that involve children, deal with child-like elements, and have an initial appeal toward younger viewers. Interesting enough, the results of the study lead the writers of this article to a fairly strong hypothesis; “The results indicate that advertising has divergent effects on children’s food knowledge and preferences and that food knowledge is unrelated to food preferences.” (Lucia. A Reisch et al.)
In this case, aesthetic presentation was more influential in food choice than actual knowledge about food!
Aesthetics of GMO and Organic
As we have been discussing in class, there are a variety of reasons that people choose to purchase organic and non-GMO food. One of these reasons is due to the perception that non-GMO and organic food are inherently better than their counterparts. Why might we be lead to believe this? An entry in the 30th volume of Strategic Direction notes that the participants of their first research group (in a study about why people choose to eat organic) claimed that they ate organic because of health, quality of life, wellness, lifestyle, and respect to the environment and environmental harm. All of these notions can indeed be attributed to the aesthetic experience and aesthetic perception.
Aesthetic experiences occur throughout every moment of our daily life. Although we are not actively thinking about artistic beauty at all times, we are constantly surrounded by its elements and forced to consider its quality in regard to our environment. Simply, this is to say that we are constantly judging the aesthetic qualities of everything around us even if we are not thinking about it. Take for example the idea of that one classroom you hate to be in, or that one path to class you like to walk because its more scenic. Think about how you may choose to sit under a tree to study, or perhaps you need to be in the library so you can focus. All of these decisions, although encompassed by other factors, have a degree of influence from aesthetic perception.
One good example of how this applies to aesthetic perceptions of GMO and Organic is to compare the aesthetic experience of King Soopers with a Whole Foods. When you walk into King Soopers, everything is designed towards convenience and cheap prices, and you dont really get the feel that what you are buying is exceptionally healthy. The Whole Foods however, immediately embraces an atmosphere of eco-friendly vibes, environmentally friendly products, and an overall sense of “What I am buying is healthy and sustainable”. However, most of these perceptions are not due to the extensive amount of research you have done on King Soopers and Whole foods, but just because of how they look and are presented. You associate the overall aesthetic perception with the actual quality of the grocery store!
Aesthetic perceptions of GMO and Organic are analogous to this phenomenon. One might choose to eat organic purely because of the aesthetic perceptions and notions tied to the idea of being someone who eats organically. Why? Because the notion of organic is tied to positive life qualities. The same applies to GMO’s. Aesthetic perceptions of GMO’s are negative to say the least, as we often attribute them to large companies and harmful chemicals. However, this image rarely fits in with the actual process and consequences of implementing and consuming GMO’s.
What does this mean?
The aesthetic decisions that you make regarding food have a variety of factors that influence your purchasing decisions, so being aware of all of these factors and understanding how they play into food choice can be greatly beneficial in determining why you have certain food preferences. We often only focus on scientific and social aspects regarding food choice, but only focusing on these aspects leaves us victim to omitting other reasons we decide to purchase food.
As discussed in this blog-post, aesthetic qualities of food and aesthetic perceptions surrounding the choices of what we eat have substantial influence on our purchasing decisions. I believe that this is a quality that often goes unnoticed, as many individuals take for granted the aesthetic appeal of their food. Indeed, one could even say that we wrongly assume a symbiotic definition between aesthetically appealing products and their environmental effects. More specifically, we confuse aesthetic appeals that imply environmental friendliness with actual environmental qualities of food.
As such, I believe the most important aspect of these findings is that people should separate aesthetic perceptions and scientific perceptions about food. As mentioned in the example about Whole Foods, applying our overall aesthetic perception to actual food qualities is detrimental in making well-informed choices. The packaging and advertising does not reflect the quality of the food, just as the ideal perception of eating organic or being anti-GMO does not reflect the actual consequences of these concepts.
Ultimately, we should probably put a little more thought into how aesthetics influence our food choices both on an individual and societal scale. Not only how it is presented to us, but indeed, how we present it to others. Perhaps even, one of the unspoken claims to solving food sustainability is approaching the way we aesthetically shape and judge our food.