Lesson 5: Food Habits
Food refers to anything that is eaten to provide energy and keep the body healthy. It forms an important part of many Ghanaian customs and traditions. Whilst some foods are not regarded as food at all by some groups, the same foods are delicacies for others. As a caterer you need to learn about the role food plays in the life of the different people you have to cater for. People need food especially because it keeps them healthy and offer enjoyment. If the food you offer for sale does not do any of the above people may not patronize your services. This is why it is important for you to learn how to make wise food choices and provide the kinds of food your varied customers want.
Explanation of food habits
Have you ever traveled away from home for many days? While you were away, did you long for some of the foods you are used to eating back home? If you do, your longing for the home food is the results of the habit you have cultivated around those foods.
When you travel from the East Coast of Ghana to the West, you would notice the various ways in which food commodities are used. maize, for example, is used to make ‘akpele’ by Ewes, Gas would use it for ‘komi’, Efutus would use it for ‘etsew’, Fantes would make ‘ntew’ from it and Ahantas would use it for ‘fomfom’. These corn dishes are eaten with different kinds of sauces and soups depending on who is eating it.
Again, have you observed how people eat their food? Some people use their fingers, others use cutlery and still others use chop sticks. All of these describe the food habits of people. Food Habits is therefore the way in which people select, cook, serve and eat foods that are available to them. Food habits differ from one ethnic group to another and from one country to another. These differences come about because of many influences on people.
Did your list include any of the following?
- Foods available
- Income/economic status
If yes then well done. Now let us look at some of these factors critically.
Nutrition education is very important in the life of every human being. Think about what would happen to you if you do not eat the right kinds of food over a long period or if you do not know how to cook your food well to get the necessary nutrients. Can you imagine what you would look like?
You met the word nutrition in unit one didn’t you? Do you remember what it means? If you do, then congratulation. If you do not remember please go back to unit one and review it.
Nutrition education would help you make many wise decisions about food. For example, what type to eat, when to eat, how many times you would eat a day and what combinations of food provide a healthy diet. Education also gives you consumer information which would help you to buy food wisely from the market place. It also provides you with the relevant skills needed to prepare your food well. In short, education helps you to make informed food choices which will provide the necessary nutrients for a healthy body at a minimum cost. Education helps you to form certain food habits and change others. For example, education can make you decide to eat fruits at every meal because you have learnt about its nutritional benefits. Education can also make you decide not to eat certain foods because of their harmful effect on your body.
Economic status refers to the amount of money you have to spend that is whether you are rich or poor. Your economic status affects your food habits because the types of food you choose would depend on how much money you have. When you are rich, you can afford very expensive foods, you can eat in restaurants and you can eat as many times as you want in a day. Food chosen by poor people are meager and monotonous. Even where nutrition knowledge is high economic status still dictates what foods you can eat and how you eat them.
All ethnic groups have their own food customs. As cultural groups develop over the ages they formed their own living patterns which included food customs. Each group spelt out what its members could or could not eat how the food should be cooked and when it could be eaten.
Food patterns are influenced by religious beliefs. What foods people can eat or cannot eat have been dictated by their religious beliefs. For example, Moslems do not eat pork because Islam forbids them to eat it.
Meal management practices
Meal management practices include the skills you have and the time and energy you have for meal preparation and service. It also includes the facilities you have and how well you can use them to your advantage. Meal management practices affect food habits because you can only prepare and eat foods you can easily cook with the facilities and the knowledge you have.
Availability of foods
The kinds of food available to you usually are the foods you eat. Even though food may be imported from other countries, most people depend on locally grown food products for their basic or staple food. Some foods can grow only in certain types of geographic locations and this determines the foods available in such locations.
Government policies, transportation systems and technology
These also have effect on availability of food. Some government policies affect the supply and price of food. Governments also import or export food which have some effect on the prices of these foods.
Without transportation of food from where it is grown to the market place, people would eat only foods grown and processed locally. Transportation systems make selection of food possible all year round.
In the food industry, technology provides scientific methods of preserving food and processing it, so that it is available throughout the year.
Effect of Food Habits on food choice
Having looked at some of the factors that make you form or change your food habits, can you deduce how these food habits affect your food choice?
The food habits you form as a result of nutrition education would normally remain with you for the rest of your life because they are based on facts. These habits would help you make informed food choices which would help you to improve your health. However, habits formed as a results of improvement in economic status would change when the status changes. A poor person who becomes rich would immediately change his eating habits and sometimes food choices become poor as a result.
Food habits and the catering industry
Customers normally buy foods they are familiar with and foods which have appetite appeal, that is, the kinds of food they like and enjoy. To be a successful caterer you always have to consider your customers’ likes and dislikes. You have to consider the times people like to eat their food and how they want the food served to them. The customers’ food habits must be an important consideration otherwise people will not patronize your establishment.