Acceptance and Rejection of Food Discussion Paper.

Acceptance and Rejection of Food Discussion Paper.

From the articles:

  1. What foods of your culture do you reject and why?
  2. Which quality in foods most affects your acceptance or rejection of a food? Use the reasons suggested in the Food Acceptance/Rejection article.
  3. Do children’s tastes in foods change over time? Why?
  4. What food/s did you hate as a child, but like now?
  5. List 3 specific examples of where our food likes and dislikes come from.
  6. What is a permanent food taboo? Give a specific example. Acceptance and Rejection of Food Discussion Paper.
  7. What is a temporary food taboo? Give a specific example.

From the video (minutes 0-29:40):

  1. What foods were featured?
  2. Describe an experience you’ve had with an unfamiliar food.


Foods vary along a hedonic dimension, that is, in their ability to evoke pleasure. A food’s hedonic value can differ significantly between individuals and among cultures. In developed countries at least, pleasure is probably the strongest determinant of diet. For most of us, most of the time, a global emotional response to the taste of a food determines whether it is consumed. Underlying this seemingly simple decision is a remarkable range of emotions—from blissful appreciation of haute cuisine to a profound rejection elicited by feelings of disgust. As with many other complex human behaviors, the development of food likes and dislikes reflects the operation of multiple influences—genetic inheritance, maternal diet, child raising practices, learning, cognition, and culture. In fact, the development of food preferences may be an ideal model of the interplay of these influences during our life span.

Foods may be selected or rejected for a variety of reasons, including their anticipated effects on health, their perceived ethical or environmental appropriateness, or practical considerations as price, availability, and convenience. However, it is our responses to the sensory properties of a food—its odor, taste, flavor, and texture—that provide the underlying basis of food acceptance. This article will focus on some of the influences that shape hedonic responses to foods, their flavors, and other sensory qualities.


Despite evidence of innate hedonic responses to basic tastes, the vast majority of specific food likes and dislikes are not predetermined—no one is born liking blue cheese, for example. This is not to suggest that basic sensory qualities are unimportant. On the contrary, relatively fixed hedonic responses to sweet, salty, bitter, and umami (glutamate taste) tastes, and almost certainly fat, are present at or shortly after birth, and continue to exert an influence on food preferences. The strong affinity that children show for very sweet foods, and the persistence of the early development of liking for the taste of salt and salty foods throughout life appear to be universal. A majority in many Western societies also choose a diet that is high in fat.

However, innate responses do not account for the broad range of food likes and dislikes that develop beyond infancy. For instance, humans and many other mammals can detect bitterness at low levels and find it unpalatable because it is a potential sign of toxicity. Yet, while coffee and beer are typically rejected on first tasting, they are ultimately the strongest contenders for being the global beverages. The pungency of spicy foods is also initially rejected. Worldwide, though, chili is second only to salt as a food spice. Thus, although innate influences are clearly important in food selection, these are modified by our experience with foods (although both physiological makeup and culture will partly determine the extent to which experience is allowed to operate). What is more important than our innate preferences is the fact that we are predisposed to learn to like (and sometimes, dislike) foods. Some other preferences do appear to be common across cultures whose diets are very different. However, examples such as the widespread liking for vanilla and chocolate flavor are likely to reflect some degree of common experience.


Texture is a crucial criterion for sensory acceptance and rejection. Certain textures do seem to be universally liked, crispness, for example—perhaps through its association with freshness. Of course, to some extent, we will always prefer textures that are compatible with our dentition, and thus we would not expect infants to like hard foods. Foods that are difficult to manipulate in the mouth—such as soggy foods—are commonly disliked, as are foods that require excessive saliva and effort to swallow, such as dry, tough meat. While food texture is often cited as a reason for rejecting food, for example raw oysters, it is likely that such preferences are also a function of our prior expectations for specific foods. Acceptance and Rejection of Food Discussion Paper.


Food color is also undoubtedly a strong influence on acceptability, but again this is likely to reflect prior expectations. Whether we prefer white (U.S.) or yellow (U.K.) butter depends on what we have eaten in the past. Some colors have been thought to be inappropriate for food. The color blue, for instance, has been suggested as a candidate for a universally inappropriate food color—after all, very few foods are naturally blue. But recent marketing of brightly and “inappropriately” colored foods for children tends to undermine this notion, since the children appear receptive to unusual colors. Removing color from common foods does reliably reduce liking for those foods, perhaps by undermining our ability to identify their flavor, thus making them seem less familiar.

Fear of the New

The fact that humans are omnivores creates a paradox. On the one hand, we have access to a large range of potential nutrients; conversely (in nature at least), we are much more likely to be exposed to toxic substances. In the first two to three years of our lives, we exist in a highly protected environment, first in the context of breast or bottle feeding, and then through parental food selection and supervision. It is therefore adaptive for young infants to accept a wide variety of foods as the risk of exposure to potentially toxic nonfoods is low.

In later infancy, greater independence is typical, both in terms of the wider variety of other people encountered and also of the potential to come into contact with edible substances, which may be unsuitable for health or other reasons, outside direct parental influence. At this point, food neophobia often becomes apparent. Reluctance to consume novel foods at this age is most obviously reflected in statements of “I don’t like it” to foods that have never been tried. The rejection of unfamiliar foods can now be seen as adaptive, given the wider risk of ingestion of potentially toxic substances. Acceptance and Rejection of Food Discussion Paper.Food neophobia is found not just in humans, but also in a variety of non-human species, including rats, dogs, birds, and fish. Hence, it may be a universal safeguard against potential toxics.

The trait of food neophobia has been investigated in different age groups, as has the nature of the “fear” and how it can be modified. Even in adults, there often remain strong vestiges of childhood neophobia. While many welcome the chance to sample exotic foods or novel flavors, others remain unable to even consider consumption of foods beyond their usual repertoire.

Such reluctance is especially strong for foods of animal origin (unfamiliar meats, dairy products, or eggs), the same foods that elicit reactions of disgust, also thought to be a protective mechanism. Why this food-related personality trait varies so much among adults is unclear, but it might reflect the breadth of experience with different foods in childhood.

Interestingly, in both children and adults, food neophobia appears to be mediated less by any conscious awareness of the potential for danger, than by the much more immediate fear that foods will taste unpleasant. Consistent with this, willingness to try a novel food can be increased by strategies that reduce this anxiety, including providing information about the food’s flavor or indicating that others have enjoyed it since. Highly neophobic individuals are more likely to choose an unfamiliar food after they have seen others select it. Specific nutritional information (such as the fact that a food is low in fat) also encourages selection of novel foods, but only for those for whom nutrition is important. In each case, the net effect is to assure the taster that the food is acceptable in terms of flavor and perhaps safety. Neophobia is a major issue for many parents concerned about the narrow range of foods that their children are willing to consume. A common strategy is to use one food as a reward for eating another food—one that the adult wants the child to eat. Unfortunately, these attempts frequently fail because the relative value of the foods is quite apparent. Rewarding the consumption of spinach by giving ice cream presents a message simple enough for any young child: ice cream is a good food (at least in terms of taste), otherwise why use it as a reward; spinach is bad, else why do I need to be rewarded for eating it? The unfortunate, if predictable, consequences of such strategies are increased liking for the reward and a decrease in liking for the target food. Acceptance and Rejection of Food Discussion Paper.


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