Did you think the sole purpose of eating was to keep you alive? The role of food goes way beyond that! If food does have a biological function, it also has a socio-cultural and (psycho)affective function. We enlighten you on this incredibly fascinating subject!
I. The socio-cultural function of food.
You will have noticed that the meal is the key moment for bringing people together and connecting them.
The anthropology of eating behavior is a really very interesting science . She studies humans , their attitudes and their interactions with others when eating food .
Indeed, depending on the people around you, you will eat differently: the contents of your plate will differ, the pace at which you eat will vary and the duration of the meal will also change. Another surprising fact: you will appreciate the meal differently depending on the degree of affection that unites you with the people who share this moment with you and depending on the positivity of the atmosphere.
Every evening, around a meal , with members of your close family , do you get together for dinner ? This is your opportunity to talk about your day. This helps consolidate the ties that unite you. Seemingly, this structures your food intake : you eat when everyone has returned from work and you all find a rhythm together, whether it's the start time or the duration of the feast .
Or have you probably already attended a business lunch ? The opportunity to meet in a setting a little more friendly than the workplace and to create other types of links than those strictly professional. The meal brings relaxation which allows you to chat with more lightness and give another less tiring dimension to work discussions. Your way of eating instinctively adapts to that of others: eating is slower and interspersed with conversations and lunch drags on longer than your usual meals .
Also, and you will no doubt have noticed: depending on the country , the foods offered differ. Sometimes, it may be similar foods but the design of the product packaging will vary to adapt to the socio-cultural profile of the consumer and highlight this or that ingredient. Other times, foods are totally different from one country to another because the culture is different there.
For example, have you ever heard of the Hundred Year Egg ? This Chinese delicacy is actually an egg aged for a few weeks or months in a special mixture. Result ? The yellow turns dark green , with a creamy texture and with a strong odor of sulfur and ammonia . The white becomes dark brown and translucent like jelly. Does this tempt you? Most certainly not, even though the Chinese love it, as a matter of culture! Conversely, they will most certainly not like our very expensive and famous fragrant Camembert .
II. The psycho-affective function of food.
From a very young age, diet plays a key role. Whether the mother is breastfeeding or not, giving milk is a unique moment between mother and child that contributes to emotional development.
You yourself develop a hedonic appreciation of food. This means that you are looking for foods that you like and that give you pleasure when tasting them. This hedonism involves the search for organoleptic properties that meet your personal expectations in terms of taste , smell , texture and appearance. By consuming a food that you enjoy, you create an emotional bond for it.
Finally, have you noticed that mood and eating behaviors are closely linked?
Let's take the classic example, without generalizing since each behavior is individual and depends on the history and character of each person. You have just experienced a romantic breakup . Upset, you rush to the nearest supermarket to raid the ice cream aisles. You then taste them with a (big) spoon in search of comfort . It calms you down, soothes you and makes you feel better .
Conversely, it may be that, madly in love , with a stomach full of love, you no longer have the energy to eat . Your food intake then decreases sharply.
Yes, you may not know it but you have a special relationship with food . Like your other half, she is subject to your moods , your demands, your hatred, and your excesses of love .
III. The biological function of food.
We come to the most well-known function of food : the biological function. We feed ourselves to meet 3 fundamental needs : the need for material , the need for energy and the need for information .
What is the need for material?
This is to ensure the plastic function of the body . Food provides matter (proteins, minerals, nitrogen). These different elements help to build the body . This is particularly important during periods of growth : food provides many building blocks for the body so that it can build itself. The body stores . Upon reaching adulthood , the plastic is made so there is no longer a storage of material but a renewal .
What is the need for energy?
The body thus constructed needs to move . To do this, it must be animated by energy . The latter is obtained by the transformation of nutrients ( lipids , proteins , carbohydrates ) contained in foods into ATP . ATP is then broken down into ADP and energy . This energy is quantified in calories (kcal). 1g of protein or 1g of carbohydrates provide 4kcal while 1g of fat provides 9kcal . Lipids are therefore the energy source par excellence.
What is the need for information?
Each food provides essential elements for the proper functioning of the body. For example, vitamin A (retinol) is transformed into retinoic acid which will bind to specific receptors on target cells ( liver, brain, bones ) and regulate the genome . We speak of morphogenic activity. By regulating genetic coding, it regulates the cell and allows it to correctly carry out its function. Thus, vitamin A deficiency is characterized by problems with brain deficits , vision or growth .
Another interesting food: milk . It contains proteins called caseins that are "cut" by the body into smaller molecules ( peptides ) called casomorphins . These play a key role in pain and demonstrate analgesic properties by blocking pain receptors ( nociception ). They have the ability to activate the proliferation of lymphocytes to regulate immunity and help in the intestinal absorption of the other elements that make up milk : water and electrolytes .
Each molecule that we ingest therefore has its beneficial role in the body .
Why are we hungry?
Nature is well made; it created hunger . This bodily command pushes us to go get food when one of these 3 biological needs is not met. How does it work? It's simple.
Before a meal , our stomach is empty and blood sugar is low . This mechanical signal of gastric emptying together with the homeostatic signal of nutrient deficit causes a secretion of ghrelin , the hunger hormone , from the stomach . This molecule stimulates the hypothalamus in the brain and gives the feeling of hunger . This is what triggers food intake. The phenomenon is all the more important as stimuli intervene. The sight of food or the smell of it can lead to increased production of ghrelin .
After the meal , the stomach is full and blood sugar is high . Adipose (fat) tissue releases the satiety hormone : leptin . The latter inhibits the feeling of hunger in the hypothalamus .
Now you know that you eat for reasons other than living. Meals create connections between people and the social context influences your eating behavior as much as your socio-cultural profile influences the agri-food industries in different countries. Food brings pleasure which can affect you positively. Your mood also influences your food intake. Obviously, nourishing yourself ensures a biological function for a toned and healthy body. Nature is also well done since it has developed an infallible mechanism so that you never forget to eat: hunger.
A little treat ?