Anyone who's tried (and failed) to follow a diet knows that food is more than fuel. The reasons we eat are even embedded in our language. When we're in an unfamiliar place, we yearn for comfort food. We take one too many scoops of ice cream because we stress eat. We connect to others by breaking bread.
Having spent decades studying the interplay between food, identity, and culture, psychologist Paul Rozin has come to appreciate that hunger isn't the only reason we head for the kitchen. He says, "Food is not just nutrition that goes in your mouth or even pleasant sensations that go with it. It connects to your whole life, and it's really a very important part of performing your culture and experiencing your culture."
When Muslims all over the world mark the end of Ramadan by eating sheer kurma or Dutch people ring in the new year by frying oliebollen, they're taking part in a ritual shared with millions of others. The food on the table creates an occasion to pull together friends, family, and communities.
This week on Hidden Brain, we dig into the culture and psychology that determines what we eat, what we spit out, and when we come back for more.
Paul Rozin's website provides links to four decades worth of publications on food and psychology.
This episode was produced by Thomas Lu and edited by Tara Boyle. Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and includes Parth Shah, Rhaina Cohen, Jenny Schmidt, Laura Kwerel, and Adhiti Bandlamudi. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories on your local public radio station.