a1 Consumer Science Unit, Unilever Research, 3130 AC Vlaardingen, The Netherlands
Human perceptions and selection of food are derived from the prevailing and momentary food, agro-economic and cultural environment, cognitive and biological characteristics of individuals, and the real and perceived intrinsic and extrinsic attributes of foods themselves. The range of items typically chosen and consumed within a given population is largely determined by interaction of the external environmental context with guiding sets of implicit and explicit social and psychobiological ‘rules’. Within the rather broad limits of biology, individual food choices and intake behaviours relate to and reflect aspects of food availability, existing habitual behaviours, learning mechanisms, and individual beliefs and expectations. Many of the relevant features of these variables are uniquely human, together determining what is ‘food’, when, how, by and with whom it is chosen and eaten, and in what quantities. They also provide the opportunities for individuals to establish and maintain a relatively stable set of culturally and biologically determined affective responses (‘likes’) and intake behaviours. Understanding of the potential contribution of these influences under different conditions can serve to explain many of the observed characteristics of human eating, and highlight potential avenues for intervention.