Social norms have a huge influence over our decisions and actions. If you saw someone dancing down the street with paint all over their face while chanting and rubbing their belly, you’d probably cross over…or subtly take a picture. But in some tribal communities, this would seem totally normal. Culture and society underpins almost everything that makes us individual, from our thoughts and behaviours to our eating habits.
When it comes to food, each country has their own way of doing things – Nepalese tend to use their hands, posh Brits feel the need to have excessive cutlery and Aussie’s are happy as long as it’s on a barby. The same differences apply to manners, while slurping your soup as loud as possible might be polite in Japan, it might not go down so well with your friends in Budapest (unless they were really Hungary…).
A study by professor Burger (yes, that is his actual name) investigated the influence of social norms on food choices. Participants are asked to choose nutri-grain or a snickers bar. Before the decision they are shown wrappers from past experiments, leading students to believe that previous participants typically pick one more than the other. When asked to pick, their choice tended to be consistent with what they believed other had picked. This shows that our behaviours are heavily guided by social norms, so much so that we alter our food choices just because we think others did the same.
So what does this mean for healthy eating? Well, if you live in Sweden where healthy, high-fat/low-carb diets are gradually becoming standard, then you’re set! But for the rest of us, when stuffing your face with maccy d’s or eating nutella from the jar is the norm, going against the grain can be difficult.
Professor Burger (still funny) suggests creating the impression that healthy choices are more popular by limiting the unhealthy choices in the canteen. If people are led to believe that eating vegetables is more common than pizza than they are likely to make healthier food selections. Of course, we can’t change the choices given to us in shops or restaurants but we CAN decide where we buy our food. For example, you could start getting lunch at cafes like pret or itsu, where healthy eating really is the norm. Alternatively, people in whole food shops are probably going to buy more fruit and veg than people in lidl (no offence to lidl-lovers). Buy sourcing food from healthier places we can increase our exposure to nutrition, so that healthy diets become our new normal.
Or perhaps encourage the people around you to eat healthy too…that way you don’t have to feel like a freak for picking the salad over cake. Below is a recipes you can share with your friends and family that they are bound to love!
1/2 cup brown sugar
Spelt flour (can use oat flour)
2 tablespoons cup coco powder
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
Handful of dark chocolate piecew
Handful of chopped hazelnuts
Few spoons Nutella (Preferably homemade by processing hazelnuts for 15 mins)
1. In a bowl Mix all the flour, coco and sugar together. Then add the oil and almond milk. If your mixture is too wet, add a little more flour.
2. Fold in the chocolate chunks and nuts
3. Roll mixture into balls and place on greased baking try.
4. Spoon a blob of nutella into the centre and flatten
5. Bake at 180 for 8-12 mins, keep checking as they burn easy!
6. I served mine with a drizzle of honey for extra sweetness!