Food Choices and Identity

Posted on August 5, 2011 by


Can being perceived as “un-American” change your food choices?

Yes, says this psychology study.

So in this set of experiments, Asian and Asian-American students’ identities were threatened.  They were “threatened” by experimenters who asked them things like “do you speak English”,  “you have to be an American” to be part of this study.

The study found that those Asians and Asian-Americans who were threatened, overcompensated by eating food considered to be more “American” (i.e. cheeseburgers, fries, BLTs).”  As a result at the end of the study, Asians and Asian-Americans ate “182 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 7 grams of saturated fat more than those who hadn’t been threatened.”

So, essentially, Asians whose identities as Americans are threatened eat American foods.  And when they go American, they go really hard-militant American.

The word that comes to mind is “overcompensation.”  The popular image that comes to mind with the word “overcompensation” is the douchebag with the little weiner that drives the bloviated, space-eating, unnecessary-in-ordinary-urban-life hummer.

From personal experience, I see my food choices as made purely out of choice and availability.  I’d like to think if I was one of the experimentees in the study that these threats wouldn’t affect my own food choices.

My taste in food is rooted in what I ate as a kid, but as I experience more cuisines in my 20-somethings, my tastes seem to be evolving.  I also was taught never to waste food as various figures in my life would point to this imaginary of “skinny kids in Somalia” and it’s something I adhere to today when I process all that looks to be unprocessed.

The food environ I grew up in with my folks here in LA, I was perfectly fine with whatever food we had.  McDonalds, Little Caesars, Yuca’s Burgers, Taco Bell, and the luxury item on very special occasion In-N-Out Burgers mixed in with days at Filipino restaurants such as Barrio Fiesta, Max’s Fried Chicken, Bahay Kubo.  Now with my own money,  mobility, and friends today, I could cavalierly say (head raised, shoulders propped up) that my folks didn’t really know much of the food outside of the Filipino food stores, Burger places, and sandwich places.

Whenever we’ve had a house or at least rented a house (you wouldn’t believe how much they resisted when we were living in an apartment), they always wanted to throw parties.  I don’t remember the food at the parties we did host, but I think they were store-bought from Filipino markets.  I guess hosting parties at our various abodes we had to represent “our” dishes somehow, “our” Filipinoness.

While I don’t remember the food at our houses in those parties, I do however remember two birthday party lunches they hosted for me at school for my classes of 30 students:  pizza one year, and subway the next.  Can’t risk busting out that sinigang or lumpia for these kids of varying ethnicities.