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K-State professor examines connections between food, culture and psychology in new book

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- Do you mash your potatoes or roast them? Prefer a martini or a rum and Coke? The answers to these and other questions about what you eat can tell researchers a lot about who you are and to which social class you belong.

This is just one of the findings by Leon Rappoport, a professor of psychology at Kansas State University. In his recent book, "How We Eat: Appetite, Culture and the Psychology of Food," published in May by ECW Press, he addresses the way cultures define things as edible, food habits and ideologies, the origin of eating disorders, the relationship of food to sex and aggression, the future of marketing and the psychological implications behind these issues.

"Every aspect of eating behavior has both a social component and a psychological context," Rappoport said. "The food we eat is defined by our social class and values.

"For example, the lower classes tend to prefer sweet drinks and foods, whereas the upper class prefers dry drinks and food items that tend to be bitter, astringent, or more complex flavors that you have to develop a taste for. It has to do with the self-discipline of food," Rappoport explained.

This concept of self-control is also what links food to sex and aggression.

"Food and sex are both visceral appetites, and there's the idea that these appetites and behaviors need to be socialized and controlled," Rappoport says. "That's why we teach children manners at an early age."

As societies change, the foods that people eat and the body images they associate with status also evolve. Rappoport explains that in the 19th century, the working class typically performed physical labor, so the function of food was to fuel the body. Thus, a body we would now consider overweight was considered desirable because it was associated with prosperity, success and the sedentary lifestyle of the upper class.

"Today, however, it's the opposite," Rappoport says. "In modern society, f
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Contact: Leon Rappoport
rappo@k-state.edu
785-532-0601
Kansas State University
12-Jun-2003


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