Eating for the environment
Eating for the environment

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Eating for the environment

2 Dietary choices and preferences

As much as the affordability of food, what people eat is also strongly influenced by their dietary preferences, which are in turn closely connected to behavioural, cultural, religious and social factors (Mintz and Du Bois, 2002). These factors add other dimensions to food security. To fulfil these dimensions, emphasis on production alone is not sufficient. In Activity 2, you will get a sense of the diversity of diets, dietary choices and preferences around the world.

Activity 2 Dinner plates around the world

Timing: Allow around 1 hour

This activity asks you to read an article that describes a number of meal types and eating practices from around the world in the context of how our ancestors ate. Please note that there are some images in the associated picture galleries of animal species being caught or eaten by humans. If these are likely to offend you then we advise you to skim quickly past the galleries and concentrate on the text, instead. Equally, you can skip this activity if you wish.

Task 1

Access and read the 2014 National Geographic magazine feature on the ‘Evolution of Diet’ [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , which describes a number of meal types and eating practices from around the world in the context of how our ancestors ate. As you read, make brief notes about how the dinner plates described compare in their content with your typical dinner plate, and with the NHS Eatwell Guide recommendations.

You can make notes below, if you wish.

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Task 2

Think about how the geographical and cultural environment where people live influences what they eat. Write a summary of how your dinner plate is different in its content from other dinner plates around the world and comment on the usefulness of NHS recommendations in those parts of the world. (Answer in fewer than 200 words.)

Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


The National Geographic feature displays a wide diversity of dinner plates, each very different in their composition. These diets are deeply influenced by environmental, cultural, religious and social factors, and they rarely meet the NHS guidelines on a healthy diet.

However, the meals described often consist of fresh and healthy (e.g. non-processed) ingredients. Even though individual dinner plates do not represent a healthy diet as defined by the NHS, these communities around the world depend on seasonal foods to fulfil their dietary and nutritional requirements during the course of a year.

So, food and nutrition security needs to be looked at over the longer term and in the context of other influences on people’s dietary needs and choices.

Next you will look at your own dinner plate and compare it with others that you came across in Activity 2.


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