Food is any substance eaten by an organism as a source of energy and nutrients. It is usually plant or animal in origin and contains essential chemical compounds such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. The use of food to sustain life and provide nourishment is a universal practice among all organisms. The types of foods consumed differ across cultures, influenced by cultural traditions and religions. In the past, people’s food habits were largely dictated by necessity; they ate what was available in their environment. Today, food choices are often made based on taste preferences and nutritional value.
People’s diets vary widely from one country to another, and even within a single country diets can be very different. Geographical factors explain some of this variation; for example, people living near the sea may eat more fish than those who live further inland. Diets also depend on climate, with colder areas having shorter growing seasons and thus relying more on plants that mature quickly, such as potatoes.
Agriculture and animal husbandry have dramatically changed human food sources. These practices allow crops to be grown year-round and have led to increased variety in the world’s cuisines. However, some critics of modern food production complain that these changes have reduced the healthiness of many common foods. Food additives and preservatives are also a concern.
A person’s eating habits are influenced by culture, and food is often used as a way to express social status and ethnic identity. Eating together is a symbol of unity, and meals are often ritualized to symbolize family and community. People may also choose foods based on their availability and cost. In many developing countries, lack of food is a major problem; a poor harvest or a natural disaster may result in famine.
The nutritional value of a food depends on how it is prepared. Cooking methods such as boiling and baking tend to be healthier than frying, because they reduce the amount of fats added to the dish. Food labels are a useful tool for consumers; they indicate the level of fat, sodium (salt), and other nutrients in a serving of food.
A food writer should avoid using offensive terminology to describe a culture’s foods. Using terms such as bizarre, strange, unusual, or weird can be offensive to readers from other cultures and may contribute to stereotypes. In addition, a food writer should not claim that he or she has discovered a local cuisine; this practice has undertones of colonialism. A better approach is to focus on a cuisine’s unique ingredients and techniques.