Final Project:

Evolution in Human Food Preference and Our Cultural Response

Patrick Christmas

Essentially all of human evolution took place before the introduction of domesticated plants and animals. Human subsistence was maintained through a hunter-gatherer type life-style and as a result, modern day humans consume food with the preference of early humans. When foraging under harsh conditions, food of the highest nutritional value would be more beneficial to a hungry human. Through the mechanism of natural selection, early humans who favored foods high in energy, amino acids, and other nutrients would be put at a selective advantage. By contrast, those who tended to favor other foods would be selected against.

Evidence of this preference is prevalent in every culture around the world. Meats, fats, and sugars tend to be considerably more favored than other foods. Furthermore, now that we have access to an endless supply of food, this evolutionary hangover is causing rampant health problems (obesity, diabetes) for modern day humans. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to shake off this biological adaptation. This is because, despite the resulting health problems, people are still capable of reproducing and passing on the trait. Any selective pressures against our current food preference are weak at best and unlikely to ever be of any significance.

Evolution will probably not be able to affect our food preference any more; however, a powerful cultural response has been evoked instead. Fat and sugar substitutes, diet and weight loss plans, and meat flavored vegan food are some indicators of this response. Humans are developing tech fixes on a massive scale with the aim of allowing us to continue to consume the food we naturally prefer while preventing health problems. Human food preference is a perfect example of cultural evolution acting in response to natural evolution.

The following are class presentation and discussion notes from April 24, 2006.


Beardsworth, Alan. Keil, Teresa. "Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society." London, England and New York, New York: Routledge, 1997.

Ehrlich, Paul R. "Human Natures: Genes Cultures, and the Human Prospect" Island Press, 2000, pp. 285-288.

Henkel, John. "Sugar Substitutes: Americans Opt for Sweetness and Lite" from The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's FDA Consumer <>. Last revised February 2006.

Maria, Segal. "Fat Substitutes: A Taste of the Future" from The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's FDA Consumer. <www.cfsan.fda.gove/~lrd/fats.html>. December 1990.

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