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How Negative Experiences Shape Long–Term Food Preferences: Fifty Years from the WWII Combat Front

Wansink, Brian, Koert van Ittersum, and Carolina Werle (2009). How Negative Experiences Shape Long–term Food Preferences: Fifty Years from the World War II Combat FrontAppetite, 52(3), 750–752. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2009.01.001

How does a person's first experience with a foreign or unfamiliar food shape their long–term preferences and behaviors toward that food? For example, why do some American World War II veterans despise Chinese and Japanese cuisine while others have learned to love it?

To investigate this question, we mailed a survey to a random selection of American veterans born before 1928 and made a donation to the World War II memorial in the name of each of the 493 participants to express our gratitude for their time. We asked the veterans to indicate the frequency and severity of their combat experiences during the war as well as their preferences towards Chinese and Japanese foods, as well as their perceived adventurousness both presently and immediately following the war. The questions were worded in a way where they could be answered with the least effort and the greatest accuracy.

We found that Pacific veterans with low combat experiences had more favorable attitudes towards both Chinese and Japanese food than those with high combat experience. Contrarily, combat experiences of European veterans had no impact on their attitudes towards Chinese and Japanese food. A sense of adventurousness was not found to have a significant influence on veterans' overall experiences with Chinese and Japanese foods. These results prove the influence of the first experience with an unfamiliar food on long–term food preferences. Thus, extra care must be taken to create a positive environment when planning the introduction of new foods and new recipes. Changing initial food perceptions may be difficult, but understanding the influence of the context of the initial exposure to an unfamiliar food may give insights for improving the healthfulness of the food we eat.

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