It’s often said that ‘you are what you eat’, and in the 21st century the amount of analysis that goes into our food means that the contents of your shopping bag – and even where the bag came from – can sometimes be saying more than you think about your politics and can even be indicative of your personality.
The politics of food is easy to track, because usually it can be tied to economics and from there one can extrapolate to social classes. In terms of public perception, a lot of it is stereotype; the 2012 hashtag #WaitroseReasons invited shoppers on social media to finish the statement ‘I shop at Waitrose because…’ in an attempt to garner some positive engagement with the brand. Instead, it immediately became subject to ridicule, with Twitter users posting statements like: “I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people,” or “I shop at Waitrose because I think food must automatically be better if it costs three times as much.” Waitrose then becomes tied to notions of a wealthier and snobby elite, out of touch with the down-to-earth public, in comparison to the more comfortable prices of Tesco, Sainsbury’s or Asda.
However, as easy and as much fun as stereotyping is, there is some significant data behind the go-to punchlines. Taking data directly from Verdict Research, it was found that “Waitrose has the highest proportion of shoppers from the professional social classes A and B (47%), followed by Sainsbury’s (34%), Marks & Spencer (22%), Tesco (21%) and Safeway (17%). At the bottom of the market, 72% of Netto’s shoppers are blue-collar Ds or Es, with Kwik Save (66%), Lidl (54%) and Somerfield (50%) close behind.” The point is clear – social information can be found within the confines of your shopping basket.
When you know the social information behind a shopper, political information is not far behind. In the build-up to the 2015 election, a survey of supermarket shoppers by Conlumino, whose results are backed up by Courier looked into which way shoppers at each of the major chains were planning on voting; Tesco shoppers were Conservative, Asda leant towards Labour, while both the Green party and UKIP had most of their support from Sainsbury’s shoppers. While one could rightly argue that geography and income will have more of an impact on where you shop than your political affiliations, it is notable that this separation of shoppers is something that apparently only occurs in Britain; food writer Jonathan Meades makes the observation that “if you take a labourer in Marseilles and a CEO in Marseilles, they will eat approximately the same food” – for whatever reason, the British are more particular about their shopping statements, and as such become indicators to their private ideologies.
Even information about your personality can be inferred from your meals; those that eat a lot of chocolate are more likely to be happier, as the food is more likely to reduce anger, depression and tiredness due to it containing anandamines – a chemical also found in cannabis. People that drink a lot of caffeine are more likely to be alert, but also anxious, whereas diets “high in carbohydrates have a generally uplifting effect on mood.” This may seem like a lot of scientifically dense information to be taking in about meals, but the increase in wearable technology such as Fitbit trackers and Apple Watches means that nutritional information can be much more easily catalogued and analysed. While some may not want to go to the lengths that astrophysicist and computer scientist Larry Smarr goes to – tracking 150 different parameters of information about his body – personal information is becoming more and more accessible to both the public and private companies. Apple’s ResearchKit program, which gave people the option to share their health information with researchers to combat heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and Parkinsons had over 41,000 volunteers in the first five days alone. If nothing else, it shows that a high percentage of people are willing to have this information on record, and allow the analysts into one of the most data-rich sources of personal details. While its still early days for this technology, and people may not be willing to look that closely at the food their eating, I feel its a trend that the public needs to be aware of and ahead of, before it becomes a bitter pill to swallow.