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Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks
Environmental Influences Taste is influenced by genetics (Birch, 1999; Mennella et al., 2005a) and exposure throughout life (Birch, 1998; Birch and Fisher, 1998; Mennella et al., 2005b). Other environmental factors that influence seafood choices include accessibility of seafood as a subsistence food (Burger et al., 1999b), cultural tradition (Willows, 2005), price of seafood and of seafood substitutes (Hanson et al., 1995), and health and nutrition concerns (Gempesaw et al., 1995; Trondsen et al., 2003). For example, some consumers make seafood choices based on concerns about environmental impact (see Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch [http://www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp], production methods, or geographical origin (Figure 6-1).
An individual’s food choices are made based on their history but are influenced by a changing environment over time (Devine, 2005; Wethington, 2005). While most patterns of choice (trajectories) are stable throughout life, significant societal and personal events, as well as relationships, influence these patterns. The timing of these events may greatly influence subsequent food choices. In response to these external events and internal changes, individuals may or may not choose to adopt strategies to improve their health and change their lifestyle behaviors. Using the pregnant woman as an example (see Appendix C-1), one can examine the complexity of food choice using the Life Course Perspective framework (see Appendix C-2).
Economic Considerations Associated with Food Choice Behavior
Economic considerations may also influence consumer food choice behavior. Evidence suggests that seafood is a good substitute for other protein foods (Salvanes and DeVoretz, 1997; Huang and Lin, 2000). US consumers have the lowest income elasticity of demand (the percentage change in demand for a 1 percent change in income) for the overall category of “food, beverages, and tobacco” of 114 countries, based on an analysis of 1996 data (Seale et al., 2003). This indicates that, on average, their food expenditures are not very sensitive to income changes. For the subcategory of fish, Seale et al. also found the US expenditure elasticity (the percentage change in demand for a 1 percent change in expenditures on a category) lowest among the 114 countries studied. Similarly, US consumers had the lowest own-price elasticities of demand (the percentage change in demand for a one percent change in price) for fish among the countries studied.
More detailed analysis within the United States suggests further income and price considerations that may influence how consumers implement guidance on seafood choices. For example, Huang and Lin (2000) used 1987–1988 National Food Consumption Survey data to estimate expenditure and own-price elasticities adjusting for changes in the quality of the foods consumed across different income groups. Expenditure and own-