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Role Of Food in Memory And Emotion

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The role of food in a person’s life is much more then just a necessity for their well-being. Its one of the first things we think about when waking up and then continue to think about through out the day. Food plays an important role in not only our health but affects in our memories and emotion. When thinking about the role of food in our life, the first thoughts are usually why we like it and not the emotions and memories that are formed by seeing, smelling and tasting it. The first reactions we have to foods are the most vital. The look and smell when we first encounter a dish can have a big impact of whether or not we’re going to enjoy it.

Our senses become stimulated and our body reacts to what’s in front of us. Our heart rate and body temperature can change depending upon whether we like what we see and smell. This positive or negative experience with food can have a big impact on the memories and emotions that later come with it. Whether we’re having a good day or bad, also affects the experiences of we have food. Food can come with great emotions.

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For example, if you have a dinner reservation and you were having great day and you were really happy, that meal you were about to have would probably be one you would really enjoy. This would have to do with many factors like your mood that day, the people you were surround with and the your atmosphere. If your day went the other way and you weren’t in the best mood, that same meal would probably not come with the same happy memories as before and the food might even taste off. Food is a highly sensory-based experience. Our pallets change constantly and are always evolving so our experience with foods will change the same. It’s a state of mind you’re in at that moment because the food itself hasn’t actually changed. We can alter our state of mind when we try different foods.

When stepping food in a restaurant, its ambiance is one of the first thing you would notice. How its decorated, lighting, smell and cleanliness can set the first mood on when you think the food would be good or not. But if the food is not good, it wont matter how nice the pace is because of the bad experience you had with their food. The most run down looking restaurant can have the most tastiest foods and you wouldn’t even care about the atmosphere because the food itself was so simple yet so appeasing, that nothing else really mattered. In Heldke’s journal, she was bought into tears when she overheard someone in a coffee shop saying they should bring home a cinnamon bun for their grandpa (Heldke 2016). The talk about bake goods for a loved, reminded Heldke of her recently departed father who also had a love for freshly baked goods (Heldke 2016). Standing in that coffee shop that day, overhearing the love someone’s grandpas had for baked goods, Heldke memories of her father’s love for bake goods flooded in unexpectedly, “as though it were itself a person” (Heldke 2016, 87).

Heldke further try’s to understand these “extreme remembering” moments (Heldke 2016, 87). She explains how anthropologist David Sutton, “suggest conceiving of memory as a kind of sense” (Heldke 2016, 88). Food has the power to being back emotions and memories of departed loved one. The slightest smell can trigger memories of that place where that memory first reminisced. As much as we don’t realize it, food plays a big role in creating good and bad memories. A certain dish can bring us back in time to certain childhood moments we might have forgotten about.

The smell of fresh baked goods can take us back to fond memory of our grandparents or in my case, the smell of turkey takes me back to when I got food poisoning one thanking giving and spent a week in the hospital. These instances we have with certain dishes have a huge impact on our memories and how we perceive those meals. For instance, in ‘The Madeleine,’ the author writes about his experience with madeleine and how it summoned memories from his past (Proust 2018). In the article Proust talks about how the madeleine brought up childhood memories from his past without even recognizing it. This shows that certain smells and tastes can bring up distance memories unintentionally. It can take you back to a time that you might have forgotten and not even realized had that had a big impact on your life. It essentially represents a symbol of his past memories and how it was an involuntary experience (Proust 2018). When we look at food and the function it has in our lives, we don’t know think about the emotions and memories that are formed from it. Food does not only fuel our bodies but also our emotions and memories. In the article by Gamerow, “How I Learned to Cook,” the author writes about her complex relationship with her mother growing up (Gamerow 2004).

The role of food in her life came with extreme memories of her troubled childhood because of her frightening mother (Gamerow 2004). Gamerow learns to cook because of her uncertainties from her hostile mother. One night Gamerow’s mother tricks her into believing that she had put rat poison the meat loaf, in order to end their family sufferings (Gamerow 2016). She told her that the whole family would be dead by the morning, which didn’t happen. This left Gamerow questioning her mothers’ intentions, when she promises to do it again and from then on she set forth to learn to cook herself to avoid being poisoned. A mother is supposed to nurture their children by providing meals for them and not threatening to poison their food. When her mother is unable to provide this emotional element for her, as a young child she is forced to provide for herself. This leaving her with the unforgettable emotional abuse and memories that came with the role of food deprivation her mother placed onto her.

The memories and emotions that came with food in Gamerow’s life were mostly negative because she was scared of being poisoned. This negative use of food can later been seen in Lupton’s article, where she talks about using food to kill the enemy, but in Gamerow’s case she wasn’t the enemy, but just a child who grew up in a abusive household. In the article, Food and Emotion, Lupton talks about the relationship between food, emotion and subjectivity and how it’s central to “sense of self, and our experience of embodiment” (Lupton 2005, 317). She further discusses how food and eating “are intensely emotional experiences that are intertwined with embodied sensations and strong feelings ranging the spectrum from disgust, hate, fear and anger to pleasure satisfaction and desire” (Lupton 2005, 324) An interesting point Lupton brings up in this article is that food can be potentially used for vengeance towards someone you hate (Lupton 2005). Stating that contaminating the food on your worst enemy is “one of the worst retaliation a person can inflict” (Lupton 2005, 322) This is an interesting fact because it is shown in many popular films and even a common method used back in the day to kill the enemy.

In the article, The Sensory Experience of Food, David Sutton uses a gustemological approach to food, “arguing that memory should be a focal point in our understandings of food” (Korsmeyer and Sutton 2011, 470). He touches on the ideas that different food experiences bring on various kinds of memories, including “personal, collective, semantic, event and bodily” (Korsmeyer and Sutton 2011, 470).

In this article he focuses his attention on the thought of memory as a sense. In a way this makes sense, our fondest memories are formed though experiences we have with food because it consumes so much of our daily lives. The role food has in our lives affect our emotional and physical beings, but as well allows us to reminisce our past voluntarily and involuntarily. The smell, taste and sight of food has the ability to take us back in past to a distant memory as if it were a sense itself. The memories can be so vivid, that can trigger our emotional response, whether it is anger, joy or sadness.


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