In my opinion, there are different ways to look at food and even remember food. I like salty food on Sundays, but then on Fridays, I only eat sweets. It’s such a complex way of thinking about the simplest things in life, until my friend pointed it out one day, long after she noticed this problem of mine.
Growing up, I was limited to the cuisine I ate. I had two full-time working-at-the-office immigrant parents who only knew how to make meals and dishes from their home country and would occasionally eat American cuisine on special occasions. Which is why my perception of food is so much different than my friend's, who has lived in France all his life. Not only because of the foods we eat, but the way we view them.
I think food is associated with memories, and even if you forget the food, you won’t forget the memories. It’s something everyone goes through, especially when the nostalgic thoughts hit after eating something for a long time. For example, homemade pork katsu with chicken.
My mom, who is from South India, knows mostly Indian and Bengali cuisine, but she specializes in some Japanese-style dishes after gaining some recipes from her co-workers. Which is where my love for sushi, natto (even though my brother vehemently disagrees that I like it), and takoyaki came from. I haven’t eaten anything from East Asia in a long time besides once-a-month Chinese takeout, so coming back to one of my childhood favorites for Thanksgiving was truly a gift.
My aunt made it, and when I tell you that I devoured my plate so quickly and had the regular stomach ache right after, I was happier than ever. It wasn’t so much that I missed the soft texture and the sweet aftertaste, but it reminded me of eating it after I played every little league soccer game and whenever my friends came over. It just made me happier, and I think if I hadn’t eaten takoyaki, I would still remember them.
There is science behind it as well. Food memories are fairly strong because they make use of all of the senses at the time of recollection. Most people have undoubtedly had a profound memory evoked by the aroma of something, such as freshly ironed clothes or freshly mowed grass clippings. However, when the senses of smell, taste, sight, sound, and touch are all used together when eating, the memory can become even more vivid and long-lasting.
And eating Japanese food, as it was my first taste of cuisine other than my home country, was a food memory that I still cherish. Anyone who has ever used food to ease wounded feelings or mend a broken heart will agree that we all have an emotional connection to food.
My point here today is that food is different. Whoever looks at it might see it as normal, and others may see it as a nostalgic or delicate part of their past or future.
According to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, my brain knew all those younger memories that were forgotten by me just by eating something.
“Food memories involve very basic, nonverbal, areas of the brain that can bypass your conscious awareness,” she told me. “This is why you can have strong emotional reactions when you eat a food that arouses those deep unconscious memories. You can’t put those memories into words, but you know there is ‘something’ that the food triggers deep within your past. The memory goes beyond the food itself to the associations you have to that long-ago memory, whether with a place or a person.”
Sure, if it's food. But it can also be something more.
Zaraysky, S. (2019). Why food memories are so powerful. Bbc.com.