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Food for Thought: How Food is Connected to Memory

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a home grown tomato.”– Lewis Grizzard

When the days get longer and the temperatures are hotter, you know that summer is here. What does summer mean to you? Is it the first juicy slice of red, ripe watermelon, or the seed-spitting contest after? Maybe a family reunion picnic with fresh, buttery corn on the cob? Or sitting on a shady porch, sipping on icy cold sweet tea and watching lightning bugs twinkle in the yard? Galloway Ridge independent living has a slew of ways for you to celebrate summer and its bounty that may bring to mind summers from days gone by.

No matter where you grew up or what your life experience may be, you probably had a family tradition you remember fondly or happy memories of your childhood summers. Those memories may go hand-in-hand with comfort foods that you enjoyed as part of a celebration or just because it was a hot sunny day. You are not alone in thinking there is a link between food and memories; in fact, you have the support of science to confirm it.

It’s All in Your Head

Blame that connection of food and memories on your hippocampus, located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, which supports such functions as emotions, memory, learning, and spatial relations. As part of the limbic system, the hippocampus also works closely with the olfactory bulb, which transmits information to the brain about the sense of smell.

When the sense of smell is bundled into the process of forming memories, you have a powerful association that can help you know what to do. One example is when you smell unpleasant smells, such as smoke or the odor of a skunk; you know how to be safe because your memory has warned you of potential danger. It can also tie into your earlier memories and emotions, which can explain the delight you feel when you smell the aroma of a freshly baked apple pie.

Taste goes along with smell to interpret different foods, identifying salty, sweet, sour, or bitter flavors with the aromas before sending all the information up to the brain, where memories are attached to it. Taste is enhanced by the smell, and the smell is the link that allows your hippocampus to recall those emotions.

Indulge Yourself

One of the greatest pleasures in life is enjoying food.  It is a basic need that contains deeper meaning because of the memories we associate with it. Even if you try to eat healthy or follow a special diet, you can still occasionally indulge in comfort foods that trigger emotions and memories from your past. If you have childhood favorites or summer treats that you miss, allow yourself to savor and relive your remembrances. Foods that hold special meaning for you enable you to revisit and explore a lifetime of experiences. Sharing those foods with friends and loved ones can heighten the enjoyment as you strengthen bonds with your community through storytelling and breaking bread.

Take a Bigger Bite

Of course, this explanation of the connection of food and memories is rather simplistic, but if you want to learn more, you can find books to devour and discuss. Some titles that you might find interesting include:

  • A Bowl of Olives: on Food and Memory, Sara Madda
  • The Omnivorous Mind, John S. Allen
  • Edible Memory: the Lure of Heirloom Tomatoes and Other Forgotten Foods, Jennifer A. Jordan

This is just a sampling of what you can discover; there are many more memoirs, cookbooks, or other nonfiction sources just waiting for you to sink your teeth into them.

Have Another Helping

Another book you may enjoy, especially if you want to relish memories of home style Southern cuisine, is “Mama Dip” Council’s Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook. If you have yet to meet Chapel Hill’s own Mama Dip, an expert on comfort food that feeds your soul, you will have the opportunity on Sunday, June 19, at 4pm, as part of our Summer Sundays series. She will be speaking in the Chapin Auditorium and sharing her own stories of food and memories. Copies of her book will be available for purchase and signing. If you would like more information about this fantastic afternoon or other programming for Galloway Ridge independent living residents, click here.