Food and Nostalgia: How Your Taste Buds Take You Back to the Past

eating using chopsticks

Most of the time, people consume food to survive. Of course, if you are scheduled to face a hectic day, you need the energy to accomplish your tasks. People often eat to relieve their hunger or to satisfy their cravings. But, aside from these, some people experience deeper emotions when having their favourite cheeseburger or that bowl of warm chicken soup. It happens to some of us. There are times when food brings back memories of the past. Some remind us of home, while others remind us of the things that happened during a particular time. It’s a curious thing, but food can make us a bit nostalgic at times. There are a few explanations about why this happens.

According to a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts, food can make us think about the past because of a term called food memories. Unlike a typical memory, food or taste memories make us use all our five senses. They make us feel strongly towards stimulating our brain by reminiscing about our past experiences. For instance, eating Asian food in Singapore can make you think about your mom’s cooking. If she has been cooking Asian food when you were a child, food memories will be triggered.

A Survival Tactic

eating at a restaurant
Although food memories can make us relive our beautiful childhood memories, it can also make us feel negative emotions. For instance, if you have eaten something and you end up getting sick or being slightly poisoned, your brain will remember it too well. It results in conditioned taste aversion. That happens when people avoid a specific type of food because they associate it with poison. They often remember how bad they felt after eating that particular food. As a result, they tend to put that specific food on the “not eating it” list.

On the other side, taste memories can strongly remind us of a particular place or person. For example, if your grandma used to cook your favourite Hainanese Chicken, you will miss her every time you get a taste of that recipe.  If your dad always prepared pork satay on your birthday, you will never forget that as you grow old. The taste of a certain food will always remind us of special people, places, and events in the past. It may make us happy and satisfied, or it may make us feel lonely or hurt. We experience an intense longing for the past, and there are times when we can’t help but wish for it to happen again. It’s either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. You need to always look for the brighter side of things.

Food is indeed a necessity for us to survive. How we feel when consuming food depends on the memories associated with strong emotions. The feeling of nostalgia is not just about the taste of food. It’s more of what particular experiences happened when we ate that specific food during that certain moment. It’s also about remembering our relationship with people. It reminds us of who was with us when we were savouring that particular meal. Regardless of what type of memory that is, food can help us remember things, people, and scenarios. It also brings us different emotions, which we will not forget for a long time.

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