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The Melting Pot in Your Mind

Have you ever wondered why the foods of your youth dominate so many of your memories as an adult.

I’m fascinated by this. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have a food flashback. And these flashbacks actually shape my future.

Whether it’s reliving my youth by showing my favorite foods to my wife, or wanting to recreate treasured memories by cooking with my own children, I love giving them similar experiences that I know will positively impact them for the rest of their lives.

Author John S. Allen explains why food has this power over our memories in  The Omnivorous Mind.

There are several reasons. First, evolution has seen to it that food, in general, may be a privileged target of memory in the brain. There is a part of the brain called the hippocampus (one in each hemisphere) that is critical for memory. The hippocampus is particularly important for forming long-term, declarative memories—those that can be consciously recalled and which contribute to the autobiographies that we all carry around in our heads. The hippocampus is also important for spatial memories, which may be its primary role for animals that do not possess language. The hippocampus has strong connections with parts of the brain that are important for emotion and for smell. This may explain why emotional memories can be so vivid or why certain smells trigger a sense of recall in us even before we consciously remember an event.

Emotion and smell no doubt contribute to the power of some food memories, but the hippocampus has more direct links to the digestive system. Many of the hormones that regulate appetite, digestion, and eating behavior also have receptors in the hippocampus. Finding food is so important to survival that it is clear that the hippocampus is primed to form memories about and around food.

What’s also interesting is that the food flashback phenomenon doesn’t have an age limit. Geography doesn’t matter either. Food-wise we’re all the same. We all seem to reminisce about food in the same manner.

What makes all of this so fascinating is that food makes us relatable, more human, and gives us something in common to share even if we have stark differences. It makes us equals.

Jaya Padmanabhan elegantly makes my point. This piece on her mother highlights how immigrant seniors cling to the foods of their past. Jaya writes...

My mother, who immigrated to America in her late 70s from India, views the world through the lens of food. The act of eating or drinking is not only one of survival; it’s an emotional configuration. She is happiest when she has access to the foods she once ate back home, as though harnessing the taste of her memories.

I think we can all relate to Jaya and her mother. If this post conjured up memories or favorite recipes from your past, we would love to hear about them. You can post your story here or send it to me at Tim@FifthandCherry.com

We plan to use your responses to catalog our community’s food journeys, and use those stories to inspire the next generation of memory making cooks.

If you would rather we didn’t share your story, we absolutely respect that wish, and we would still love to hear from you. Just let us know in your message that you would like us not to share your story with our other followers.

We look forward to hearing from all of you.



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