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Food Nostalgia – The Memories Made From Food

Alyn Williams will be speaking on the topic of Food Nostalgia at the upcoming Food On The Edge event. His topic for discussion is ” Nostalgia – How important are nostalgic food memories in our innovative process and what happens to a generation where food nostalgia will be missing through lack of home cooking?”

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Food nostalgia floods us with such vivid, emotional memories of people and places in our past. Childhood Sunday lunches of afternoon roast chicken dinners – soft white meat of the chicken bathed in ‘homemade’ Bisto with over cooked carrots followed by a dessert of tinned strawberries and HB Vanilla ice cream. Then the chicken sandwiches later, snuggled up by the fire watching Black Beauty on our two-channel telly.

This warm, fuzzy feeling creates a well-stocked larder of positive emotions, which is the go-to place for any emotional eater when life gets tricky.  There’s a comforting authenticity to it. Faced with an abundance of confusing choices, we often pine for the taste of granny’s soda bread or in my case Nana Collins’ currant cake. The thick doorstop slices, hot from the oven messily spread with half an inch of salty, cholesterol-choked butter. I don’t know about you but in times of crisis, I find a lousy gluten-free, svelte-spelt stick is utterly useless at mending a broken heart.

Eating is a social act that helps us cement a connection to shared memories of special moments spent together around a table. There’s a beautiful phrase ‘sobremesa’ that describes that elusive feeling of sharing a meal with a group of friends or family, or a potential love interest when words flow, memories are shared, laughter reins and more memories made.  These childhood memories always seem wholesome even when the food was the not-so-wholesome Banana flavoured  Angel Delight,  or a jam-topped Weetabix sitting on the kitchen floor or buttered Rich Tea biscuits because you tidied your room.

Remembering these meals and moments shared with our loved ones strengthens our feeling of belonging to a social group. The fact that the foods were often processed and packed with preservatives seems to get lost in nostalgic translation. The thing about food is that it speaks to all five senses, especially the powerful memory triggers of smell and taste. There’s that whole thing with Proust and his ‘petite Madeleine’; the French writer wrote long passages (and I’m talking LONG here) about vivid childhood memories evoked by the smell a tea-soaked bun. Or Anton Ego, the pompous restaurant critic from Pixar’s brilliant film Ratatouille who is transported back to his childhood summers by the smell and taste of Rémy’s dish. A rush of warmth flowing through his veins, like a comforting hug.

So here’s the science bit: food is so fundamental to our survival that we seem primed to form strong memories about it. This means we tend to eat with our minds as much as our stomachs. Childhood memories triggered by our sense of smell usually stem from our first ten years of life. Brain scans have revealed that olfactory memory cues – those associated with smell – activate the hippocampus and the amygdala. These areas of the brain are linked with memory and emotional reactions. In other words: advertisers see memories laid down in childhood as ‘marketing gold’.

So what nostalgia are we laying down for our children?  The talk from Alyn Williams will explore this.   We may now have a reason to worry about cultivating a future form of food nostalgia for our children – as if we have any control over the bits they are going to remember.

Finding the time, and the right ingredients to embed as culinary nostalgic triggers can be problematic. It isn’t always easy to connect with the past while living in a frenetic present. So I’ve decided to lay down a memory store for my children – one filled with fun and food, processed and pure  – let’s see what sticks.

Rather than give all the recall power to the brands (Ready Brek anyone?), I will be speedily rustling up dinners that consist of the likes of homemade burgers with lazily-chopped, chunky-onion-bits fried to crispy-on-the-outside staus with a moat of mashed potato surrounded by tinned baked beans and maybe even some tinned peas for the real effect. All in the hope that one day they will remember such food with fondness as a weekday, post-school ‘mammy’ dinner. Just like I do. Thanks Mum. – Olivia

#MammyDinners #FoodNostalgia

Alyn Williams will be speaking on the topic of Food Nostalgia at the upcoming Food On The Edge event. His topic for discussion is ” Nostalgia – How important are nostalgic food memories in our innovative process and what happens to a generation where food nostalgia will be missing through lack of home cooking?”