BLOG BY Leticia Nani Silva @freshfabfit

Learning How To Eat With All Your Senses

Professor Charles Spence from the University of Oxford uses science to show that the gastronomic experience is much more than we think, see, taste, smell or hear (Gastrophysics, Charles Spence). It is a combination of the lighting in the room, the smell around the table, the texture of the food when it hits your tongue and much, much more. If you think of it from an evolutionary perspective, our body has all of the tools to decipher if the food is right or not, based on its smell, colour, texture, etc. Our ancestors were able to survive by feeding off the right fruits and vegetables in order to prosper and replicate (Reed and Knaapila, 2010). It is not by chance that today we use all of them to consume our meals. However, using them all at the same time requires a little more fine tuning and a lot more paying attention at meal times. Thus, more snacking and less snapping (for social media).

Today, our society is built on getting the perfect picture for Instagram. We find our angles, we select the right lighting, and click. 50 pictures for just one post. It’s interesting that Instagram has only been around for a short span of time, but pictures of food have been present for much long than that. Remember when you would go to a museum as a kid and see a picture of a perfect pear, or a shiny apple, or even a classic and quintessential fruit bowl. That was the Instagram of the 19th century. Everyone unites around food and celebrates it all over the world. In the Brazilian culture, when someone comes for coffee or tea at our house, we turn it into a feast. It is a moment where we surround ourselves with people we appreciate and it becomes more than just a ‘coffee’, it is now a memory.

The gastronomic experience has been the same for decades, we just haven’t noticed it until now, and quite frankly, some of us haven’t even realised that there is much more to food then meets the eye, or all the other 4 senses. Think about it, when you eat, you are not only consuming calories, nutrients, minerals and vitamins, but the ambiance, the smells in the air that trigger chemical reactions in your nose and brain (Walsh. C, Harvard Gazette), the sensory neurones that you activate when you crack open a piece of baguette, or the sound you hear when you pop a
cork. Everything is linked to the experience, the ‘ultimate’ dining experience. Restaurants today pride themselves over the perfect gastronomical evening. The music, the lights, the ‘instructiveness’ of the night becomes an event that is somewhat unmissable. It is as if you have walked out into London and into a whole new country for 3-4 hours, a ‘night away from home, at home’. We have been deprived of the gastronomical extravaganza for quite sometime now. When the pandemic hit, restaurants lost the privilege to invite us into their sensory experiments. We have had to make the most of eating at home everyday, without having any fancy lighting, exotic foods, exuberant smells and extravagant textures. However, there are some people who have turned their kitchens and dining rooms into the ultimate dining experience, and have made the most of dining at home with a flare.

Now that we are returning to a ‘new’ normal, you will start to notice how your senses are heightened, and how your enthusiasm to eat out has blasted through the roof. Believe it or not, you will start to notice that dining is much more than a ‘meal time’, it’s an event, a chance for your senses to orchestrate a symphony and harmonise in your body, giving your brain the chance to fuel you up with that ‘happy hormone’ once again.

Our relationship with food has changed. In the UK we have the privilege to have an immense variety of fruits and vegetables from all over the world. Our plates, bowls and mugs are becoming as colourful as ever, and as delicious as ever. When I was at university completing my MSc in Human Nutrition, I was inspired by how Instagram was affecting our perception of food, health, and sustainability. What we see online affects how what we buy, how we eat, when we eat and how we display it online. The mere placement of food on a plate will alter the price by a couple of zeros.

So next time you choose to eat out, prepare yourself. You are in for a treat. Notice your surroundings, the lighting, the temperature of the ambiance, the noise around you of people talking, cutlery clashing, plates being loaded into the kitchen and/or carried out, the people sat next to you, the first smell of the fresh plate of food resting on your lap, and most importantly, don’t forget the company you’re with and don’t forget to put your phone away, and enjoy!

Book: Gastrophysics by Professor Charles Spence
Reed and Knaapila, 2010: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3342754/

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