Food And The Senses

November 25, 2013 1:52 pm

food sensesMost of us automatically assume that we eat if we are hungry, enjoy food based on its taste, or reject food if it doesn’t compliment our palette. When we think of the senses associated with eating, taste, smell and sight dominate. It is not rare for us to salivate when we see that juicy steak, or to feel pangs of hunger in response to the smell of freshly baked bread, before we let our mouths take over. We stop teasing ourselves; we consume our meal and let our taste buds run wild. On the other hand, if a food smells bad we may refuse to eat it, or if a food is poorly presented, we may choose not to eat this food.. In other words, many of us are predisposed to associate our dining experience with the three aforementioned senses.

Chefs have been meddling with these 3 senses. Take Dans le noir as an example. Dans le noir is a restaurant where the diners eat entirely in the dark. The quirky establishment allows its diners to completely re-evaluate their perception of taste. The fulcrum of Dans Le noir’s purpose is to heighten one’s sense of taste via cutting off their visual sense. Hopefully then the consumer can objectively evaluate the food for its taste only, rather than being allowing surroundings and presentation to predetermine the diner’s attitude towards the cuisine. Similarly, Heston Blumenthal is recognised for his elaborate and extraordinary dishes that focus heavily on visual stimulation and presentation rather than the taste of the food.

Sense stimulation and manipulation has become a bit of an obsession for chefs around the world. But what happens to our other senses when we eat? Is sound, for example a sense that should not be associated with the eating experience? Why do we not commonly associate sound with food? Do Walkers Crisps and Pringles not emphasize the recognisable crunch of their crisps within their ad campaign? Do various yoghurt adverts not make use of an attractive female’s mellifluous, dulcet tones to emphasize the silky smooth quality of their yoghurt? It’s time to start thinking about the effect sound has on our relationship with food. Sound has more to do with food than one could ever imagine. It is not a sensory category that is in the background of our relationship with food; it is right up in the forefront.

foodRack your brains. Do you have a preferential music that you like to dine to? Or perhaps on the other hand have you rejected a meal because of a particular noise that disturbed or displeased you? A friend of mine desperately craves greasy ‘football stadium burger’ every time she hears the chaotic chants from the football stands. Similarly, many school children recognise dinner-time via hearing out for the bell that signifies its time for them to eat; when the bell starts, the salivation starts. Similarly, the sound of running water can give birth to an awareness of thirst and on the other hand, a loud oral disturbance can ruin a meal. The ring of the telephone of the din of the television from the living room is enough for my mother to insist that dinner is ‘ruined’. The plate isn’t spoiled, the dinner isn’t cold, but the atmosphere around her is tainted and tarnished. Comparitvely, if my father finds himself in a noisy or chaotic restaurant he will swiftly make his way to the exit.

It is time for us to realize that food is more than just a smell followed by a glance, followed by a quickmunch. We hear it, feel it, touch it, taste it, digest it and remember it. Eating is a personal and highly emotional experience and, if anything, can be played with and experimented with as much as any other element of human behaviour.

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