Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sense Memory

Sense memory is very potent in all animals, including humans, of course. We all recognize this rather quickly when we smell a familiar scent from our childhood or a song reminds us of some experience. Strong sense memories very likely helped our ancestors survive since recalling it was yet another way of seeking food and safety or avoiding danger.

Food is also appealing to us based on sense memory. In fact, one of the reasons we crave foods that we favor is that we wish to repeat or reinforce the sense memory. The only thing that separates a carrot slice from a potato chip in desirability is the time it spends on the tongue. Once you swallow it, your stomach doesn't feel worse or better for being full of chips instead of carrots.

The interesting thing about taste as a sense memory though is that it is one of the least reliable. If you've ever revisited a childhood favorite after a long absence and found it unpalatable, you have had experience with this. The tongue seems to have a short sense memory and is more easily "trained" to appreciate different flavors than other senses are to accept variations. Your nose is unlikely to decide a bad scent eventually smells good through repeated exposure, but people do learn to love foods they used to hate and hate foods they used to love.

What's the point of all of this talk about sense memory? Well, I've been thinking about it and how it can be used to break cravings for certain foods and binging. If you're looking to reinforce a sense memory, how much food must be consumed to give satisfaction, and how best to maximize the experience where it is on the tongue such that consuming more is not necessary? Mindful eating is a part of this, but keeping in mind that your tongue and not your stomach is the part of your body that needs satisfaction might help one feel that less is enough.

I'm also thinking that absence from certain types of food can make the tongue grow far less fond of that food. In my case, I have experienced this rather profoundly with Burger King's original chicken burgers. I used to love them when I was in my early college years, but after not consuming them for a decade or more, find them quite unappetizing upon revisiting one recently.

The purpose of this process is not to "trick" myself into not wanting things I want, but rather in "training" myself to want less of things that are less healthy and eaten for entertainment and to more of those things which are nutritious. My tongue doesn't need to be fooled. It just needs to forget a few old things and gain new memories of better food.


dlamb said...

In my experience, I do not appreciate the taste of food the same way after about the first 3 mouthfuls. I may still enjoy it beyond that point, may eat bowlfuls of it, but as far TASTE is concerned, the first few bites usually do the job in my experience.
I think, it is one of the reasons why buffets are so popular. Studies indicate that people eat more calories the more food variety is available.

screaming fatgirl said...

Back in the Asian culture I used to live in, there were all-you-can-eat buffets and they gave you a plate with 9 small square-shaped compartments. The plate size and design encouraged sampling, but in very small portions. I think that really was a good way to go and really appreciated those types of experiences. I'm sure I still ate more overall, but probably not as much as I might with one large free-form plate onto which I would put portions according to what I eye-balled to be "appropriate" by American cultural norms.

dlamb said...

What a wonderful idea! I have to say, one of the things that really upsets me terribly is when I see how much food is wasted at our favorite chinese restaurant. It is quite an amazing place in that the food is delicious, the servers are incredibly attentive and they work harder in a few hours than most of us probably do in a week.

There must be hundreds of different types of food offered and the lunch price, for example is about $8.00/person for lunch. It is located in a relatively expensive area of an expensive part of the U.S. What is my point? The profit margin must be pennies/person IF that. Frankly, with shrimp, beef, all the usual expensive meats and different types of seafood, as well as vegetables and fruit, all fresh and a large variety of desserts imported from Canada, I cannot imagine how they make any money at all.

I have no words to tell you how it hurts my heart to see the waste! Plateful after plateful of food is being thrown out because people cannot taste something and go back for more if they like it. What kind of person does that? They would probably never do that at somebody's house or even at their own, I imagine.
I can understand how people may have a difficult time with concept of finishing everything on the plate but why on earth would somebody wish to, in a way, rob this family of the meager profit it makes by taking all that food unnecessarily and having them throw it out.
Unless situations like we have in some kids' homes (if you know what I mean ;) ), nobody forces these patrons to put more on their plate than they can eat. They are welcome to stay there for 5 hours and go up as many times as they wish, so for goodness sakes, have a conscience and don't destroy this family's bottom line!
Oh sorry, what were we talking about? Hmm I get this way; Obnoxious, I know. Off the Camay box with my obsessive thinking.

screaming fatgirl said...

There is a pretty pervasive way of thinking that I'm afraid is not confined to American in which people do things to others that they would not do in their own homes. I think in Western cultures, you'd see this more with food than in Asia (where food waste is seen a bit differently due to cultural differences and past hardships). However, I've seen similar behavior with littering in the country I was in as well as spitting, smoking, etc.

I think the food situation you mention boils down to a lack of respect or regard for businesses and the sense that that the customer is king and the peasants will look after the king's wishes. People view service people horribly sometimes, and believe their money should buy far more than it does.