November 18, 2022

FOOD NOSTALGIA: FINDING COMFORT IN THE PAST


Nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.” Therefore “food nostalgia” can be thought of as a food experience or dish that evokes nostalgia. Food nostalgia floods us with vivid memories of the past, and the emotional experiences attached to them. These emotions have a comforting authenticity to them. But what is it about food that is so powerful to evoke a such longing for happier times? And why do so many of us seem to be digging up old recipes instead of looking to the future? 

For human beings, eating is a social activity that helps us with forming or cementing connections of common memories with the ones we’re sharing a meal with. When we take a bite into something that reminds us of happy, or happier, times we’re flooded with warm and positive emotions. Think of Anton Ego, the restaurant critic from Pixar’s Ratatouille when he tasted Remi’s dish for the first time. These memories are always good, even if the food we were eating wasn’t that great. Remembering and reflecting back on these times strengthens our bonds of belonging to a social group. 

In terms of the science behind food nostalgia, food is a fundamental part of our survival, and we are sort of primed to form strong memories with it. Meaning that we eat as much with our minds as much as our mouths. Brain scans have shown us that olfactory memory cues – memories associated with smell – activated the hippocampus and the amygdala. These areas of the brain are linked with memory and emotions. 

But why are we looking to the past, instead of the present? For some reason, many of us have started digging up old recipe books and recreating beloved dishes from our childhood. This is quite the trend on TikTok, with many foodies sharing some of their favourite family recipes. Many believe that this trend has to do with the pandemic, as everything does these days. 

In times of unrest, we turn to the things we love and are familiar with, including food and meals that comfort us. Digging out old family recipes is a great way to feel connected, even when we were all isolated. All in all, the food nostalgia trend, and just the nostalgia trend in general is most likely a way to comfort ourselves after nearly three years of chaos.