Eating with all your senses

For some Covid sufferers, the loss of their sense of smell was one of the most persistent and discouraging results. My neighbor could not smell anything for months after her coronavirus infection, and when the sense started to return many things smelled strange. Potent items like garlic had a horrible smell that I won’t describe lest you get put off whatever you might be eating. Over a year later, her olfactory sense has improved but is not back to normal. It bothers her because she obtains less enjoyment from cooking and eating than she did prior to her illness.

Smell is important to obtaining pleasure from eating, but that is not the only purpose of the sense, which likely evolved to help us avoid spoiled food. Sight, touch, hearing, and taste also play roles in eating, but Bee Wilson says we have abdicated many of our senses to the food industry. She explores this topic in a lengthy discussion of how humans have lost their sensory connection to food.

“No human activity is more multi-sensory than eating, but to eat in the modern world is often to eat in a state of profound sensory disconnect,” writes Wilson. We no longer rely on our noses to tell us if the milk is sour, instead judging its freshness with the ‘best by’ dates on the carton. This disengagement begins in our earliest food moments, with parents relying on pureed baby food sold in jars or pouches. According to nutritionists, “eating purees from a pouch does not help children to get accustomed to the tastes and textures of real food.” They have no way to connect a glop of orange puree to a whole carrot.

Although we have willingly divorced many of our natural senses to food companies, Wilson says we can reclaim them. She notes that Diana Henry’s 2014 book A Change of Appetite shows one way to return to a more sensory-filled approach to cooking and eating. Wilson also believes that people returning to more home cooking during the pandemic created a shift in how we experience food in more of a wholesome state. She thinks that sensory food education in schools can spark or reclaim kids’ connection to foods as well.

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  • StokeySue  on  March 31, 2022

    There are two different things here, to me.

    Having had Covid 2 years ago, followed by long Covid, I didn’t find the loss of smell (anosmia) the worst part – but my senses of smell and taste came back faulty, (parosmia) and that was much harder to deal with, it gets better, but in month 25 it’s still there – at it’s worst I couldn’t eat meat, or many herbs and spices and other things too; I’m talking about disliking them, but finding them so revolting I couldn’t swallow them and I couldn’t bear the odour of the potting medium for my herb plants. Smell training helps overcome the problem, but mainly it’s a case of waiting for the brain to repair,

    I don’t really see the link with Ms Wilson’s thesis, I’m familiar with her schools project which is interesting but a bit preachy in my view, and manufactured foods still have a variety of flavours and odours that eaters respond to, which are probably far more varied than those traditionally experienced by those not able to buy expensive foods. People (I can think of family members) can learn to enjoy new flavours in later life after a fairly restricted range in childhood, their neural pathways aren’t damaged as they are with Covid sufferers.

  • demomcook  on  April 1, 2022

    I lost my sense of smell years before covid due to MS. All of my senses have been affected, and while smell is the least worrisome, I miss it terribly when I am cooking. I relied on it to tell me the bread was baked, the stew was fragrant, and the herbs were fresh. When I first lost this sense, I had a “ghost” smell of something burning. It was as if my brain wanted to cling to the one danger I would need most. Now, every great once in awhile I might look at a jar of spice or a plant and imagine the smell, which is a lovely treat.

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