For me, food holds memories of being grounded and content. Memories of dishes I’ve shared with people I love, dishes I’ve made for people I love, and lingering together with food and wine. These memories are places I come back to time and time again to feel at home.
When I was 18 years old, I moved away from my family and lived in England for a year working as a nanny. It was there that I remember first solidifying food as a grounding memory. The family I worked for regularly made chicken korma and it became a dish of comfort and calm for me. Something about the strong curry scent, basmati rice, and creamy yellow sauce shared with a family I cared about deeply eased my feelings of homesickness.
In doing some research, I found neuroscience affirms my experience of food as grounding. Eating food engages all of our senses, and senses are deeply tied to memories. Researchers have found that smell is often the strongest sense tied to memory, and if you add on the layers of all other senses experienced when eating food our brains are given multiple cues to recall a memory linked to a meal.
In a study done in 2007 by Johan Willander and Maria Larsson, researchers found that memories triggered by smell were also more emotional than those triggered by verbal information alone. This may be why even today, years after my time in England, I find myself ordering chicken korma when I feel a bit lost and alone, and after a few bites I find myself at home again.
Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.