Monday, November 13, 2006

Fond Gustatory Memories

One of my husband's students is a generous gift-giver. She's given him a fair number of food items, mostly based on foods he says he favors. Today, she gave him 6 small cupcakes and a carton of frosting. The funny thing is that these cupcakes are just the kind we had as kids or the type you buy at bake sales in the states. It's an experience neither my husband nor I have had for more than 20 years now but it is a crystal clear taste memory.

It turns out that the student bought these at a church bake sale in Nerima-ku. They were made by foreign women who were a part of the church. That would explain why they taste like the so much like what we could get back home. The cupcakes were almost certainly made with cake mixes imported from the U.S. It's the sort of thing that you appreciate more even though it's not all that important because it's such a rare touch of home and it brings bake an enjoyable experience from childhood.

When it comes to memory, smell is the strongest memory cue followed by taste. That is, if you smell something familiar, you are likely to remember something associated with when and where you have smelled it in your past. The same goes for taste. It could be because both of these are chemical-based senses. It could be because having strong memory cues with smell and taste increased the chances of survival of our ancestors.

During my time in Japan, I've noticed that both smell and taste have been the most frequent senses to "carry me back" to moments from my childhood in the U.S. Most of the time, it's a good experience but sometimes it makes me a bit melancholy and homesick. I'm not sure if that's because I miss any particular food so much as perhaps I miss being a child and having far fewer problems and finding that far simpler things, like a cupcake, made me happy.

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