Idea Development: How Do Our Childhood Food Memories Affect Us As Adults?

I thought it would be interesting to explore and research into how our childhood food memories affect us today. This could be in a more serious context, such as certain events that may have lead to an eating disorder, or something lighter, along the lines of a fun childhood story or something that you once hated that you now love.

I watched an episode of Questlove’s Food Salon entitled “Childhood Memories” where four chefs created various different courses inspired by food memories from their childhood. In the episode we hear about these memories and how they have affected how they have shaped how they work when they cook. It is held at Questlove’s home in New York where there is also a gathering of numerous different celebrities, who also share their childhood food memories. It is really interesting to hear how they contrast depending on where the person is from, how they were brought up and how old they are. I decided to use some of the audio from these interviews in my final artefact, as I thought it would fit really well into what I was trying to create. You can see the 9 minute episode below.

In doing my research I came across an article in Psychology Today called “What Your Earliest Food Memories Say About You” by Susan Krauss Whitebourne Ph.D. In this article she discusses how everybody has childhood memories involving food and, even if we don’t realise it, these memories have affected how we are as adults. She talks about a study by Elisabeth von Essen and Fredrika Mårtensson, of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, that explored the correlation between early food memories and resilience in adulthood. Whitebourne states that “the Swedish team believed that the positive associations between food and family help establish a strong base on which future coping skills are built.” They also believe that our memories of food also affect how we choose our relationships and that the way we spend food-related times with our partners “defines a key element of [our] relationships”. This is not just in how you spend your time together in a relationship, as food can be a big part of that, but more into the sense of security in the relationship. In the article, Whitebourne explains that “Attachment theory, the framework adopted by the authors, proposes that the “secure base” you form in infancy provides you with the greatest resilience toward the challenges you face as you develop into adulthood and beyond.” This is really interesting to see how much of an affect this childhood food memories can have and how they can really shape our future.

The Swedish researchers did studies to test their theories that I won’t go into too much detail about here, but which were based on “food memory interviews of a sample of 30 young adults ranging from 18 to 35 years old.” These interviews proved that people who had a rocky history with food struggled with their relationships and were very focused on their eating habits. For example, a woman who had “experimented with a number of extreme dietary fads” and had “grown up eating anything that could be microwaved [as she had] a mother who worked nights and a father who was an alcoholic” still feels like she is “too preoccupied with food, and that it takes too much of her energy”. She also said that is was something that she was very concerned about with her relationship with her son as she wanted to provide him with “a healthier and more stable diet.” In contrary, in another interview a man had a very secure relationship with food and positive memories from his childhood which said he often returned to “his memories of these good times when sharing meals with his adult friends”.

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I also watched a short on Nowness called “Sharing Plates: Shamil Thakrar and Nitin Sawhney”. In 2010 Thakrar co-founded a restaurant where the whole premise was based on a man’s childhood memories of Bombay’s Irani cafés which were “inclusive street food spots popular in the twentieth century [and] are now nearly extinct.” These childhood memories helped inspire his future in founding this restaurant. In the film Sawhney says he believes that this makes the food “more rooted. If it’s come from a story, if it’s come from something genuine then there’s an authenticity to the feeling. There is a lot more than food and taste. It is actually coming from a perspective, from a feeling, from a thought, you know, that has magic to it.” You can see the short through the link below.

I also interviewed some of my closest friends about their childhood food memories and how they have affected them today. I asked them various questions such as: Do a lot of your childhood memories relate to taste? Where there any foods you weren’t allowed to eat as a child? Do you eat them now? Are there any specific memories you have from your childhood that relate to food? What is your relationship with food like today?

I also used the audio from these interviews in my final artefact and intertwined them with the audio from the Food Salon episode. It was interesting to weave both English and American perspectives together. Much like I expected, I had a range of answers that varied between more serious and more light. One of my friends spoke about a time from her childhood that she saw a chicken being killed on a farm that prompted her to become vegetarian, clearly being a very defining and memorable moment in her life.

I thought about doing an audio podcast combining all the different interviews about childhood memories together, however I am a very visual person so wanted something visual to match what was being said in the interviews. I used a collection of different childhood stock videos I found online, particularly trying to find older, vintage clips to give more of a sense of nostalgia. I combined this with shots I had taken myself on Super 8 film and added the audio from the various interviews over-the-top of this footage, trying to match the visuals to what the person was speaking about. For example, when one of the women is talking about eating around the dinner table as a child, I found some stock footage of a family eating around a dinner table. I wanted to create an almost collage of visual clips and sound bites that came together to form a sentimental visual essay of different recollections. I have linked it below.

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