Stop and Smell the Memories

Do you ever take a moment to stop and smell the memories? My tomato plants are covered in tomatoes so heavy they tipped the trellis over this morning. As I was setting them back up surrounded by the smell of the plants, I was reminded of gardening with my grandmother when I was small. There’s a strong connection between smell and memory. There’s a strong connection between memory and comfort. And there’s a strong connection between comfort and food.

Have you ever had a chance to stop and consider how smell and memory influence your food choices? Most of us don’t even have time to stop and smell the roses, much less the memories. But an awareness of our relationships to smell memory can be helpful with compliance when we need to follow a specific diet in order to be healthy.

A few years ago, a gluten-free bakery opened in my city. My response upon first visiting it was to feel disappointment that there was no yeasty smell in the air. For me, the joy of a bakery lies in the smells-yeast, coffee, cinnamon. The visuals are great too, but while I might be hesitant to eat an oddly shaped cut of meat or deformed looking vegetable, I’d never refuse a misshapen cookie or a torn piece of bread.

Much of the joy and comfort of cooking come from familiar aromas. The first time I cooked fresh green beans in my home, I remarked, “This is how this house should smell.” The house is over 100 years old. Somehow, the smell fit the hardwood floors, carved wood doors, transom windows, and 12-foot ceilings. And I knew it.

When smell is a reminder of family, comfort, and tradition, it can be especially compelling. That’s because smell goes directly to an olfactory bulb that’s connected to the amygdala where emotional processing occurs. All of those warm feelings can end up being connected to related smells.

The idea of giving up a certain food may trigger a feeling of loss or separation as if you’re giving up family or comfort. Knowing this up front can help inform your choices and give you enough insight to recognize and overcome emotional memory stumbling blocks.

And perhaps knowing this can help you process through a diagnosis of celiac disease, diabetes, IBS, or Crohn’s disease without feeling as though required dietary changes will be dire. You will quickly recognize that you can enjoy the warm memories associated with the scent of a cinnamon roll without actually eating one. This knowledge will increase your sense of power, confidence, and choice.

It may also mean you value your memories more because you take time to smell them.