I read about someone researching funeral foods in different cultures.
She interviewed a Latino couple, who recalled “emotion cookies” from their childhoods. Almond-flavoured cookies, each with a differently flavoured topping: orange peel, cinnamon. As this researcher discovered: “You sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and you choose a cookie with a topping flavour that reminds you of a moment with the person you’ve lost. As you eat the cookie you re-experience the emotion that the smell or taste evokes.”
One of my areas of research as an academic, is affect. Affect is intense, embodied feeling, that happens before you can put a name to it. I describe it as the chill down your spine or the prickle at the back of your neck. It might not make sense. It might be something you don’t even want to feel.
I write about media and affect: how we might have feelings about a tone of voice, or the technology itself. How the radio or the cellphone might itself evoke certain feelings that impact on how we receive the news. And how affect is contagious.
When I listened, a couple of years ago, to news about so-called terrorist threat and “homegrown” terrorists in our midst, I could sense a general anger and fear building in momentum, I kept the radio on so that I could hear any alternative views, should they be aired. I stopped listening to the content of what people were saying, and instead tracked the emotional timbre of their voices, which invariably spanned just a few predictable affects: hurt and fear resulting in anger. Affect really is contagious: I, too felt anger, but my anger had a different object: government and media.
But affect and food? I haven’t given it as much thought, which is odd, since I do so much food writing. What flavours evoke feeling, and how is that feeling different from rational thought?
I’m drinking coffee as I write this, and I think about how coffee makes me feel mature, worldly, perhaps even sophisticated. It can even evoke happiness. My habitual granola breakfast has its roots in a deep desire, as a child of the 70’s, for a hippie era I’d tragically missed by a decade.
There are foods I avoid, or seldom eat because they are too powerfully evocative of people long gone, or far away, and the stew of affects – love, guilt, sorrow, relief, shame – connected to them.
And there are foods, like the autumnal tomato pie, or the tsimmes I make only at Thanksgiving, Passover and Christmas, that create memory and affect even as they are made. As my friend The BeeKeeper has described, these ritual foods create a body memory of an event. The tedious peeling and chopping of root vegetables this Thanksgiving will locate me in the everyday of my life and the friends with whom I will feast.
My friend The Literary Tour Guide makes pie every time I visit. She lives in Berlin, but the pie brings back Fredericton, New Brunswick and the smells of trees and river, and all the affects of home.
What foods evoke feeling or memory for you?