As human beings we’re extremely sensitive to the vibrations of sound. We absorb sound through our whole bodies and register those vibrations through bone conduction, which means that sound vibrations make our bones vibrate and those vibrations are then picked up by our ears and brains.
A teacher of mine once casually mentioned this profound insight about our sense of hearing: We can’t block out sound. We don’t have earlids. Wow. So true. So how does our sense of hearing affect mealtimes? We hear the sounds of food being prepared. Pots and pans clanging, water rushing to rinse something in the sink, maybe the microwave or stove timer beeping, the clatter of a table being set. In our bodies and minds these sounds are associated with feelings we’ve had in the past when we hear them. Maybe we feel a rush of excitement for dinner because we feel hungry and anticipate a positive eating experience. Or maybe we feel a sense of dread because these sounds remind us of an uncomfortable mealtime or eating experience.
We also hear the sounds extending out from our immediate environment. Maybe there’s loud noise in the street, cars, sirens, horns, trains. Maybe there are nature sounds: birdsong, wind or rain.
If we listen closely, there are sounds in our own bodies. Maybe a rumble of hunger in our digestive system, our heartbeat, our breath.
All of these sounds create an auditory experience and they profoundly affect our experience of a meal. Beyond our personal associations with sounds, research has shown that sound vibrations universally affect our sense of taste. High frequency (higher pitch) sounds make foods taste sweeter, low frequency sounds (lower pitch) bring out foods’ bitter elements and ocean sounds make foods taste fresher and saltier.
So what does this mean for our mealtimes? It means we have an opportunity to notice, to be present so we can become aware of these effects on ourselves and our families. Because we’re so affected by sound and have so little control over absorbing it, we subconsciously block out a lot of sounds so we can function and focus on other tasks. But when we allow ourselves to notice sound, notice how it affects our heart-rate, our breath, our nervous system, we can use this sense as a tool rather than rigidly trying to ignore it.
Maybe soft music playing helps your child eat. Maybe your child who like savory foods eats better to low frequency sounds. Maybe the child who likes sweet foods eats better to high frequency sounds. Maybe sound is too overwhelming for your family after a day of being bombarded by vibrations and a quiet background and quiet voices brings calm to your table. Maybe rhythmic music wakes up a lethargic eater.
Knowing the power and effects of sound and our sense of hearing on our whole bodies and overall experiences gives us the opportunity to harness that power rather than be ruled by it.
On a side note, the oatmeal cookie recipe I tried for the oatmeal cookie ear (above) was absolutely amazing! Thank you to The Food Network and Ree Drummond and for her delicious contribution to this post and my life moving forward! I added a cup of raisins and substituted 1/2 cup of ground flax seed for 1/2 cup of the oats and the result was delicious! Also, the batch that was cooked for 10 minutes rather than 12 came out the perfect, chewy consistency for my taste!
Enjoy and happy food play!!!