Written by Alyssa Hiarker.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.
Pick a memory where you were undeniably happy. What do you remember from that moment? Do you remember what you could see? What you could smell? What you could taste?
Your memories may be clouded, the specifics of those instances may be lost to time, but your senses are tied directly to your memories. According to a study done by the National Institute of Neuroscience in Italy, the reason why certain sights, smells, and tastes are so strongly connected to memories is because the region of the brain responsible for processing senses is also partially responsible for storing emotional memories. That’s why the slightest whiff of a perfume you haven’t smelled in 5 years can instantly take you back to the exact moment you last smelled it.
According to a study done by Sewanee, The University of the South, comfort food has a similar effect. Comfort food, whether it’s ice cream or chicken fried steak or kimchi, is marked by the distinct importance that the food has had in the individual’s life. Inherently, comfort food reminds us of our social ties, reminds us of the times that we felt taken care of, surrounded by love, the times we felt at home.
For so many college students, their first semester away from home is marked by homesickness and a nostalgia for the familiar surroundings of their hometown. In an unfamiliar city, with unfamiliar people, it can feel as if home is on a different planet. According to a study done by UCLA, 69% of college freshmen report feeling homesick, isolated and lonely when they first get to college. The transition to college can rip away the security and routine that was a part of many students lives prior to this point and replace it with a deep sense of unease and a longing for the familiar.
In moments of isolation, the craving for comfort food can increase in an attempt to reconcile the lost feelings of security and familiarity. Comfort food can provide college freshmen a way to make the transition to college a little less scary, offering a tangible connection to the place they just left behind.
In the moments where the unfamiliarity seems all-consuming, the flavors that remind you of when you felt secure and the tastes that remind you of home can alleviate that loneliness. When you’re feeling homesick, make the old recipes that you’ve been eating your whole life and sprinkle in the seasonings that have been with you for as long as you can remember. Suddenly, home won’t seem that far away.