As the semester comes to an end, my friends have started to reflect on the good and the bad of our semester together. We usually partake in this activity at meals and go one by one around the table to share our thoughts. We discuss classes, places we explored together, and more often than not, the food at the famous Emory DCT. There are specific meals that we rave about and other foods that we have learned to despise over the semester. One thing I have noticed throughout the semester is that the mood of our dinners usually depends on the quality of the food on our plates. Meals like stuffed pasta shells or vegetarian samosas are usually followed with an evening of giggles and conversation, but meals (if you can even call them that) like the vegan lasagna usually lead to a night of complaining and the consistent sound of food being pushed across our to-go boxes as we contemplate whether or not it is edible. To us the taste of our dining hall meals are a piece of art which we either view with admiration or highly question. However, studies have shown that the way we feel before a meal can affect the way we taste our food. So before we go on blaming the poor DCT workers for our meal which we perceive as inadequate, we must reflect on if our underlying feelings of the evening have something to do with how we taste.
In a study conducted by the Department of Food at Cornell University, researchers tested a theory to see if our mood affects how we perceive food. They did this by testing the perception of the flavor of two different types of ice cream after a hockey game. Sample 1 was a salted caramel ice cream with pretzels while the second flavor was a lemon/lime sorbet. The purpose of this experiment was to test if the outcome of the game (either a win, tie, or loss) had an effect on how the fans rated the ice cream. As it turns out, mood does affect our perception of taste. It was found that after a loss, fans were more likely to give both ice creams a lower rating while those on the opposite team tended to give more favorable scores after the same game (Noel & Dando, 2015). This could be attributed to the increase in serotonin after a big game and the heavy depression that some fans feel after a sad loss. In turn, this shows that people tend to rate their food based on how they feel prior to consuming it. Of course any favorite meal can uplift someone’s mood if made to their satisfaction, but there is a higher chance that the way someone feels prior to a meal will transfer to how they rate the satisfaction provided by their meal. Rather than mood being processed from the top-down or from our senses to our brain, it is actually the opposite. Our brain can control how we react to our senses which is truly remarkable.
This research study changed the way I view my mealtime. Rather than coming in with a dejected attitude, if I come into more meals with positivity, I am more likely to enjoy my food. During this pandemic, being able to sit down with my friends for a meal is one of the biggest highlights of my day. Now I know that I have the power to control at least one aspect of that meal which is how much I enjoy my food. Although sometimes it is difficult to find the good in a meal, by enjoying the time I spend with my friends there is a high likelihood that it will still hit the spot.
Noel, Corinna, and Robin Dando. “The Effect of Emotional State on Taste Perception.” Appetite, vol. 95, 2015, pp. 89–95., doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.06.003.