Food for Thought: A Reflection on Taste

If you’ve seen the 1968 musical film “Oliver!” you may recall the song the orphans sing as they gather in the bleak dining hall for their main meal of the day. They yearn for “…magical food, wonderful food, marvelous food, heavenly food, beautiful food, glorious food!”

Peasant Family at Lunch by Albert Neuhuys

Peasant Family at Lunch by Albert Neuhuys

Food and our sense of taste have the power to transport us to a realm of wonderful or unpleasant memories, tasty or bitter experiences. Family celebrations and meals can be a meaningful part of the holiday season. Pamper your loved one by serving them “comfort” food or traditional holiday food that they ate growing up. Engage them in the preparation process. See if this will perk up their taste buds and appetite, especially if they have not been eating well. Even when memory is diminishing, the capacity for imagination and fun is still there.


In this reflection below, I ask you to think about food, and the marvels and wonders of your taste buds, and their inherent power to distinguish different tastes and combinations of tastes.

Find a spot conducive to your being quiet mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Become aware of your breathing. Feel your shoulders relax. Try to let your mind go blank. Feel at peace with yourself, your surroundings, the world, and the people in your life.

Taste is influenced by many factors. For example, having a slice of hot toasted homemade bread slathered with butter and the marmalade made by a dear friend, tastes very different on a leisurely Sunday morning in the winter versus a hot summer day when you are rushing off to work, or have to tend to several errands.

Imagine for a moment if all fruits or all vegetables tasted the same way. How would it impact you?

Food and Culture

Become aware of the immense sources of pleasure brought to you by virtue of your taste buds.  If you were to confine food to sustenance and pleasure, your experiences in life would be limited: to connect with other cultures; to express an appreciation and acceptance of other cultures; to build bridges; to move beyond your boundaries; to introduce and encourage others to do the same.

How has your taste of food changed along your life’s journey or has it remained the same?

Is there a specific taste that appeals to you and for what reason? Is there a specific taste that you dislike and for what reason? What is your comfort food?  In what way does it soothe you?icecream-sundae

Tracing Your Roots

Now bring to your conscious awareness experiences of your life’s story, the roots of which you can trace to taste. Identify the many ways in which food and your family are closely linked.

december-17-holidaydinner-1060352_640What foods connect you to your family traditions, background, beliefs, cultural heritage, and celebrations?

What were the preferred tastes in your family – sweet, sour, bitter, salty, spicy? How did your family incorporate the different tastes of each family member?

What are the stories around family recipes that go back several generations, even to people you have never met but who have influenced you?

Evoking Memories

How does the taste of certain foods evoke memories of people whom you have met along your journey in life?

Are there certain foods that you have never tasted but have concluded that you do not or will not like? What are some of the places you have traveled and the foods you have eaten that are now part of your repertoire?

In the fullness of time, do you believe that taste can impact on the type of person you wish to become? What is the gift of your sense of taste?

Take a few minutes now before ending this meditation to write in your journal. Record what you want to take away from this experience and how it may help you become an even more knowledgeable, compassionate caregiver.

I wish you peace, patience, and joy in your caregiving today and every day!

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I owe a debt of gratitude to Merle Stern for composing this reflection as part of my series on dementia and the senses. Please feel free to share this meditation, referencing Merle and this website.

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Monica Heltemes is an occupational therapist with nearly twenty years of dementia care experience. Have fun with this activity about food that she posted recently on her website, “”

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What is spiciness? Watch this 4-minute TED educational video, “The Science of Spiciness,” by Rose Eveleth:

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The choices you make about what to eat can have a lasting effect on your brain. To learn more, watch this TED-Ed lesson, “How the Food You Eat Affects Your Brain:”

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Here is a four-minute snippet from the movie musical, “Oliver!” This is the song the orphans sing before their meal of gruel:

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