Nostalgia, if you haven’t already felt it through hearing Taylor Swift's re-release of Love Story, quarantine baking, watching The Last Dance on Netflix or seeing Vince Lombardi in this Super Bowl commercial, is something we all need right now – even if it be just in the slightest bit.

In particular, nostalgia is "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past", and if you're into baking like me, you may have experienced nostalgia in one of its most intense forms after smelling cookies and muffins fresh out of the oven during all of that quarantine baking. 

But before I get into evoking nostalgia, I want to talk about how amazing nostalgia is because, while it does make us long for the past, it also leaves us feeling more optimistic through increasing our self-esteem and perceptions of social support while giving us a sense of meaning and reducing anxiety.

All of that demand for flour and yeast at the start of this never ending lockdown didn't just cure our boredom. It, if only for a moment, likely also gave some of us a sense of comfort and connection through reminding us of childhood memories, and that's because nostalgic memories often include "happy personal associations".

In other words, if you felt nostalgia from baking, you might have been reminded of memories baking with siblings or decorating cupcakes as nostalgic memories are likely to consist of other people or special life events.  

So how does baking, and how do foods in general, make us feel nostalgic for a different point in time and how do we evoke it?

How Do Foods Make Us Nostalgic?

Let me start with what triggers nostalgia in the first place. Among many other things, nostalgia is more likely to be felt when a person feels lonely, a need to belong or a sense of meaninglessness – most of which this pandemic sure has left me feeling. It's like bittersweet chocolate....dark.

On the upside though, feeling nostalgia helps that through making us feel more optimistic – something we all need to feel as we all try and cope with living in a world of uncertainty. Luckily, it's something that we can try striking up with food!

Foods have the capability to fire up almost all of our senses and this is why nostalgia from food is felt so intensely as opposed to nostalgia from a film, song or picture.

Nostalgia From Scents and Taste 🥧

It's said that memories associated with scents are perceived by our brains as further in the past than the memories we speak and hear about. Likewise, memories from scents are specific, clear and can bring us back to vivid and specific emotions which may explain why smelling certain foods leaves us with such strong feelings of nostalgia.

Speaking to taste specifically, family recipes in particular have the ability to evoke pretty intense nostalgia, especially if they're associated with certain holidays or events. Being that foods can be quite culture-specific, returning to certain dishes may also make you feel a greater sense of belonging by reminding you of family and friends. 

One of the most famous examples of the ability for foods to trigger memories is described by Marcel Proust who uses his memory of smelling and eating a madeleine to talk about the involuntary memories that are brought to our conscious attention after consuming foods from our childhoods.

It's said that this "Proust Phenomenon" happens because the system in our brain that processes odour from smell and taste also activates areas associated with memory and emotion. In other words, what we smell and eat in our youth leaves a pretty deep mark on our memories.

How to Evoke Nostalgia from Food

Try baking and cooking foods you have positive memories with... think foods from your early childhood like holiday sugar cookies, comfort foods and family recipes. For me, Pillsbury cookies always do the trick for my mom and I – while they may not be gourmet, they sure are nostalgic for the both of us. 

The key here is that you want the food to be from something you haven't made in a long time. If what you make comes from a memory made between the ages of 11 and 25, it becomes less likely to evoke nostalgia than something from when you were between 6 and 10 as scent and taste-based memories are more likely to reach their peak (and ability to leave a mark) at this stage of life. The tricky part is trying to remember what foods you used to eat.

So there you have it! I know this pandemic has brought about many challenges for most, if not all, of us. It's made us long for life pre-pandemic, forced some of us to turn our bedrooms into offices and made others feel lonely and sad. While nostalgia certainly can’t solve any of our problems right now, feeling it might give us just an ounce of joy to brighten up our days during a time when it feels like almost nothing can. 

With that, why not bake some cookies, whip up your favourite dish, throw on Space Jam or listen to, dare I say it, John Mayer's Waiting on The World to Change?