Biochemical Food is a language by which we communicate with ourselves and with others - Dr. R.I. Henkin
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The Taste and Smell Clinic

July 2018

Food is a language by which we communicate with ourselves and with others

People who develop taste and smell dysfunction lose the ability to use the language of food which is basic to life and well-being. They can no longer communicate in their social interactions as they did before dysfunction onset.

To say “Hello” in Chinese one says “have you eaten yet”. This is the basic introduction to the language of food in life. Without the ability to taste and smell food or with the presence of taste or smell distortions, not only do we lose the ability to speak and appreciate this language, we also lose the ability to communicate with others on a basic level of communication.

Food is the common denominator of this language. Its syntax is the gathering around a meal and interacting around both the food and the people involved. Taste and smell dysfunction inhibit people from sharing this language and interactions. Patients avoid eating with others since others understand and speak this language whereas patients have lost the ability to speak or understand this language. They would rather avoid seeing others eat or drink or having to pretend to understand what is “being discussed”. Patients would rather avoid having to participate in a situation where others are speaking this “foreign” language which they can no longer understand. Patients would rather avoid situations in which food is the common denominator of the social situation. This makes patients outcasts, feel isolated from society such that they exhibit discomfort, distress, depression and eventual weight loss and anorexia.

This loss, although not well known or understood by patients or others around them, is of fundamental importance to live a normal life. Sharing a meal is a fundamental way to communicate and share who we are with friends and loved ones. The others are speaking a foreign language which the patient does not understand. The patient feels isolated, alone and if distortions are present, even offended. It is not just a simple loss or distortion of taste or smell but a fundamental loss of ability to speak to one another since food is such a fundamental language of life.

The act of eating and all activities around it, the social interactions of “breaking bread”, sharing meals and speaking to one another over and about food, offers a fundamental sense of well-being and human support. If this were absent an entire concept of well-being has been eliminated from our life, not simply just a loss or distortion of a sensory presence of taste and smell.

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