How important is sound when we eat?
By Soojin Park
On their Pittsburgh estate, the Frick family cultivated an orchard and kept a kitchen garden that yielded an impressive supply of vegetables and fruits. According to Eliza Brown’s A History of the Landscape at Clayton, the Frick’s greenhouse crops included asparagus, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, parsley, berries, and more. In addition, the Fricks grew peach trees from New Jersey, Siberian crabapples, and figs. Although they replanted the orchard and changed the kitchen garden often because of the unsuitable climate, the Frick family maintained the garden and orchard for a long time. We might consider them to be “foodies” of the 19th and early 20th century.
Most likely, the Fricks liked to keep their dinner table filled with fresh food because it tasted and smelled good. A study by Ryan Elder and Gina Mohr shows that people found taste to be the most important sense for enjoying meals, followed by smell, vision, and texture. Sound was ranked as the least important. Why is sound so undervalued? After all, fresh food is often crunchy which alerts people that the food is good quality. Also, this snappy sound might offer people more satisfaction when eating. The sounds of prepping a meal can also be enjoyable—chopping on a cutting board, throwing spinach leaves and berries into a bowl, splitting apple with a knife… In the following sound clip, you will hear sounds of food prepping and eating that I mimicked on my snare drum.
Sound clip uses snare drum to mimic food sounds:
Light brushes sweep: soft leaves (herbs, spinach)
Heavy brushes sweep: hard leaves (lettuce, cabbage)
Sticks on rim: seed from fruits
Tap with finger on snare: berries falling in a bowl
Performed by Soojin Park (snare drum)
If we overlook sound, we will miss a lot of the joys of cooking and eating. Today, technology often interferes with our sonic appreciation of food. How often are our eyes on a television or smart phone when we are eating? Not only are we watching the screen, but we are also listening to it. While TV shows and YouTube videos may fill up awkward silences when we eat, they also distract our ears. If our minds do not focus on the sounds of eating, we might overeat or feel dissatisfaction after eating. Here is my challenge to you: listen to the sound of your knife slicing a tomato, a fork piercing a lettuce leaf, or the snap you hear when you bite an apple. Since sound is the most ignored part of eating, you might hear (and taste?) something new if you just listen.
Elder, Ryan S. and Gina S. Mohr. “The Crunch Effect: Food Sound Salience as a Consumption Monitoring Cue.” Food Quality and Preference 51/1 (2016): 39–46.
Brown, Eliza S. A History of the Landscape at Clayton: The Evolution of an Urban Estate. Pittsburgh, PA: Eliza Brown Consulting, June, 2006.
Maughan, Rick. “1 in 3 Americans Spend Nearly Every Meal on Their Phone.” Swnsdigital, 6 Sept. 2021. www.swnsdigital.com/us/2018/01/1-in-3-americans-spend-nearly-every-meal-on-their-phone/#:~:text=34%20percent%20of%20Americans%20polled,their%20food%20has%20been%20devoured. Accessed 20 April 2023.