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Why You Should Lean into Food Nostalgia

It started with a memory about grape pop. A road trip to California recently got me thinking about my grandpa. He loved to travel. From the ski resorts in Colorado where we used to ski to eating grocery bags full of chips in my parent's conversion van on our way to Canada. The reminders of my grandpa were everywhere.

This mental rabbit hole brought me to my most vivid childhood memory of my grandpa. There was a park across the street from their house. My siblings and sometimes my cousins would walk the bike path down to the park to play. My grandpa would always come with us. When we were done swinging, zip lining and sliding we would bury his feet in the tiny rocks and he would start counting down. As soon as he started counting, we would start running back to their house in a "we're running for our lives" kind of scenario. My grandpa would yell after us "I'm gonna get chu!" as we would squeal and run faster. Our only break was to pause at the road to look both ways before we ran across my grandparent's yard and flew through the front door. We would spill into the living room on our way to the kitchen where the refrigerator was always filled with cans of orange and grape pop. We would each grab a can while one would push a short & sturdy chair over to the refrigerator. One of us would climb on the chair and retrieve a cellophane bag filled with cherry hard candies that had bubble gum inside. These were called "gum dingers." We would sit on the mantle of the fireplace enjoying our gum dingers & pop until my grandpa stumbled in sweaty and out of breath. He would retire to a nearby leather recliner and pull a newspaper out of the metal bin that sat nearby.

As I shared this memory with my partner, I said, "I wonder if it still tastes as good as I remember?"

My partner met my question with a similar but different childhood memory of grape pop. His dad was laid off one summer and he was helping to renovate a friend's ice cream shop. My partner would go to the ice cream shop with his dad to work. Every day he would walk to the gas station and buy a candy bar & grape pop. In that moment, I declared that I would buy grape pop at the next gas station. It did not disappoint. The taste of the grape pop brought me instantly back to that mantle, back to my siblings, back to being out of breath, back to my grandparent's house and back to my grandpa.

Nostalgia is defined as "a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal affection" by Oxford Languages.

Food can enhance the feeling of nostalgia which allows you to feel closer to the memory. Every sip of that grape pop brought me closer to the memory of our post-park tradition. I could feel the carpet beneath my feet, the cold tile of the mantle under my legs and the way the pop can felt in my hand. I longed for the pop bottle I was drinking to be a can so that I could sense it all. The grape pop allowed me to be "all in" with this memory and I couldn't be more grateful.

I grew up in a family that brought snacks with as they were cheaper at the grocery store. This means even as an adult that I don't usually buy things at the gas station. I also don't usually drink pop. Leaning into food nostalgia feels different than exploring a food craving. Food nostalgia feels like a curiosity where a food craving feels like a bodily need. Both of these are important to your relationship with food.

Can you do me a favor? Next time you're walking down memory lane and find a moment of food nostalgia, lean on ALL the way in. Share your memory on social media, be sure to tag us (instagram: @restoreeasedietetics & facebook: Restore Ease Dietetics) and use the hashtag #foodnostalgia. If you need me, I'll be searching for gum dingers.

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