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The Memory Of Food

Wilma Paulse wonders about the psychology of why our gut rejects certain tastes based on our head-and-heart brain memories from our past, either good or bad.



My sister doesn’t eat pumpkin. No boerpampoen smothered in butter and dripped with honey and brown sugar and baked in the oven. No butternut with a hint of cumin and a red chilli for the bite, nor mixed with sweetcorn and baked in a fancy dish with white creamy cheese on top. Niks, nothing, nada!

She claims that she had an overdose of it when we were young, the staple Sunday meal of rys, vleis, aartappel en pampoen. She’s not a fan of jelly and custard either… it was obviously our go-to dessert on a limited budget and far from the nearest town in those years.

Same with Hubster and the famous Pens and Pootjies. The story goes that his mom made this for a lekker winter Sunday meal; pens and pootjies with butter beans cooked slowly overnight. Fall-off-the-bone lekker sweet-and-sour curry.


However, when they sat down for lunch, Hubster’s oupa who sat next to him told him, “Gaan gooi die virrie hond”. And Hubster, the eager beaver, took both their plates and gave it to the dog.


Someone went and piemped them and his mom, not known for her calm demeanour, blew a gasket, to put it mildly. She couldn’t do much about her own father not wanting to eat her pens en pootjies that she so proudly prepared. Instead she took her anger out on her son and he had to eat pens and pootjies for two days straight.


The lesson, according to his mom was, “Here we don’t waste food”. Hubster vowed, by the fourth plate, never to eat pens and pootjies again, as he longingly stared at his siblings’ plates of spaghetti and mince (his favourite). Nowadays when I prepare pens and pootjies at home, he will look, but won’t touch it, not even with a devil’s fork.

Obviously, our food memories are linked to either good or bad memories of our komvandaan. I find it so interesting what people won’t because of a memory, and when they see a certain dish they also subconsciously think: “Gaan gooi daai virrie hond”.

Just a dinges: This is not about privilege. I am interested in the psychology (physiology aside) of why our gut rejects certain tastes based on our head-and-heart brain memories from our past, either good or bad, or even trauma. Like we would say, I cannot stomach the smell of this and that.

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