14 January 2012

What I'm Reading: Neurogastronomy by Gordon M. Shepherd

"What I'm Reading" is a new feature on this blog where I will briefly review a book that I am currently reading.  In "What I'm Reading", I will feature books that I have not yet finished, but still think warrant being mentioned on the blog.  These reviews will include a synopsis as well as my impressions of the book in progress.

This week, I am reading Neurogastronomy by Gordon M. Shepherd.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Leading neuroscientist Gordon M. Shepherd embarks on a paradigm-shifting trip through the "human brain flavor system," laying the foundations for a new scientific field: neurogastronomy. Challenging the belief that the sense of smell diminished during human evolution, Shepherd argues that this sense, which constitutes the main component of flavor, is far more powerful and essential than previously believed.

Shepherd begins Neurogastronomy with the mechanics of smell, particularly the way it stimulates the nose from the back of the mouth. As we eat, the brain conceptualizes smells as spatial patterns, and from these and the other senses it constructs the perception of flavor. Shepherd then considers the impact of the flavor system on contemporary social, behavioral, and medical issues. He analyzes flavor's engagement with the brain regions that control emotion, food preferences, and cravings, and he even devotes a section to food's role in drug addiction and, building on Marcel Proust's iconic tale of the madeleine, its ability to evoke deep memories. 

Shepherd connects his research to trends in nutrition, dieting, and obesity, especially the challenges that many face in eating healthily. He concludes with human perceptions of smell and flavor and their relationship to the neural basis of consciousness. Everyone from casual diners and ardent foodies to wine critics, chefs, scholars, and researchers will delight in Shepherd's fascinating, scientific-gastronomic adventures.

I decided to branch out from my typical YA genre, and start to read some science non-fiction books, too.  For being a science major, I actually read very little science material outside of what is required for my courses and lab work.  Maybe it's time to put an end to that.

Neurogastronomy has a very interesting premise, something that I have really not thought about before.  Food does not inherently have flavor; instead, our brains create the sensation of flavor based on smelling the foods we eat.  Yes, most of what humans consider to be the taste of a food is actually due to its scent!  It's kind of strange to think about, yet, it's why we have a problem tasting food when our noses are stuffed up.

In Neurogastronomy, Shepherd discusses both scientific and social implications of this scent to flavor phenomenon.  The topics of this book span everything from how the molecules we smell travel to the brain, to how scents can trigger memories tied to food.  Neurogastronomy is really striving to be a comprehensive collection of all the ideas related to how our brain perceives flavor.  As neurogastronomy is a new field of study, from my perspective, this book succeeds.

Though I am not very far into the book yet, I am already interested in learning more about how smell and flavor are connected and how they relate to not only our appreciation of food itself, but other aspects of life.  Shepherd's conversational style make this book appropriate for any adult reader, with or without a foundation in the sciences.

FTC Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Neurogastronomy for review from Net Galley.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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