Hungry for memories? Being Human serves a rich platter of insights

Hungry for memories? Being Human serves a rich platter of insights

Scan the TV schedules for cooking shows, Google the word ‘recipes’ (4.5 million hits) and you’ll notice we’ve become a nation of gastro enthusiasts. But what if you want to do more than pickle your pancetta?

Being Human, the forthcoming national festival of the humanities organised by the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS), will reveal that food is not just sustenance.

Its eight ‘foodie’ events will demonstrate how our noses are our own olfactory Google, sifting the triggers that connect our life experiences and bringing memories flooding back. They include Memory Banquet, which features events like a participatory communal meal where guests experience the tastes, smells and textures of food as a way of exploring memories and cultural associations. Or simply visiting a garden and tasting fresh produce.

Another is Hidden Senses taking place at the Science Museum. The team from Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant, and philosophers and scientists from SAS’s Centre for the Study of the Senses, will explore the science behind culinary delights. On its menu is a day of multi-sensory interactions such as tasting without smell, and listening to the ‘sound’ of strawberries.

‘More than any other sense, smell can evoke powerful, emotional memories’, said sensory expert, Professor Barry Smith, director of Being Human and the School’s Institute of Philosophy. ‘Strawberries have been shown to trigger nostalgic summer memories, because people usually see them as a seasonal treat. Despite the fact that strawberries and cream is one of the most popular food combinations, the majority of people associate British strawberries with the waft of freshly mown grass so top chefs are already creating recipes to conjure these aromas.’

People who struggle to even remember their own mobile phone number, the names of their closest friends or even family members can, at the slightest whiff of a chocolate cake or taste of a full English, recall old memories with surprising clarity.

Festival curator Dr Michael Eades said: ‘The ways in which we share food and drink have been central to human culture for as long as there has been human culture. From intricate religious ritual to a Sunday roast with the family, we have always used food and drink to foster community and make human connections. The Being Human [festival] programme reflects this, with events taking place in pubs, restaurants and coffee shops, and with talks on everything from food sustainability to bees in Renaissance art. You will even find academics engaging with people over cups of hot chocolate along the south bank of the Thames.’ 

Taking place between 15 and 23 November, the Being Human festival is being run in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. Fifty-nine of universities and 120 partner organisations across the UK will host some 150 free-to-attend public events, all designed to demonstrate the importance of the humanities in the cultural, intellectual, political and social life of the UK.

Find out more about the festival at and follow the latest news about the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest (hashtag #BeingHuman14).

– Ends –

Notes for editors:

For all enquiries, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 |

1. Being Human: A festival of the humanities 15–23 November 2014. What does it mean to be human? How do we understand ourselves, our relationship to others and our place in nature? For centuries the humanities have addressed these questions. Artists, writers, philosophers, theologians and historians have considered who we are, how we live and what we value most. But are these long-standing questions changing in 2014? We are more connected than ever, yet we spend more time with smart phones and computers than face to face. The world is becoming smaller, yet the digital information we can access and store, even about ourselves, is vast and growing.  Developments in science and technology are moving fast, challenging our understanding of the self and society. What sense can we make of these changes and what challenges do we face? We need the humanities more than ever to help us address these issues and provide the means to question, interpret and explain the human predicament.

The festival is held as part of the School of Advanced Study’s 20th anniversary celebrations and draws on the success of the 2013 King’s College Festival of the Humanities. Being Human will be the UK’s first national festival of the humanities. Led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, and universities, arts and cultural organisations across the UK, it will demonstrate the value, vitality and relevance of the humanities in 2014. Find out more at or follow the festival on Twitter at @BeingHumanFest.

3. The School of Advanced Study (SAS) at the University of London is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and facilitation of research in the humanities. The School brings together 10 prestigious research institutes to offer unparalleled academic opportunities, facilities and stimulation across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. The member institutes of the School are the Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies, Classical Studies, Commonwealth Studies, English Studies, Historical Research, Latin American Studies, Modern Languages Research, Musical Research, Philosophy, and the Warburg Institute. The School also hosts a cross-disciplinary centre, the Human Rights Consortium, dedicated to the facilitation, promotion and dissemination of academic and policy work on human rights. Find out more at or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.

4The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK.

5. The British Academy is the UK’s national champion of the humanities and social sciences. As a Fellowship of distinguished scholars and researchers from all areas of the humanities and social sciences, it promotes these disciplines and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and ideas. It funds research across the UK and internationally, and seeks to raise understanding of some of the biggest challenges of our time through policy reports, forums, conferences, publications and public events.  For more information, please visit Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news.