Food and Music

When I think of food and music, the pleasure centers in my brain come to life. Everybody I know loves this combo. If we love something this much, it must be useful for us. How exactly can we leverage it?  Maybe the connection is dangerous? More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Primal empathy

I read somewhere a theory that the stone Stonehedge was a mausoleum for the dead. Near it was a bigger site with a wooden circle, where the living would play music, dance, eat, and make love possibly twice a year during the solstice. In ancient times, such an orgy would be the best way to pass through the rigid barriers between tribes. Probably because of a close connection of our aesthetics, empathy, and pleasure neurons.

I quote: “Empathy, Music Listening, and Mirror Neurons Are Intertwined: Theories of empathy have long resonated with the arts. The father of the modern concept of empathy, philosopher Theodor Lipps (1907), originally devised the notion of Einfühlung (“feeling into”) in order to explain aesthetic experience. Contemporary psychological accounts have invoked mirror neurons as a possible substrate supporting Lipps’s “inner imitation” theory of the visual and performing arts

Once we share food with someone, we instantly become friends. If we share music and alcohol we start feeling soul mates, at least for a short while. This is very primal and surprisingly deep.

Feel into music and food?

We should not be surprised though. When we are moved by art, or when we are moved by a person, it feels somehow similar. This is an indicator of similar mechanisms working into our brains. I have seen a cool metaphor, where the thinking part of the brain is a driver of a huge elephant. The driver wants to feel in control, but it is the elephant who wields the power. Feelings can be activated directly through the senses and generate thoughts. We are so good at hindsight justification that we hardly notice. Occasionally I feel bad, and I am starting to think “I had a lousy day, and my life is moving nowhere because… Wait, why? Ah… There is this dog shit on the pavement near my foot“.

Food is like sex. No, seriously. I quote: “Of all the senses, only taste and smell are predominately hard-wired directly into our brain. When we hear something, see something, or feel something, it is generally filtered first. But taste and smell home in on command central like a guided drone strike. The smell is mediated by olfactory neurons. These neurons feed into the olfactory bulb which then communicates directly with the pyriform cortex in the very brainstem region of the central nervous system. This is our animal brain; the pyriform cortex being present in amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. From perception in the environment to CNS stimulation is only a two-synapse step in humans.

Do you sleep well?

Occasionally I ask myself why we need science to tell obvious things. And then again some connections are less obvious.

Five years ago I used to drink a lot of water, be nervous, and have sleep-related issues. Strangely, coffee of all things helped me to regulate this vicious cycle. Doctors tested me for diabetes and found that my blood sugar is perfect. I thought I was losing it. Nobody was able to tell me what is wrong, so I took the things into my hands. I was searching the web for two weeks non-stop. The solution was simple: my town added distilled water to the natural water it pumped and all the citizens lack magnesium. I simply took the supplement and all the problems were gone.

There is a similar story with cracked lips and vitamin B. And when I was a toddler I literally ate walls because I lacked calcium.

You might feel you are getting crazy, but maybe something is missing in your diet, or you hear sounds you do not notice. Here is an article describing the health effects of noises we do not even hear. They are either subsonic or filtered by the brain. Yet we may get cardiovascular diseases, agitation and distraction,  and sleep disturbance. If you live in the center of a city, you are probably exposed to this noise.

Even your air conditioning could be generating this noise. I was a civil engineer a part of my military service. Some soldiers complained on headaches. We could not find a reason. Since I built some audio equipment in my graduation project, I decided to bring an audiometer to the base. The cause of the headaches was a faulty air conditioner. Replacing it saved dozens of soldiers from chronic conditions. There was also a similar story of electromagnetic radiation safety in a communication base and a mobile phone device from the late 80s.

Coffee is so personal

I am addicted to coffee. When I drink I do not feel stimulated. I can sleep immediately after a triple espresso. If I do not get at least two cups of coffee per day, I experience depression symptoms.  That’s me. I am permanently dreamy.

There is another group of people, who are permanently high. I do not think these people should drink coffee, or the sweat sparkly cousin of coffee: coca-cola. I quote:

“Migration from the countryside to the cities in countries such as China has also led to many people trying coffee for the first time and finding they like it. But this increase in the popularity of coffee may be one of the factors fuelling our modern feelings of existential dread. Many people overlook the fact that caffeine indirectly increases norepinephrine and causes symptoms essentially indistinguishable from anxiety, including nervousness, irritability, trembling, palpitations, flushing, and heartbeat irregularities. The more caffeine you consume in a day, the more these symptoms are likely – and not just in adults, but also in children.”

For a while, I had an anxious child (#1) eating chocolate and drinking cola to calm down. He started complaining of bowel symptoms and gaining weight. Fortunately, we could send him to his grandmother where there is no chocolate or cola. After three days of withdrawal symptoms, we got back a happy and healthy boy.

Something that is good for one person may be bad for another. If your friend praises a certain diet, this does not mean you should try it. Even when this friend is a medical doctor. Quite often doctors behave more like regular humans than professionals, and their advice needs to be verified via other sources.

Mindful diet

Arguably our diet contributes to early aging and mental problems. People who practice yoga often START by changing their diet. Sugar and salt, roasted substances and unhealthy fats, monosodium glutamate, and other things you find in processed food. They are all eliminated from the diet.  This step is considered basic and critical. But then again, people who do not meditate have different needs.

Music should also be treated as a diet. Angry heavy metal and rap are not healthy compared with jazz, blues, and classical music. Progressive rock is still being discussed, as the music is complex and it appears to help people deal with their issues.  We know that rock increases the chances of accidents. There is also a very specific gene common to rock stars and ADHD.

Our diet changes who we are, but our identity selects our diet. An African American is more likely to love blues than progressive rock. A Jewish boy is unlikely to consume a lot of pork. Yet, everybody will drink cola and eat chicken.

Most people could not afford music or meat before the 19th century. Nomads were often taller than civilized people as they ate meat. Chicken became popular after the 1948 “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest. Today we are finally as tall as the neanderthal men, but the people who try neanderthal diet do not enjoy long and happy lives.

I really do not know what to recommend, as every 5 years there is a paradigm shift.  Personally, I used to be a vegetarian jazz lover for seven years,  but then I switched back to beef and rock. One of the reasons: I felt that my body does not get enough nutrition to support me as a new father. Everything is open and as my kids grow up I might change my diet once again.

Food and music to cope

We use unhealthy food and dangerous music to cope with our problems, especially during adolescence. Maybe these hormones, food, and music helped to reduce interbreeding in early human societies. Now they are no healthy.

I quote: “People who tend to listen to angry or sad music also tend to be the same people who engage in emotional eating. Among emotional eaters, listening to music for a wide variety of reasons (entertainment, diversion) was associated with better mental health (less stress and sadness). Emotional eaters who were less emotionally healthy tended to listen to a more narrow range of music focusing on sadness and anger. ”

In a better world, we could consider a mindful diet and complex music to deal with emotional problems. Maybe this is a new paradigm, waiting for its time. In the present, people who eat to feel better and listen to sad music are locked in a vicious cycle. Our mirror neurons do not allow us to get better when we empathize with sad music, and heavily processed food is not good for our psyche.

I honestly think that with all the dangers of commercial antidepressants, they are still better than abuse of alcohol, heavily processed food, and angry music.

Classical music used to inspire the great scientists of the enlightenment era.  All the universe appears to some physicist as strings playing in enormous polyphony in multiple dimensions. Simple food used to inspire the great zen masters and spiritual leaders of the past.

With the music revolution of 1960s and emergence foodies of 1980s we started to consume simpler music and more complex food than we should. Possibly,  simpler food and more complex music would be better for our bodies and souls.


We are losing empathy, gaining weight, and becoming depressed. These trends are clear for most scientists, and they are alarming. If we behave like everybody else, we are putting ourselves and our loved ones in danger. Some leadership is expected, and we see a new wave of thinking both in food and in music. Following the COVID19 crisis, the world is changing. I surely hope it is for the best.

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