Talking Food with Nicola Twilley

I attended an interesting talk in the evening, on March 22nd at the Science Gallery. Named Snap, Crackle, and Pop with Nicola Twilley, it attracted my attention because it promised to take me through a lot of things, from the “history of the calorie to the science behind how the sound of food affects its flavour.” I was intrigued. I am a foodie, albeit vegetarian, and I enjoy listening to semi-scientific talks like these, interspersed with interesting trivia and tidbits of information.

I didn’t feel the weight of an hour as Nicola took us through three “stories” as she called them. They were about how she got interested in the science of food, how she began her award-winning podcast named Gastropod and how she began writing for the New Yorker. Warm, and sprinkled with loads of self-deprecatory humour, Nicola was conversing, more than talking to us.

Nicola grew up in England, a shy kid who loved to write but not to interact. Blessed with a disposition like that (reminds me of myself!) she knew journalism wasn’t for her. Instead, she went to the US and got herself a Masters in Art History. Her obsession with food was sparked when she attended a talk in London by Carolyn Steel on her book Hungry City: How Food ShapesOur Lives. Nicola was intrigued, and she started her, now hugely successful, blog named Edible Geography, where she talked about the history, art, and science behind food. Recognizing that she could use food as a productive constraint, she went ahead to do a Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship, which took her to China where she researched the subject of her thesis – refrigeration.

Charles Spence
Spence’s research says that the sharper the crackle of crisps, the fresher they appear to us

Since then, she has met and spoken to hundreds of interesting people, including Oxford professor Charles Spence, whose research on the sensory perception of food won him an IgNobel Prize. Nicola then began co-hosting podcasts on Gastropod (yes, she is aware that it’s actually the zoological name for snails). Later, she became a contributor to the prestigious New Yorker magazine after she happened to meet one of its editors who asked her to pitch an article. An interesting point she talked about here was about the magazine’s fastidious and obsessive insistence on checking facts. She had a person who checked every single fact she mentioned in her article, going right up to the very source. It turned out that a couple of things weren’t really facts at all even though she had taken them from validated science publications, journals, and even papers.

I walked out quite impressed with her journey, and of course, with the things that food can be associated with. Although, I don’t know if it’s going to propel a rash of food-inspired posts on my blog, I still am intrigued enough to do a bit of reading about the same. Here is the video of Snap, Crackle, and Pop (Note: move the slider ahead to 12:45 on the video to begin immediately). See if you are inspired to look more closely at your food like I am.



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