Noisy Eaters Essays

I like people. Really I do. Indeed, some of my best friends are people. But as that great wit, ballroom dancer and socialite Jean-Paul Sartre once pointed out, it is also the case that "hell is other people". Especially over dinner. Not all of them, of course. There are people with whom I love eating; without whom a properly laid table is not complete; whose very presence gives my greed a greater moral purpose. Or at the very least make me feel that I am feeding more than just my over-indulged stomach.

And then there are others. The ones who can ruin a good meal merely by being themselves. And who, somehow, always seem to end up sitting next to me.

Prime among these, top of the list I am writing for the day of the glorious revolution when I am finally installed as your dear leader, are: people who make eating noises. From time to time I am forced, professionally, to sit at a table with a noisy eater; someone who is meant to have taste, who has even been paid for his opinions.

He sits there, this chap, sloshing stuff around his gob, like a silage machine making free with this year's grass cuttings. It's a sound that can engender in me a physical response; which can make me want to leave a plate of food I am enjoying. Even of pork belly. Yes. It's that bad.

All I can think, while I'm listening to the noise, is: how the hell did you get to adulthood like this? Did nobody have the nerve to pick you up on this foul, infuriating slurping thing you're doing, with your lips parted, your tongue flopping about your mouth like a bull elephant seal hunting for a mate?

The obvious answer is of course not. Certainly I haven't had the guts to do it. Instead, ever the coward, I am venting my frustration by attacking anonymously. (NB Anybody with a nasal passage injury who wishes to complain that I am discriminating against them because they can't help themselves, might wish to cut out the middle man and write directly to popbitch.com)

Next up are the ones who manage to drag the edge of their knife against the shiny surface of their plate. Every single time they take a mouthful. The sound of metal on glazed china. Oh, God! Shoot me now. And coming up just behind them are those who, presented with a hamburger, reach for the knife and fork. Just pick the damn thing up. With your hands. Those dangly things at the end of your arms. Our hands are why hamburgers were invented. Just how uptight do you have to be to eat a hamburger with a knife and fork?

Of course what I live most in fear of is someone who, served a hamburger, scrapes their knife and fork across the plate while cutting it up and then eats it with their mouth open. For them, a special place in hell has been reserved.

Some of you might think that all this says far more about me than it does about those I criticise. You may have a point. It may explain why I do so love eating in restaurants alone: a great plate of food, a good bottle of wine, no one to see me spill sauce down my shirt.

Did I mention the sauce spilling thing? I didn't? Don't worry. It's no biggie. You'll get used to it. In time. People, eh. They really are a nightmare, aren't they?

If you’ve ever been tempted to confront someone slurping their soup in a restaurant, or if a person breathing loudly next to you in the movie theater is enough to make your blood boil, then you’re not alone: You’re one of many people suffering from a genuine brain abnormality called misophonia.

Misophonia, a disorder which means sufferers have a hatred of sounds such as eating, chewing, loud breathing or even repeated pen-clicking, was first named as a condition in 2001.

Over the years, scientists have been skeptical about whether or not it constitutes a genuine medical ailment, but now new research led by a team at the U.K.’s Newcastle University has proven that those with misophonia have a difference in their brain’s frontal lobe to non-sufferers.

In an report published in the journal Current Biology, scientists said scans of misophobia sufferers found changes in brain activity when a ‘trigger’ sound was heard. Brain imaging revealed that people with the condition have an abnormality in their emotional control mechanism which causes their brains to go into overdrive on hearing trigger sounds. The researchers also found that trigger sounds could evoke a heightened physiological response, with increased heart rate and sweating.

For the study, the team used an MRI to measure the brain activity of people with and without misophonia while they were listening to a range of sounds. The sounds were categorized into neutral sounds (rain, a busy café, water boiling), unpleasant sounds (a baby crying, a person screaming) and trigger sounds (the sounds of breathing or eating). When presented with trigger sounds, those with misophonia presented different results to those without the condition.

“I hope this will reassure sufferers,” Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and UCL, said in a press release. “I was part of the skeptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are.”

“For many people with misophonia, this will come as welcome news as for the first time we have demonstrated a difference in brain structure and function in sufferers,” Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University and the Wellcome Centre for NeuroImaging at University College London, added. “This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a sceptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.”

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