Guest speaker dishes on food choices at Hadassah luncheon


Hadassah put out the welcome mat for members and guest speaker Rachel Herz at the annual Chai Luncheon, held on Nov. 11 at Wethersfield Commons, in Warwick.


After the delicious potluck buffet, Wendy Spellun introduced Herz,  a neuroscientist who specializes in perception and emotion. Herz, who teaches at Brown University and Boston College, spoke on the topic of one of her books, “Why You Eat What You Eat,” providing insight into the sensory, psychological, neuroscientific and physiological factors that influence our eating habits.

The presentation began with a demonstration of how taste is the result of the interaction between our sense of smell and the brain. Hertz asked the Hadassah members to eat a jelly bean from bowls on the tables while pinching their nose to inhibit taste. While many people believe that the tongue determines taste, the group learned that it can only sense sweet, salty, bitter and sour flavors. Often, when aging people complain that they have lost their sense of taste, they have really experienced a decline in the sense of smell.

Of special interest was the fact that a loss of the sense of smell at an early age can be an indicator of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

On a more positive note, smell is also involved when selecting one’s best possible mate!

Herz also spoke about how sugar and the color red play major roles in our experience with food.

Can eating sweets make us sweeter? According to Herz, just tasting sugar makes people kinder, gentler and more agreeable by releasing dopamine and endorphins. A little sweetness may also slightly relieve pain.

The color red often signals ripeness – think of strawberries and some apples – but can also signal danger. As a plate color, red draws our attention and encourages people to eat less while being more mindful of their food choices.

The topic of comfort foods was also explored. In stressful times, we turn to these dishes because they remind us of our childhood, when our family took care of us.

On a different topic, Herz explained that the constant loud noise in an airplane impacts the nerve that goes from the tongue to the brain, affecting taste and enhancing the flavor of tomato juice.

A lively Q-and-A followed the presentation, after which attendees applauded Herz for her enjoyable and informative talk. Sue Mayes, president of the Southern Region, and past president Sue Shikora thanked members for their support of Hadassah and its mission. Members of the Chai Society received special recognition.

Before the end of the luncheon, upcoming events and programs were highlighted: Gift wrapping at the Warwick Mall in December; a Tu b’Shevat seder at The Phyllis Siperstein Tamarisk Assisted Living Residence, in Warwick, on Feb. 3, 2019; and an event to honor Karen Asher as an “unsung hero” of Hadassah on March 3 at the Blue Hills Country Club, in Canton, Massachusetts.

Additional information about Hadassah can be found on Facebook or at the Hadassah Rhode Island website,

JANE KONDON is an educator and retired principal of Davisville Middle School in North Kingstown.