Chewing: A S(t)imulation

‘Sound’, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the “mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium (such as air) and is the objective cause of hearing” (1). A scientific definition of sound, nuanced by terms that send shudders through my spine when I remember those brutal days in physics classes, intentionally disregards the fact that sound is an art. An art that those privileged with the sense of hearing can interpret. This past week’s lecture demonstrated that sound can be converted into a visual product i.e. a visual representation of frequencies. Whether it’s a speaker or instrument covered with water, a theremin, or a Tesla coil, we see the direct relationship between sounds and visuals, possibly even feelings. This may sound like common sense; however, what if I told you that companies exploit these topics for profit? 

Let me start off with saying that I originally wrote a whole blog called “Soldotna Creek Sounds” where I included a compilation of audio recordings of different sections of a creek by my house. I further investigated the sounds of nature around the creek and discussed how loud human activities have altered the behavior of animals in the surrounding area. 

This all changed when I had chips and salsa for a snack. Why couldn’t I stop eating the chips? Why did I have to go through a whole bag? HOW MUCH SODIUM DID I JUST CONSUME? The simplest answer is that chips taste good! However, the extent to which companies go to in order to hook us onto their product and make us loyal customers is much more invasive. According to Alex Beggs, a senior staff writer at Bon Appétit, “the use of crispy/crispiness in U.S. reviews on Yelp has increased 20 percent in the past decade. In close to 7,000 menus analyzed by Stanford’s Dan Jurafsky, crispy is by far the most frequent adjective used to describe texture. The Cheesecake Factory uses the words crisp or crispy nearly 50 times on ONE menu. Researchers have revealed that people find crispy foods “appealing” and “enjoyable,” and that people associate crispy and crunchy food sounds with “FUN” and “pleasantness” (2). Not only is the sound associated with something that is fresh and tasty, but it can be exploited by big companies in order to profit off of our neurons in our orbitofrontal cortex and natural instincts. Crispiness suddenly became a sound that can be engineered and calculated. 

How long should a chip be fried? What ingredients produce the loudest crunch? What shape does a chip have to be in order to make the best crunch? How tense does the metal in a soda can have to be to produce the best ‘click’? Can you genetically modify a fruit for crunch? These are questions that companies answer by funding research and engineering programs specialized in deceiving our senses. Not only are these sounds supposed to be pleasurable for the consumer, but also for those that surround the consumer as well. Has it occurred to you that you start salivating when you hear someone biting into a chip in your environment? You haven’t even seen the product, yet you know exactly what it is based off of its associated sound. The engineered crispiness of a Pringle or a Dorito offset our neurons, which stimulate us into wanting chips as well. It’s easy for these conglomerates to spread their influence with some math and physics, thus maximizing their profits. No matter which bag of chips you reach for, chances are that the brand is just one entity within a single potato chip conglomerate. It doesn’t stop here though.

Companies that produce canned beverages also engineer the optimal sound when you crack open a cold one. The can itself is not only saturated with carbon dioxide to maintain freshness, but also to ensure that you get that satisfying sound when you pull the tab. Hopefully, you will reach for another one. Similarly, the University of Minnesota has genetically modified the apple we know as ‘Honeycrisp’ for its size and crunch. The name of the apple itself is supposed to highlight its signature crunch! Now just imagine the sound associated with that apple. “The crisp gene of Honeycrisp is the one that changed the game. That’s when people decided they wanted their apples to be crunchy,” said Jacobson. “In 15 to 20 years, just about every apple you buy at the grocery store will be crunchy like a Honeycrisp” (3). Don’t you just want all your apples to be crispy? I don’t know how I feel about this.

In conclusion, our environments are engineered orchestras of crunches and crispiness. Could it be that capitalism has paved the way for altering our sphere of sounds when it comes to food? 

This week’s lecture inspired me to dive into sounds and their corresponding visuals. Did you envision potato chips, Coke cans, and glossy apples while reading this or by listening to the audio?

  1. “Sound.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sound. Accessed 4 May. 2021.

  2. Beggs, Alex. “There's an Entire Industry Dedicated to Making Foods Crispy, and It Is WILD.” Bon Appétit, 2020, www.bonappetit.com/story/crispy. 

  3. Ko, Claudine. “Is the Honeycrisp Apple Engineered to Fail?” Wired, Conde Nast, 24 May 2016, www.wired.com/brandlab/2016/05/is-the-honeycrisp-apple-engineered-to-fail/.