David Linden, a neurobiologist at Johns Hopkins University and the author of the book “Touch,” confirmed that the fingertips become more sensitive in people who are blind from birth and in those who learn to read Braille. “Hearing and touch become more acute in the absence of sight,” he said. The part of the brain dedicated to gathering information from the eyes actually shrinks in size, while the parts that receive signals from the ears and touch-sensitive nerve endings grow larger.
Dr. Linden said, however, there is no comparable adaptation for people who lose their ability to taste and smell, a condition called anosmia. “People who become anosmic are much more likely to stop cooking and eating than people who become deaf or blind,” he said; anosmics are also at much greater risk for depression and suicide. “The shared experience of food seems to be one of the things that makes us human.”
Kate Crohan, who teaches cooking at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., said that culinary education for the blind often relies on heating prepared foods in microwaves — a safe and practical option, but one that eliminates much of the sensory experience. Ms. Crohan, 68, has been blind since birth, but she took over the family kitchen when she was 11, after her mother’s death, cooking for her father and five siblings. She has been cooking without sight for so long that she is entirely comfortable around sharp knives, boiling water and raw ingredients.
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