Gulp. and Thoughts on Taste

Gulp. and Thoughts on Taste - Vegetal MattersWay back in January I talked about food resolutions, and added on a few related books on my 2015 to read list. I’m pleased to say I’ve made some progress, and read More Home Cooking back in January (over a single very snowy weekend), and though I haven’t read The Unsettling of America yet, I did read another Wendell Berry book: Bringing it to the Table.

Gulp. by Mary Roach was another on my list, and has been on display at my local library and taunting me for months, so I finally grabbed it. Earlier this year I read Spook, her book about the science of the afterlife, so two books in I have a good grasp of her writing style and interest. Even though her books are popular science, they are much less about the science and more about the stories that made the science happen. She does talk about how things work, but her interest is far more in the people who did the research and the often very weird stories that relate to them. So Gulp. did have some overview information on how the alimentary canal operates, but it was overwhelmed by anecdotes and stories of scientists and research. If you’re interest is strictly in the science, then seek out another book (and let me know which one you read).

This is an easier read where Roach tries to be an olive oil tester, goes to a pet food manufacturer, visits saliva scientists, and reports on the creepy relationship between a man with a hole blown directly into his stomach and the man who researches digestion by sticking things inside him attached to a string and pulling them back out. Most interesting to me was the beginning about our sense of taste. Roach starts off with how little taste has to do with actually putting things on your tongue. Besides smell, sight and perception play heavily into how things taste to us. Since wine tasting is such a thing, many a study have been done on how various factors affect how wine tastes to people. One set up is having people taste wine without the labels or knowledge of the price, and then again with those factors. When the price is known, people often like more expensive wines better, but don’t when they are brown bagged. Roach also described an experiment where people were tasting white wine colored to look like red wine, and described it using the red wine lingo.

It is fun to try to get beyond someone’s perceptions of what a food should look and taste like. I work with students on the farm and we incorporate vegetable tastings into a lot of the programming. In the learning garden we grow three varieties of cherry tomatoes: sungold (bright yellow), sweetheart cherry (red and heart-shaped), and black cherry (dark green/reddish and the most delicious). A lot of the time getting a kid to try a new food can be a struggle, especially if they don’t come from a place where trying new things often is the norm. It’s much easier when you stay in a realm they are comfortable in. So if they have tried a tomato before, a black cherry tomato is still something mostly familiar, just with one factor changed (except the taste is also so much better than flat grocery store cherry tomatoes). And hopefully this makes different things seem a little less scary, and loosens the rigid perceptions of what any one food’s qualities should be. Maybe this could help lessen the strictness of what we all expect vegetables and other foods to look like, and embrace greater varieties and new definitions of perfection.



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