Welcome to the blog for Colgate University's interdisciplinary course on food. This is the place to keep up with what students in the course are experiencing in their work at Common Thread Community Farm and through their everyday encounters with food.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Acquired Tastes

In the days leading up to this blog post, it truly took some time for me to think of a topic. I guess you could say I had writer's-block. So in order to combat this impediment, I sat down at my computer and simply said aloud to myself “food” and thought about what comes to mind when I just think of that lone word. Naturally, I thought about how much I love food. Then I thought about the different types of food I like and came to the conclusion that I am not a picky eater and that I like many types of food. However, in the process of evaluating my food interests, I realized I often stick to what I know. For instance, if I go to a restaurant frequently, I’m more inclined to order what I ordered in the past as opposed to ordering something completely new. I generally do this because I know what I ordered was appetizing enough to order it again. I guess this means I like to stay in my comfort zone when it comes to ordering food. This doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t like to try new things. However, I like the security that comes with knowing how something will taste prior to eating it. Additionally, although I don’t consider myself a picky eater, I know there are certain foods or types of food I avoid. I don’t enjoy things such as pudding, jello, cream fillings, marshmallows, blueberries, cottage cheese, and things of that sort—things with what I would describe as having an “odd texture”. There are also certain meats I won’t eat simply because I have never tried them. For example, I won’t eat lamb, veal, deer meat, bear meat, goat, and or bison (I have been offered all of these forms of meat). I also have never tried beef jerky and have refused eating it in the past simply because I have never had it before.
After all of this thought about foods I enjoy and foods I avoid, I began to think why is it that I enjoy the taste of certain foods and dislike the taste of other foods? What is it that causes these “preferences”? Also, what causes people to have certain cravings for a specific food? I know at the beginning of the semester, we mentioned the idea of taste receptors impacting our food desires, and that there were five (potentially six) different tastes. The five main tastes include sweet, bitter, sour, unami, and salty, and the sixth taste that was recently proposed was a “carb taste”. With that being said, these inquiries brought me to do some research on the subject. There were a few theories proposed in a particular article that I believe are worth noting. There appear to be various phenomenons that explain different reactions toward food, which are presented in the article, Why You Like What you Like by Tom Vanderbilt. (The link is included at the bottom of this post).
Vanderbilt says, “more repeated exposure of the individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his attitude toward it”. Therefore, he claimed that often, the more one tries something, the more he or she tends to like it. Another idea presented was, “we don’t always know what we like, but we’re pretty sure we don’t like what we don’t know”. I surely can relate to this in terms of the beef jerky and different meats I have never tried. Vanderbilt also says, “[one’s] choice is the memory of all [his or her] previous experiences”. This relates to me ordering the same meal every time I go to a specific restaurant. Vanderbilt explains how it is not tastes that we eat, but rather “flavors”. Thus, people generally have similar reactions to tastes. For instance, for an individual, the bitter taste of black coffee will taste bitter, even after drinking black coffee at different points in time. Moreover, Vanderbilt writes that people like and dislike flavors due to “flavor nutrient conditioning”, which involves learning about the particular food through physiological factors and signals. According to Vanderbilt, why we like certain flavors involves many factors such as linking emotions and moods we feel to specific foods, expectation and categorization, and the use of other sensory faculties such as sight and smell. All in all, although this article might not answer all of the questions about why we dislike and why we like certain foods, simply because there are various components involved, it certainly offers a few speculations.  

Link: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-you-like-what-you-like-73470150/?no-ist

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