As I write this, I feel almost consumed by hunger. With food upstairs, this is a problem easily solved, but the question remains: what will I choose to satisfy the gnawing sensation in my stomach? It’s a quandary which has dogged mankind since the beginning of our species, because it is not only intrinsically necessary, but also eternally interesting. Back in ancient times, nutritional choices were mostly limited to produce from the surrounding areas, but nowadays, consumers can select from a smorgasbord of ready-made cultural delicacies from all over the globe.
When you then start to consider the realm of self-prepared meals, the possibilities increase exponentially, causing your imagination to struggle as it attempts to comprehend the near-endless multitude of potential cultural and taste combinations. For instance, my dinner yesterday combined locally-produced soup with Italian tomato sauce, sun-dried tomato paste, oregano and pesto, sprinkled liberally with chunks of English cheddar and Garam Masala, an Indian spice blend. The fact that we have the desire and ability to perform such eclectic feats of nutritional juxtaposition is a testament to the positive power of both globalisation and evolution.
This lengthy process of natural selection has brought us parallel processing, humour, and complex constructs like love, the future, and imagination and of course the food-lover’s best friend: taste. When we as humans are so complex, it seems fortunate that on a conscious level, we have only a few daily tasks to perform, such as sleeping, staying temperate, and making sure you don’t fall off large cliffs. Out of this short list, eating is notable for being the only survival-based action where personal taste forms a crucial part of our decision. Admittedly, there are preferences of temperature and the places we inhabit, but food consumption trumps them for its inherent, often inconvenient capacity for discrimination. If I woke up tomorrow in a post-apocalyptic world, not only would I be impressed by my ability to sleep through the Armageddon, but I would also immediately identify survival as my ultimate concern. However, if the only food available in this alien/zombie/radiation-filled wasteland was broccoli, my mouth would still try to reject this most horrendous of vegetables as if it were vomit pudding.
This problem also often comes to the fore in delicate social situations, such as when you meet your partner’s parents for the first time. Most of us have been there: you go round to their house for dinner, fully prepared to present yourself as charming, funny and mature, when all of a sudden, disaster strikes. That’s right; your most hated foodstuff is the main attraction. All your best-laid plans lie shattered on the ground, with the evening suddenly transformed into a spontaneous test of your social willpower, as you’re forced to choose between eating something gag-worthy or causing a disruption that will inevitably end with an awkward, disapproving silence. Some understand this predicament and choose not to push their unholy produce on you, but others will smile benignly and give you some anyway, overriding any polite refusals by muttering “just try a little bit”, as if this compromise is incredibly generous of them. No matter that you’re fully aware of your eternal hatred for the substance now inhabiting your plate; you must consume this foulness, and appear to at least tolerate it. Failure to do so will result in you being forever labelled in that house as ‘picky’, ‘fussy’, or some other term which perversely frames taste as both a negative and conscious phenomenon.
Just like with art, music, literature and films, people’s opinions on food are both subjective and almost entirely out of their control. I didn’t choose to enjoy mixing peanut butter, hummus and barbecue sauce, but now the very thought of it is tempting me. We should appreciate these variations in taste rather then look down on them. Similarities build bonds between people, while differences have the potential to spark debate and tempt us to try new things. So celebrate your taste in food, if not only because it is fascinating!