It isn’t often that we see rapid changes in food popularity or published nutritional value. However, in my search through the Huffington Post, I found an interesting story that showcases just how quickly our modern day society can change how it feels about specific foods. In this article, the author discusses Kraft Singles being labeled by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as the first “Kids Eat Right” stamped product. Unsurprisingly, this odd decision raised immediate suspicion, marking the fact that Kraft cannot even call Singles cheese and that Kraft actually had financial ties within the AND. Within 15 days, another article was released by the same author noting the end of this financial partnership, as well as the Kids Eat Right label.

While the story itself seems to more closely follow an interrupted business procedure than a widespread public opinion change on a general food item, the ordeal can be seen as a microcosm of the rapid shifts in modern diets. Within years, we transition from carb-cutting to organic to gluten-free trends at a much faster pace than our recorded history. In the cookbooks we’ve discussed during our aside in the course, while the recipe style and prefaces varied quite a bit, the type of ingredients and overall meal styles remained remarkably similar for such a long span of time. Whether it’s been through the rapid-fire communications technology available today or our continuously advancing dietary discoveries, our modern diets seem to change at a much faster pace than when we’ve previously studied, and perhaps that change will be expanded upon in future readings.

Hopefully it’s okay to diverge a bit from the American culture and show the food culture found in Japan. Last summer, I watched a documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – a biography on the life of Jiro Ono, a sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro. The documentary covers not only his life but also the way he runs his restaurant. It emphasis his self-discipline and consistent repetition in life, never diverging from the norm unless something dramatic happens. It also focuses on how he’s always looking to make his already perfect creations even more perfect; from picking the best kind of fish (or not picking it at all if he can’t find anything) to massaging the octopus until it reaches the right texture, there’s a strict set of guidelines that he follows. You also get a glimpse into the Japanese work culture where everyone works hard; to work at Jiro’s restaurant, the first thing you do is learn how to properly squeeze a hot towel and then after 10 years, you learn how to cook the egg for the egg sushi.

The documentary emphasis that the sushi you eat isn’t just sushi; you have to combine the experience of being in Jiro’s restaurant with what you’re tasting which is why the restaurant has 3 Michelin stars. If someone were to create a recipe book for Jiro’s sushi, it would be pretty hard because everything is hand-picked from his fresh fish to the way they prepare the seaweed. It goes back to the fact that with recipes, no matter how hard you try, it’s a very static piece of information – once it’s printed, it’s printed. For certain recipes, you really have to be there in the moment to truly experience all aspects of the meal and the same can be said for Jiro’s restaurant. Jiro keeps all of his menu items very simple, usually rice with some sort of fish on the top but the preparation that he puts into it is something that can’t be written down in a recipe book.

 

I recently discovered an article from NPR by Eliza Barclay, detailing the rise in popularity of heirloom fruits and vegetables (here). I had heard of heirloom tomatoes and such before but didn’t know exactly how they were different from what I find in the store (this website details how to decipher between the two).

The author refers to a book written by Jennifer A. Jordan, called Edible Memory. The premise of the book is to entail why people reach for a connection to sociality and the past through some of these heirloom foods. I believe that naturally we want to connect to our heritage, and these foods provide an avenue for that. The distinct taste of an “ancient apple” puts us in the same shoes as those who ate it long ago. Although it seems as that our options increase for food, as the ability to have our palate subjected to new flavors and textures, we still come back to very basic tastes. Heirloom tomatoes, apples, and the like represent a time when fruit and vegetable production was more grass roots and when we taste that we’re able to live or re-live a memory of what once was. It becomes a new memory for us as well. A new flavor is added to what we already know and it becomes more special to us as we realize that we have made a direct connection with our heritage and past.

 

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The amount of sugar Americans consume today compared to 1800’s is indeed astonishing. According to the picture, Americans today consume roughly six and a half times what Americans consumed in the 1820’s. In seeing these astounding numbers I decided to go back and look at the Virginia Housewife’s cake and pudding recipes to see how much sugar was used around the 1800’s. While skimming over the recipes I found that most of her recipes were supposed to be eaten with sugar, called for a sprinkle of sugar or were supposed to be seasoned with sugar. There were very few recipes that called for a lot of sugar and if they did, it was being mixed with a large about of other ingredients. Another blogger mentioned in their post that sugar was intended for the higher class. I found that interesting because in America today that idea has been completely reversed. Today, eating a large amount of sugar shows a lack of concern for health and a lack of education, therefore, consuming large amounts sugar is associated with the lower class. As we continue to move down America’s cookbook timeline I am curious to see if sugar will become more and more common in the cookbooks we will read.

See the article here

This article lays out a variety of substitutes for baking, especially in desserts. It’s interesting to me that this would be a challenge on the Great British Bake-Off, especially considering the ubiquity of sugar in England after its widespread import and production in the West Indies. But another thing interesting to consider is how for a time, Sugar was considered to be a luxury, and sweetness was not considered to be a necessary everyday flavor. Many of the recipes we’ve looked at in our cookbooks have a lot of sugar, especially the ones intended for higher classes, but wae have to consider that the average American probably wasn’t using sugar on an everyday basis. The recommendation by the columnist to substitute dried fruit seems very practical, especially considering its mention in the reading as a source of sweetness before the advent of sugar. It also counters sugar’s empty calorie status, as the nutrients provided by fruit are important.

In “Aesthetics and Appetite,” Gigante explore the philosophy of taste as well as the other senses. She explains how taste was often set aside when examining how the senses impact the mind of an individual. She comments how “taste, like its closest cousin smell, is bound up with the chemical psychology of the body.” She continues to develop taste as a personal sense. Before reading this essay, I had not really taken the time to consider how personal the sense of taste is to each individual. Based on a record of experiences, an individual works to develop their taste preferences. Cultural upbringing, juxtaposed events, and knowledge of other’s opinions all influence the development of an individual’s taste. The many sources of inconsistency and complex relationships prevent taste from serving as an accurate pathway to the mind. The taste of an item may bring about very different thoughts in individuals. Taste is the most subjective emotion. Unlike other sense, it is very difficult to relate a specific taste to specific emotions or thoughts.

Even more personal than an individual’s own taste preferences is the act of sharing taste. The other senses are easily discretely described. An object is either green or it is not, while an item of food may be salty to some and not to others. In order for an individual to share a taste with someone else, they must provide them with the object in question. Even if the food is provided, the experience of eating the food may be different and lead to the formation of a different taste – emotion relationship. The complex nature of sharing taste in the physical world makes it even more difficult to communicate taste through the written word.

Reading “Aesthetics and Appetite” made me realize how it is difficult for language to communicate taste. In all of the essays and other forms of literature we have read so far, taste has always been presented in context. It is difficult for taste to stand on its own. Unless an individual has eaten the food being described or a similar food themselves, descriptions of taste fall short. In order for written taste to be impactful, it is necessary for the emotional state of the eater to be communicated so the reader can form the same taste- emotion relationship themselves. After reading “Aesthetics and Appetite” and some deep thought, it is no longer a mystery why applying taste to the mind is difficult.

 

For several weeks now, we have examined various cookbooks through a sociological lens to better understand the historical and anthropological aspects overlaid by a myriad of recipes. Yet, a burning question continually overshadows these examinations: how do these dishes actually taste? We now endeavor to develop a better understanding of this “taste” by delving into philosophical pieces concerning human thought and how a full twenty percent of our senses develop.

Through his reflections on ideas and their origins, John Locke considered the most fundamental aspects required to initiate basic human understanding. “I mean that through the senses external objects convey into the mind something that produces there those perceptions. This great source of most of the ideas we have I call SENSATION” (Locke 18). Consider this: If Richard Ligon had attributed the sharp, sweet flavor of his pineapple to a reaction of compounds in the fruit with taste buds on his tongue, would he have communicated the same experience? In spite of food semantics, think about your physical reaction to a dish. Perhaps you did not expect (or remember) the initial semi-sweet burn of sriracha, or the bizarre mix of lingering earth tones and fresh bite from the tzatziki sauce on your gyro last week. Like Ligon, your memory retained the sensation following a sudden realization that the sriracha on your tongue would not require cleansing with copious amounts of water or that the tzatziki’s succulence nicely offset the lamb’s heavily herbivorous diet. “Secondly, the other fountain from which experience provides ideas to the understanding is the perception of the operations of our own mind within us….I call this REFLECTION, because the ideas it gives us can be had only by a mind reflecting on its own operations within itself” (18). Unless you are a critic or a self-proclaimed foodie, the average person rarely reflects on his or her dining experience within the realm of the food itself. It is the fleeting thought of the sensation created by your first exposure to a particular dish that, as you peruse the menu at your favorite restaurant, leads you to order the same dish.

Hence, we contemplate Jonathan Edwards’ A Divine and Supernatural Light where, “It is rational to suppose, that it should be beyond man’s power to obtain this light by the mere strength of natural reason; for it is not a thing that belongs to reason to see the beauty and loveliness of spiritual things; it is not a speculative thing, but depends on the sense of the heart” (Edwards 205). Coupled with Lockean sensation and reflection, Edwards’ sermon further substantiates an undeniable aspect of taste: Just as a person may choose reflect on the Gospel and eventually be endowed with God’s light, the acknowledgement of a persisting food characteristic constitutes an understanding of its taste. However, Edwards also concludes that the light “is not given without the word” (200). In our consideration, the ultimate understanding of a dish’s taste can only be achieved by successful consumption (with accompanying sensation), digestion, and reflection.

I believe that Denise Gigante makes some interesting points in “Aesthetics and Appetite”. The idea that most resonated me was the thinking that we eat for many more reasons than just to satiate our hunger, but rather our thoughts and physiological senses work together to tell us when something looks appetizing enough to eat.

Our physiological senses help us in that we can visually see when something appeals to us and also smell something that may seem appetizing. A familiar scent of a particular food may cause us to feel instant hunger, and seeing food presented in a visually pleasing way may also make it seem more appetizing than a less glamorous version. This idea is demonstrated today in the price difference one is willing to pay at a Michelin star restaurant as opposed to a small diner or casual eatery. Both restaurants may be presenting the same dish, however, with one presenting in a more visually artistic manner, it is can command a higher price as it is deemed tastier and higher quality than the other.

Then, there is the other factor which relates to our connection of food and society. The act of eating has moved beyond the idea of simply eating to fill one’s stomach – it is now a way of socializing with others, whether it be family or friends. It builds a connection between people pertaining to the fulfillment of the spiritual hunger that Gigante mentions in the reading. Certain foods can become more appetizing than others because they bring back memories of one’s childhood or time spent well with others emphasizing the idea that often times eating is done for more than the sake of filling your stomach.

Thus, I believe that there two components to the Aesthetic of Taste: the physiological and the societal. This combination can govern what an individual deems tasty and can be unique to every person, making taste an extremely subjective idea.

As a result of British romanticism, taste developed into a new sphere that could compete with the ideals of the higher senses of sight and hearing which do not rely on chemical processing. It was viewed that because of the nature of smell and taste and their reliance on processes once unknown, they were too subjective to contribute to individuals alone or society as a whole. However, as food became more accessible to the upper and emerging middle classes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, food gained a heightened aesthetic value as it was no longer viewed as only a matter of sustenance.

The arising issue due to the accessibility of food was the question of whether or not food could have the same distinguishing qualities as beauty. Before the rise of consumer culture, there had been no distinction between aesthetic taste and appetite – the decision between eating merely for the purpose of survival versus eating for pleasure and enjoyment. Appetite cannot be civilized, and the argument that tastes can be refined is limited. The act of putting food into one’s body and consuming it, with knowledge of the full process, from consumption to expulsion, seems barbaric by nature. The display of hunger is viewed as a savage disqualification from tasteful society, as tastes have little effect when an appetite is uncivilized.

Furthermore, men have taken great steps in order to refine the act of eating, separating the unruly from its more civilized, aesthetic counterpart. Consumer culture has also contributed to the “dining” culture. A dinner party takes careful consideration of many different factors, including who is to attend and what is to be cooked. A social occurrence such as a dinner party brings in more than simply the act of eating for fulfillment. Aesthetics are brought into play, as a result of the regulation between appetite and manners. Aesthetic taste becomes useful in its modern context, as it is no longer instinctual, but more focused in a social context guided by rules identified by philosophers of food.

 

In Joseph’s Addison’s “On Taste” and “On the Pleasures of Imagination”, Addison conveys the view that in order to have an exemplary sense of Taste and beauty one must come from an upper class and have access to classical pieces as well as modern: “If a Man would know whether he is possessed of this Faculty [Taste], I would have him read over the celebrated Works of Antiquity… or those Works among the Moderns, which have the Sanction of the Politer Part of our Contemporaries ” (Addison 384). The modern pieces that the author states should be read to develop a good Taste are not the pieces that are popular with the general masses but those works that the upper class or the “Politer Part of our Contemporaries” (Addison 384) would approve of. However, I argue that it is not the case that one should overlook the popular modern day work in one’s development of good Taste.

The Taste of the public still should be looked at in the development of personal good Taste. Just because many people like a piece does not mean that the work does not have any merit to it. Addison specifically mentions epigrams, or satirical or witty writings, that the general English public liked. Just like the essays written by the “politer part” of society, these satirical pieces, written in an enjoyable fashion, could cause a person to ponder the point the writer was making.

Such an idea is similar to an example we watched in class, the Hardee’s Most American Thickburger Commercial. The burger commercial could be seen as satirizing America’s Taste in food by highlighting excess and may seem like it could be passed over by someone trying to develop his own Taste in American food. However, it is beneficial to try the Thickburger or watch the commercial to look into the masses’ idea of Taste and figure out why the general public is drawn to it. Only then would the individual understand the meaning that the food has in a broad sense.

The reason why one should take into consideration the overall Taste of a culture is similar to the reason why one would study classics to develop his or her Taste. The reason is to understand and appreciate what he or she is studying. This study develops one’s Taste in that by learning what the general public eats, one gets a better understanding of what direction the overall cultural Taste is heading. To just look at what is valuable to the upper class would not develop a good Taste in that one would be missing the general picture of the subject at hand. It is important when developing one’s own Taste to look into the many Tastes of people from different walks of life so that one can have the greatest amount of experience understanding the different styles and meanings that the subject of study has come to acquire. It is from that point that one can decide for himself his own personal Taste based on his own and other’s experiences.