Tuesday, January 27, 2009


"Taste is Everything!" says an advertisement for a certain soft drink. That's not true. Our sense of taste is merely a tool. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Humans developed a sense of taste to guide their eating behavior, and it is USEFUL today only to the extent that it leads us in a healthy direction.

Just because something tastes good doesn't mean it is good for you. For example, in the environment in which our species evolved, sugar, fat and salt were rare and valuable nutrients, so we developed a preference for them. Today, we are surrounded by sugar, fat and salt—far more than we need—but our tastes haven't changed. If this leads us to obesity or high blood pressure, then we have to accept that taste can be wrong and learn to overrule it when appropriate.

Wherever humans have developed biological attractions—be it for certain tastes, sounds, images or sensations (like sex)—people will be tempted to devote themselves exclusively to these stimuli while neglecting the underlying need. In the case of food, you have connoisseurs who indeed insist that taste is everything. They neglect both the actual nutritional value of the food and the better things they could do with their resources. If you eat a lot of great food in your life, have you really accomplished anything or just wasted time and money?

The most misunderstood thing about taste is that it isn't constant. Your tastes are going to change based on your body's needs and your own satiation. Even the most fantastic tasting chocolate cake is going to turn bland if you are surrounded by the stuff. Taste can't be nailed down, and if you try, you're going find yourself trapped in your old preferences even after your taste has moved on.

If you stumble upon something that tastes good, by all means enjoy it. Have a second helping! It is a mistake, however, to order a truckload of the stuff or significantly alter your future behavior to get more of it. Just enjoy it for the moment: "Wow, that was really great chocolate cake!"

Because taste is so fleeting, you can't expect that the moment will ever be repeated.


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