My friend nan referred me to Mary Roach’s book, Gulp, when I wrote about how my urine tastes, and I’m in her debt. After working down through my book piles, I started reading it on Saturday. It’s one of those books that forces me to set it down to think and conduct research. I’m still reading Gulp, but it’s a fascinating read. Ostensibly about the alimentary canal, it includes much about animals and humans’ eating habits, and some of the psychology behind our food choices.
One of the early facts that she stated is that most people only eat about forty flavors. When I shared that with my wife, she asked, “Is cheese one flavor?”
Good question, right? Is an IPA the same as a porter, stout, and lager? Why, no. I drink each for the different flavors they share with me. My choices also depend on what I’m doing and eating. So, do I put down beer as one flavor choice, delineate between the different beverages, or go more deeply into what makes it all up?
These are important distinctions because my wife and I immediately set out attempting to catalog our flavors. We quickly became trapped in a ball of mud about what parts of what flavors we like. We like dark chocolate but I don’t like it overly bitter, like past seventy-two percent. She likes it a little sweeter. Is dark chocolate a flavor, or is it chocolate with sugar, with whatever else is in there?
Those of you who eat gluten-free foods probably understand what I mean, along with the folks that eat sugar-free and fat-free offerings. They taste different. They’re a different experience in my mouth and on my tongue. Some of that may be psychological. In taste tests done with white and red wine, being able to see the color makes a difference in how the flavor is interpreted and described. Likewise, tests have shown that frequently, most of the differences observed between ten dollar bottle of wine and more expensive ones are often about perceptions of quality and expense; the more that something costs, the better it’s supposed to be, right?
It’s a knotty question. The whole thing about pet food was pretty mind-blowing. According to Mary’s research and writing, most cat food tastes about the same to the animals, regardless of what the flavor is supposed to be. To which I respond, say whaaat? My cats seem to show definite preferences, preferring to eat fishy stuff — which smells fishy to me — over the chicken, and chicken over beef. None of them are impressed with “Supper Super”. Gulp claims that these preferences are mostly about my perceptions, and not the animals.
It could be that I’m reading the whole thing wrong, or mis-interpreting the data. It does explain the waffle and fried chicken cat treats that have arrived. It’s not that the animals like waffles and chicken, but we, their owners, think that they’ll enjoy them.
The book fascinates me, too, because of the connections between tasting food and smell, and our brains’ acceptance about what is not good for us. I’m often smelling things and trying to analyze what I’m smelling, a process that I call, “What the hell is that smell?” My wife does the same. This leads to a game at our household that goes like this:
Her: “Do you smell that?”
Me: “You need to tell me what you mean. I smell many things.”
“It smells like cat piss.”
“No, I don’t smell that.”
Sniffing the air, furniture, and carpet, we start looking around the area to see if it looks like a cat has pissed where they shouldn’t.
Me: “Maybe it’s the litter box.”
“It smells too strong. It smells like it’s right beside me.”
“Maybe a cat peed on your clothes. Are they wet?”
“I think I’m going to go change.”
Me: “I don’t smell cat piss, but I do smell someone’s marijuana crop. Or maybe it’s a skunk. Do you smell a skunk?”
The game goes on forever, it seems like.
I’ll keep reading Gulp. If more is explained, than I’ll come back and read another post.
That’s just the way it goes.