Don’t Talk About My Food, Please

I’ve commented several times on this blog about how our perception of the world is not “neutral.” What I mean is that what we are thinking or have thought about can influence what we perceive in a very literal way. For example whether someone sees a glass as half full or half empty may depend on their state of mind. But this example is a little deceptive, because one might think that seeing and interpreting are separate. What I SEE is that the liquid is at the midpoint of the glass, whether I interpret that as half full or half empty depends on my state of mind. So, what I see is not influenced by my mind, but rather, only how it is interpreted.

Wrong. There are cases where what we expect, knowing, imagine, etc. all influence what we actually, literally, see. Ambiguous figures are a good example. Depending on our state of mind, we see ambiguous figure in different ways (like the drawing that can be seen as an old woman or a young woman). An even better, and perhaps scarier, example might be this one.

Anyway, what does all this have to do with food. Well taste is a type of perception and I think it is theory laden. People buy different types of wine when different types of music are playing and they claim that some wines taste better depending on how expensive they think it is. (All these studies about wine make me think our knowledge of wine tastes is very malleable, thus leading me to believe that “wine tasting” as an art is nothing more than the art of bullshittery). Also, what about the fact that people who find out about how mcdonalds makes its food sometimes lose their desire to eat there? Or people who find out how cows are slaughtered feel ill and can’t eat the burger in front of them. These might be other examples.

Anyway, if taste is theory laden, then we need to rethink our eating practices (I touched on this issue here). What I mean is that we should give up on the idea that we have a favorite food or a favorite place to eat. Some foods may be better than others in a general kind of way, but since our expectations influence what we taste (in a very literal way) we may reduce the pleasure we get from some meal MERELY by representing that meal as extremely desirable in our minds. I think is why other people almost never like our favorite restaurants as much as we do (different approaches to the meal).

However, my real point about this is that some comments from food snobs might be hurting the satisfaction the rest of us get from our food. You hear things like this all the time “American vegetables are waxy and not tasty because they’re not fresh and are made with too many pesticides.” Or “American fruits aren’t as good as natural fruits from elsewhere.” By making these comments, I fear that my experience of certain foods is being altered. Food snobs, merely by telling me these things or asserting these things, are changing my theory about the food I eat, and since taste is theory-laden they are reducing the joy I get from eating the apples and broccoli I get at costco. (of course the converse is no doubt driving a huge scam in food packaging and branding regarding “health food.” By making food seem appealing for theoretical reasons, people think they are enjoying certain foods more than others).

Also, we need to be more careful about the fact that some of the best food we’ve ever eaten might not be that great as food, but rather happened to be eaten during a night out with important friends or in a celebratory mood, or with a romantic vice. All of these things can influence what we think of the food we’re putting in our mouths. Philosophically, this is interesting. Eating is not just taste-buds. Rather, it is a holistic experience.


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