Of all the senses, it can be argued that taste is the most subjective. This is probably the case because, unless one is a trained chef, or food critic, the words we use to describe the foods we eat is relatively limited. I’m harkened back to my first time at By Chloe’s–a vegan burger joint in Flatiron District. As I bit into my black bean sweet potatoe burger with avocado, lettuce, and cheese, I struggled to decide whether the it tasted good or bad.
“Wow, I really like this.”
“No, I don’t think I do,” I said to myself after another bite.
I chewed some more and took another bite, this time with a chunk of guac.
“I like this.”
“I hate this. But it’s so good.”
I after I finished my burger and fries dipped in beet ketchup (I liked this very much), I realized that I would never come to an adequate answer regarding just how I felt about this $9.95 burger. I was trying to situate my answer on a binary of good and bad–pleasing and unpleasing to my tastebuds. Using this framework, no matter how I tried, my answer would be incomplete, and likely subject to the history of conditioning my tastebuds have endured over the course of my lifetime.
“I must go back,” I say to myself every now and again when hunger strikes. But does that mean I liked it? Why else would I subject myself to another meal from a place I disliked at first try?
When it comes to other items of consumption, such as art, tv, films, music, one is likely to fall into the same trap: Is it pleasing, or not, to the eye, to the mind, to your inner world of ideas? Without adequate vocabulary to shape your response, your experience of taste relies on the false binary of good and bad, enjoyable and not. It is interesting that this concept of taste, that Susan Sontag riffs on, is so intricately linked to language.
This is not to say that acquiring the necessary language to decode your taste in a single item of consumption, beyond food, will successfully liberate your experience from your history of conditioning, which, no doubt, has a hand in shaping taste. Rather, it may afford you a new interpretation, a new appreciation, or understanding of something you once experienced as negative.