It’s Difficult to Write About Food
Facebook is amazing. People who have never met can connect, share and learn from each other. We have reliable cars, airplanes, and ships that take us to every corner of the planet. We have made scientific advances beyond comprehension and entertainment that defies the imagination.
Yet there is room for improvement. It seems that we have not tackled the fundamental problems. War, poverty, hate, pollution, and people who drive slow in the fast lane. In this blog, I only wish to discuss one tiny aspect of our incredible existence that needs improvement.
Want to talk about it over lunch? Sure! It seems that our entire existence revolves around food. Three times a day, (plus snacks) we are driven to eat. We eat an endless variety of scrumptious edibles from the far corners of the world. Crab from Alaska, dates from the middle east, bread from the Midwest, kiwi from New Zealand, caviar from Russia, cheese from France and cod from the Atlantic. We turn this endless variety of food into incredible creations. Pizza, sushi, fondue, burgers, pretzels, string cheese, baba ganoush, snickerdoodle cookies, Twinkies and lasagna.
We have an insatiable drive to consume. This goes beyond survival and far into absurdity. We have entire sections of the bookstore, television channels, and streets all dedicated to food. To feed this desire, we consume vast quantities of land, waste countless tons of leftover food, go to cooking school for years and spend trillions of dollars.
Of course, my humble blog will not be able to address our drive to take this planet to the breaking point. The small topic I wanted to concentrate on is that food is very difficult to write about. Let’s take the most basic example. A person has a glass of pure water and they add one spoonful of sugar. How does it taste? Well, “sweet.” Alright, the person adds a second spoonful of sugar. “It tastes sweeter.” How much sweeter? Umm… That’s not an easy question to universally answer. Now add a spoonful of salt. How does that taste? Umm, sweet-salty, sort of? How does it look? “Umm... Cloudy?” How does it smell? “Umm... Bland?”
This simple thought experiment shows how difficult it is to write about flavor. While scientific descriptions give us the exact chemical makeup, scientific descriptions don’t help the reader. “The water contained 500 parts per million of sugar.” Does that taste “super sweet” or “kind of sweet?” We do have a sweetness scale. Yay. “The substance measured 1.0 on the sweetness scale.” Sounds bland. Better add more sugar. It turns out that pure sugar is 1.0 on the sweetness scale. I had to look this number up and this is the only time I have ever used the sweetness scale.
Let’s get more basic. Describe the taste of an apple. “The apple tastes sour and sweet.” Many foods fit that description. An orange, taffy, Coca-Cola or ice cream. In order for a reader to understand how an apple tastes, they must have eaten an apple in the past. That requires a lot of prerequisite tasting to describe basic foods.
Alright, a little more basic. Describe the difference between Budweiser beer and Coors beer. “Coors tastes more watery.” Is “watery” even a real word? Ok, what can I describe? I like a good amber ale when I eat a hamburger. Not helping.
Well, the reader will just have to use what knowledge they have to understand a food description. Alright. Last week, I made my personal favorite salmon on a cedar plank. It turned out really well. I started cooking by taking… Hold on. That was not the assignment. I am just supposed to describe the taste. Hmm. “The amazing salmon had a sweet rub on top with a smoky flavor that combined a hint of Rosemary. It came out perfectly cooked to a golden brown. The cedar–salmon smell filled the kitchen with an amazing aroma. I really enjoyed the taste and so did my family.” Based on this description, could a reader identify my meal in a blind taste test? No, there is not enough information. What is the difference between that meal and smoked tuna? Well, it tasted different. I keep using the word taste. This sounds like a preference and not a description. True…
While there are scientific terms, we do not have universally accepted food descriptions. We also do not have a universal background of flavors. For example, I suspect that about half the planet has never had a Granny Smith apple. They may have had apple juice or apple flavored food or a Red Delicious apple, but no actual Granny Smith apple. So how could I ever describe how a Granny Smith tastes? “It tastes apple-ee” Yum!
Well, how about something more basic? Describe hunger. “I am hungry.” A little more… “I am super hungry.” Not helping. “I am famished.” “I am starving.” Wait, starvation is a condition, not a feeling. “I am ravenous.” Technically no. That is the condition of being hungry. That’s the limit of our descriptions. Humans spend 20% or more of their day on food and their entire drive to consume comes down to just two words? Apparently so.
Well, what can I describe with words? I can describe how the food looks, how to cook, how good it feels to eat and how satisfied the person is after they have eaten. Well, what about the smell? In that area we are a bit more evolved and have more descriptions. For example, a bad smell smells: reeking, foul, putrid, fishy, smoky, stinky… The list continues.
It is odd that such an important topic hasn’t been tackled. We should have a universally accepted flavor scale/terms and a universal hungry scale/terms. Then if asked, we could communicate our tastes better. For example: “Before lunch, I felt maltese. (Mildly hungry, but not too hungry) I had a quire (3/10 on the tasty scale) burger that was malarkey (10% overcooked) ratoon (6/10 salty. While perfect for French fries, not good for burgers) with a hint of gobble (sweet-fatty as opposed to sour-fatty) and the flavor was overall codswallop. (For burgers not that bad tasting, but could use improvement.)
You’re the best -Bill
April 3, 2019
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