Food is Difficult to Write About
Today, we have reliable cars, fast computers, cell phones, endless knowledge, and entertainment that defies the imagination. Want to talk about it over lunch? Sure! Why? Our entire existence revolves around food. We get driven to consume three times a day (plus snacks). Humans eat various delicious edibles from the far corners of the world. Crab from Alaska, dates from the Middle East, pasta from Italy, kiwi from New Zealand, caviar from Russia, cheese from France, and cod from the Atlantic. We turn this endless variety of yummy base ingredients into incredible creations. Pizza, sushi, burgers, pretzels, string cheese, baba ganoush, snickerdoodle cookies, Twinkies and lasagna. Have you ever eaten from a chocolate fondue fountain? Yum!
Our insatiable drive to consume munchies goes beyond survival into absurdity. We have entire sections of the bookstore, television channels, and streets dedicated to food. To feed (pun intended) 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, I cannot address our drive to take this planet to the scrumptious breaking point. The minor topic I wanted to concentrate on is that food is difficult to write about. Let’s take the most basic example. A person has a glass of pure water and adds one spoonful of sugar. How does it taste? “Sweet.” Alright, the person adds a second spoonful of sugar. “It tastes sweeter.” How much sweeter? “Umm… More.” Now, add a spoonful of salt. How does that taste? “Umm, sweet-salty. Sort of? Umm, not good.”
This simple thought experiment shows how difficult it is to write about flavor. At the same time, scientific descriptions give us the exact chemical makeup, but they do not help the reader. “The water contained 500 parts per million of sugar.” “The substance measured 1.0 on the sweetness scale.” Not helping. You’d better add more sugar. It turns out that pure sugar is 1.0 on the sweetness scale. I had to look up this number; this is the only time I have ever used the sweetness scale.
How about something basic? Describe the taste of an apple. “The apple tastes sour and sweet.” Many foods, such as an oranges, taffy, Coca-Cola or ice cream, fit that description. To understand how an apple tastes, a reader must have eaten an apple and remember the flavor. That requires a lot of prerequisites tasting for our helpless reader.
Alright, a little more basic. Describe the difference between Budweiser beer and Coors beer. “Coors tastes more watery.” Is “watery” a proper word? Ok, what can I describe? “I like a good amber ale when I eat a hamburger.” Not helping.
Last week, I made salmon on a cedar plank. I started cooking by taking… Hold on. That was not the assignment. I am supposed to describe the taste. Hmm. “The salmon had a sweet rub on top with a smoky flavor that combined a hint of Rosemary. It was cooked perfectly to a golden brown. The cedar–salmon smell filled the kitchen with an amazing aroma. I enjoyed the delicious taste, and so did my family.” Based on those words, what is the difference between my meal and smoked tuna? Umm, they taste different. I keep using the word taste. This sounds like a preference and not a description.
While scientific terms exist, we lack universally accepted scientific 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, apple-flavored food, or a Red Delicious apple, but no Granny Smith apple. So, how could I ever describe how a Granny Smith tastes? “It tastes sour-apple-ee? I got nothing else.”
How about something more fundamental? Describe hunger. “I am hungry.” A little more… “I am super-hungry.” Not helping. “I am famished.” It’s not a popular word, and it means the same thing. “I am starving.” Wait, starvation is a condition, not a feeling. “I am ravenous.” Technically, no. That is the condition of being hungry. Anti-stuffed? That is a made-up phrase. We have reached the limit of hunger descriptions. Yet, humans spend 5-20% of their day on food, and our entire drive to consume comes down to two words? Apparently.
Well, what can I describe with words? I can explain how the food looks, how to cook it, how good it feels, and how satisfied the person is after eating. Well, what about the smell? We are a bit more developed in that area and have more descriptions. For example, an unpleasant smell: reeking, foul, putrid, fishy, smoky, stinky… The list continues.
Oddly, this critical topic has not been tackled. We should have a universally accepted flavor, hunger, taste attributes, satisfaction, and enjoyment. So, let’s invent some words.
Maltese >Mildly hungry
Quire >30% yummy
Malarkey >10% overcooked
Ithimple >A little too crunchy
Arintingly >Way too much ginger
Ratoon >60% too salty
Iressent >Perfect bitter
Poemess >Needs 20% more sugar
Smated >Served at the perfect temperature
Gobble >Sweet-fatty as opposed to sour-fatty
Sistock >Ending of a food discussion

You’re the best -Bill
April 3, 2019 Updated March 02, 2024
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