A matter of taste

The human body is amazing. It truly is. There’s nothing else on earth that comes even remotely close. It can grow, adapt, move, heal, learn and reproduce. It is self aware and aware of its environment. It can give signals about what is good and bad for it through the use of pleasure and pain. Given the right stimulus it will improve and get stronger and more flexible. Starved of vital nutrients it will shut down all but the most essential of functions in order to stay alive. David was right on the money when he said in Psalm 139:14

I praise you a because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

The more I look into the human body and how it works, the more I agree with him. Rather than taking it for granted, I’m now starting to approach the human body with wonder and awe. Atheists say the human body is a testament to the beauty of evolution. I say it is a pointer to the greatness and wonder of the One who made us (whatever method He used). One of the areas that I find amazing is something so simple, so commonplace that we take it for granted. Every time we eat or drink we hardly give it a second thought, that is until we put something we don’t like in our mouths. This faculty of the human body I am in awe of is taste.

Taste is so fundamental to us it’s difficult to describe without referencing the tastes themselves. Imagine a being from another world appears and this being comes from a race where there is no sensation of taste. How do you describe sweetness or sourness? It’s a difficult thing. If you had a Stephen Fry like mastery of the English language then maybe you can come close, but until this visitor from another world could actually experience the sensation for itself then no amount of description can really convey the idea of taste.

Each of us has their own particular likes and dislikes when it comes to food. Some of us may love broccoli, whereas some us may hate the stuff. It’s all a matter of taste we say. One person likes this, one person likes that, it’s just the way we are. Or is it?

For any of you that have either been pregnant or have lived with someone who was you will have noticed that for the pregnant person, eating habits change. They get cravings. All of a sudden they go from hating carrots to loving them (for instance). Then there is the urban myth of pregnant women craving and eating coal, which I don’t know if it is true or not, but it is safe to say that a change in the body results in a change in our tastes.

This has been replicated in a laboratory with rats. A group of rats are given two bottles to drink from, one containing a water/glucose solution, and the other containing a water/sweetener solution. The glucose solution obviously contains calories and the one with the sweetener has none. After a time, the rats stop feeding from the bottle containing the sweetener solution in favour of the one with the glucose. If however the experiment is repeated (the two same bottles) but this time whenever a rat feeds from the sweetener based solution some form of calories are delivered directly to the stomach via a surgically attached tube, the rats never develop a bias towards the glucose based solution. This indicates that the rats taste was driven by the calories delivered by the solution they drank, rather than the intrinsic taste of the solution itself.

The easiest way to see this in action in ourselves is to go hungry. The French say that hunger is the best sauce. Approach a mediocre meal in a very hungry state and it will taste better and be more memorable than an expertly prepared dish placed before you when you’re not hungry.

So what does this mean for us? Maybe the foods we like are driven by cravings that our body has developed and have nothing to do with our ‘own personal taste’, whatever that is. Why do we like the foods we like? Is it because our bodies are demanding whatever said foods deliver or is it because they’re just nice to eat.

It’s an amazing mechanism, but it can work against us as well as for us. If we’re deficient in something we may develop a taste for a food that would deliver whatever we need, but if we’ve become accustomed or addicted to something (bread? sugar?) that isn’t good for us, then that may be driving our taste, and our palette may be making us gain weight or even sick.

So, our bodies are amazing. They have ingenious mechanisms and processes they can use in order to get what they want, but it does leave us with the question: Can we trust our taste buds?

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