Tag Archives: emotion



The taste test. Inconclusive verdict. More testing needed.

The taste test. Inconclusive verdict. More testing needed.

Surely nothing could be easier than making toast. In these modern times, all you have to do is drop sliced bread into the toaster slots, push the lever down, and toast will pop right up when it’s done.

It was much trickier in my childhood. Our toasters were primitive appliances, with fold-down doors on either side. They demanded vigilance and patience, with disastrous consequences if we wandered away. These were the days before fire alarms, so burnt toast could be very burnt before the smell roused our attention.

My family also had a camping toaster, a simple wire mesh contraption held over a flame. I remember the toast it made was particularly delicious—very crisp on the outside and somehow fluffier and moister inside.

Either way, there was nothing difficult or complex about toast. Or so it seemed.

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Breakfast with Hemingway.

Breakfast with Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway published his first novel, The Sun also Rises, in 1926, when he was 27 years old and living in Paris. A fictionalised autobiography, it is based on events that took place in France and Spain—bullfighting, complicated love affairs, fights, fishing trips. And eating and drinking.

Hemingway was, writes Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan in the Paris Review, a man with “immense appetites—for life, adventure, drink, and a good meal”. Patrizia Sanvitale describes him as “the kind of man who liked to live dangerously—hunting and fishing, smoking, travelling, eating and drinking with largesse.”

When you start to look for food references in The Sun also Rises, it soon becomes evident that the narrative is based on a series of meals. The story almost staggers from one bar or restaurant to another.

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Bitter melons— some people crave them, and other people find them unbelievably awful.

Bitter melons—
some people crave them, and other people find them unbelievably awful.

(Originally posted on Sensorium, January 27 2014)

Eating bitter”: in Chinese culture, the phrase refers to “necessary suffering to get to a better end”—a resigned, determined reaction to the vicissitudes of life.

John Thorne, in his essay “Reflections on a Tin of Vienna Sausages”, understands the phrase in a more head-on, assertive way, as meaning “to endure bitterness by wilfully eating it” (p. 187).

Although the two interpretations are different, both of them link the emotion of bitterness with the flavour.

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Salty, sweet, bitter and sour: a balanced meal?

Salty, sweet, bitter and sour: a balanced meal?

(Originally posted on Sensorium, October 28 2013)

Strangely, Diane Ackerman’s section on taste in her wonderful A Natural History of the Senses pays much attention to food, food rituals and food symbolism (pp. 127-172), but little to the actual experience of tasting. This intrigued me, because taste is a sense that gives us great pleasure. Even so, there is a kind of irony there. We often eat unthinkingly; the true abilities of our sense of taste go unused and unnoticed.

When I began looking into taste, I soon learned a whole heap of interesting things. Here are 12 things that convinced me I needed to pay more attention to what was going on in my mouth.

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