Where you eat matters
It’s pretty common knowledge that taste is very much dependent on another sense: smell.
Makes enough sense (no pun intended) when you think about it. As animals, I would guess it’s to our evolutionary advantage that we be able to smell our food before we eat it. First of all, rotten foods are better to be smelled than actually ingested. Smell can also draw us to food, as shown in the cartoons where the drooling dog’s nose literally follows the scent—usually represented by a snaking cloud—to the source of a just-out-of-the-oven pastry they aren’t supposed to eat (and then, of course, they do). Finally, smell enhances the taste, making those flavors from that hot curry dish travel beyond your taste buds, up into your sinuses, and then into your watering eyes with a “Wow, that’s spicy!”
However, as I was reading for a class this week, a passage came up that made me think about the relationship between taste and smell beyond evolutionary means. The passage comes from the book Driftless by David Rhodes:
“Ever notice how food tastes different outdoors?” asked Rusty.
“It’s because of the smells,” said Maxine. “Most of the taste comes from smell.”
As this simple exchange points out, taste goes beyond the relationship of the smell and taste of the particular food in question; it also takes into account the smell (and I’d argue taste) of the environment as well.
Earlier this week, my dad sent me homegrown tomatoes, which, if I may say so myself, are the best tomatoes in the world. There are only a few foods that really bring me back to home, and my dad’s tomatoes are one of them. Never have there been redder, juicier, and tastier tomatoes (ignore the green ones in the picture). However, upon eating the first red giant (which are too good not to eat raw), I did notice it tasted different somehow. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but after reading those lines from that book, I think I can.
The taste of the tomato was like home, but minus the smells of our family’s freshly mown grass, my mom’s flower garden, and the wood-stained deck. I hadn’t accounted for the missing smell of the special floor cleaner we use, the traces of last night’s burnt dessert, or the leather couches. There was no answer for the missing smell of our over-the-hill dryer, the taste of the Minnesotan air, or the first crunchy leaves of fall. By the end of it, I realized that this tomato, though it brought me closer to home, was hardly the same tomato I would get at home.
Though I bet someone could probably make a good evolutionary argument as to why food tastes different depending on the location of the meal, I’m going to choose to believe otherwise. I think that this may be some sort of evolutionary side effect that has implications beyond the ambiance of a fancy restaurant. Food is the great connector—and it not only connects us to other people, but it connects us to places and different environments.
So, as a challenge this week, take note of where you are eating your meals. How would it taste different if you were outside? How would that brat from Camp Randall taste if you ate it in the comfort of your own home? Where would be the ideal place to eat that food?
Just something to think about.