Serious discussion on the question of taste has been around at least since Kant, and much more recently theologians have joined in the debate as well. As interesting as philosophical aesthetics are, today, in honor of the upcoming (American) Thanksgiving, I want merely to consider the more normal, edible taste.
From at least since I was old enough to read more than Dr. Seuss, researchers have continually done studies which demonstrate that fruits, vegetables, and fiber are healthy, while the list of most people’s favorite foods are not. Somehow the press manages to make news out of these studies every week, even though the basic outlines have not really changed much. More recently the context of food production has also come to the fore (e.g., organic food). Still, in basic form we
know what we should eat.
Nutritionists have also done studies on the way eating patterns can be shaped by habit (obesity apparently craves fats), shaped by the mother’s context (apparently children of undernourished mothers have obesity problems), and many argue we have inherited food genes suitable for non-urban populations (ie, for when protein and fat were scarce). All this still raises the question, though, of why some people
like and will choose to eat healthier foods because they find them tasty while others will choose unhealthier foods for the same reason. Does it all come down to the inherited, genetic lottery?
Everybody might love a Twinky (may they rest in peace). Not everyone loves a pile of spinach. Is this down to genes, habit, inscrutable taste? While there is no doubt that genetics and personal idiosyncrasies play into it, I have a theory that a large
portion of might be related to habit formed as young children and teenagers.
If a child grows up eating lots of healthy foods and rarely eating unhealthy ones, I think that is likely to be not only habit-forming, but taste-forming. when the child grows up, he or she is more likely to like healthy food rather than to eat it merely to be “virtuous.” I haven’t read any studies which claim this, but it seems reasonable
to me on admittedly anecdotal evidence.
Can adults deliberately form their own tastes? The idea of discerning palates for “difficult” or complex tastes like wine or whiskey (or even coffee) suggests that it could be. I’m not sure if that means one needs to be lucky in liking it in the first place, motivated to want to like it, or merely be motivated by a health-snobbery factor. It surely is limited, though. Try as I might, I cannot like seafood (and I’ve tried to like it all… to no success). Maybe it is just a matter of trying lots of things until one finds healthy things which one didn’t know they liked…
In any case, some tastes really stand the test of time. Maybe we can test the above questions like it is 2012 (BCE).
Happy Thanksgiving. And Don’t forget the Cranberries. Or the homeless.