Educated Tastes: Food, Drink, and Connoisseur Culturey

By Spangler, Alice | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Educated Tastes: Food, Drink, and Connoisseur Culturey


Spangler, Alice, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Educated Tastes: Food, Drink, and Connoisseur Culturey Edited and with an introduction by Jeremy Strong (2011) Published by University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE (2011). $35

Reviewed by Alice Spangler

This book is a series of 10 essays that explore the various meanings of taste as related to food and beverage. Taste can denote the physiological reaction of the senses to food, possibly within a psychosocial and cultural context. The word can also mean a small bite, an experience, a preference, or a sense of refinement, elitism, and propriety. The various contexts are used as both nouns and verbs.

The word taste assumes multiple definitions; therefore, each essay examines the concept of taste in a unique manner. Furthermore, the essays associate the concept of taste with how one acquires taste through education, influence, and exposure.

One essay was written by a contemporary northern California mother who was eager for her 2 -yearold son to continue his wide taste acceptance for foods such as faro, pomegranate seeds, tilapia, and chicken liver pâté. She was distraught when he suddenly refused anything green (i.e., green vegetables) and then added orange to his rejected food list. In her essay, the author examines how children acquire food tastes and preferences, including exposure to food tastes in utero. The mother believed that through frequent introduction and repetition of food, her son would eventually be willing to eat the food of interest. After months of trying various strategies with no success, the now 3V2-year-old, having had a fun afternoon swimming at a beach, suddenly was thrilled to eat ogo seaweed for dinner. The author speculated that the son had perhaps connected his food to the sources. This humorous essay illustrates the unpredictability of children's tastes; it also highlights a parent's desire to nurture a child so that he or she develops a wide range of food tastes and learns to link the food to geography, culture, politics, adventure, pleasure, surprise, gratitude, and love. The conclusion explains why her son suddenly started eating variety - maybe he was just hungry or perhaps there was some "mysterious alchemy of nature and nurture" or some "combination of his genes and our family's food" (p. 22).

An interesting historical essay about cookbooks of the Soviet Union showcases the development of food culture as an expression of political and governmental influence. This essay is about the influence the Soviet Union, as a state-controlled country, had on every element of life including food. The state provided approved cookbooks and state controlled restaurants, canteens, public catering, and beer bars. Exposure to specific foods and tastes and table etiquette was manipulated to provide a unified identity of food culture and to demonstrate the exceptional quality of food as a result of this political model.

The pleasure and joy of food was expressed in another essay that reflects food aesthetics on a cognitive level. Several characteristics are included: representation - a candy skull represents the real thing to someone celebrating Day of the Dead; exemplification - a bowl of cereal exemplifies breakfast to an American; metaphorical expression - apples may represent motherhood, poison, or appreciation for a teacher, and the intimacy in giving and receiving food. The author also discoursed on the displeasure of food, including various aspects of the industrial food system. She introduced an agricultural eater as one who eats within the context of a complex relationship with sou, plant, and animal; this type of eater gains considerable pleasure from eating. She created a sensory comparison of experiencing the taste of supermarket strawberries and the deliciousness of home ripened juicy berries with an intense taste.

The very close relationship between taste and the cultural landscape is detailed in an essay devoted to beer flavor and the unique microorganisms found within a geographic domain, in particular, Belgium's Payottenland. …

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