Tastes Like Home
Do you taste when you eat? In other words, can you discern what it is that you’re eating and drinking when you consume food and beverages? I’m not referring to having a finely tuned palate as that of a chef or someone very familiar with food. Rather, I’m talking about the ability to determine that you are eating the breast meat of chicken rather than the thigh meat; that you’re eating beef and not lamb; or drinking tangerine juice and not orange juice.
Today we have a great variety of foods to choose from and to eat, and yet for all this abundance, we seem to lack a key component to eating, that is, the ability to taste our food. Oh there’s a lot of blame to go around for the lack of taste. Parents have to devise clever ways of disguising vegetables just to get their children to take a nibble. Cultural practices such as incessant lime-and-salting dulls the flavour and texture of many meats, fish and poultry. On the world stage, we have the big profit-making companies that are content to mass-produce products that never see the natural light of day or feel the coolness of rain. It’s all about planting and harvesting produce that crops well, is disease-resistant and freezes well. Good looking yes but severely void of taste.
The reality is that there is a whole generation out there that has grown up that has never and will never experience the taste of many things. The only peas they’ve tasted is the mass-produced one that comes out of a freezer bag, the only mauby they drink is the syrup version that’s just sugar, water and a heavy dose of spices, vacant of any hint of the bitterness or unique flavour that makes mauby such a prized drink. For many people, cooking and eating vegetable dishes equal the flavour of bacon.
In other words, rather than using a neutral fat such as oil to let the flavour of the vegetable shine through, they opt to start with bacon, the flavour of which envelopes the dish. Don’t get me wrong, I love bacon just as much as the next person and it certainly has it place in many dishes but used with certain other ingredients it takes over; and that my friends is why it is such a popular addition to vegetables because we don’t want to taste vegetables so what do we do? We stifle it.
On the other hand, we cooks often have to battle with ingredients that offer visually high expectations but fail to deliver on taste. A perfect example is that of a tomato – they look so plump, red and ripe with juice, their skin flawless. Slice into them and no juice comes forth, the flesh inside is mushy when you put it in your mouth, and the taste, there is none! The most amazing part is when after sitting on your counter for two weeks the tomatoes still look as rosy and fresh as the day you first bought them!
Just like bacon, using too many seasonings – herbs, spices and other aromatics can mask and dull the flavour of many things. The use of such seasonings should be to enhance, elevate and coax not smother or take over. I have a friend who once told me that before she began eating food I’d make that she was unable to tell the difference between various meats. Not to blow my own trumpet, but through my cooking she was able to experience the different tastes in terms of texture and flavour. These days my friend boldly declares what it is that she wants to eat because she can determine what her taste buds are craving.
On any given day there are a myriad of reasons why we make the choices we do to cook and eat certain things but one of the reasons we get excited is because we feel like having that particular dish, we crave the taste of it. We want to experience and enjoy the taste. Many of us, fortunately, still live in parts of the world and places where we can purchase and enjoy food that’s never seen the insides of a lab and have not been genetically modified in any way. We still have available to us ingredients with taste and we need to take full advantage of such a privilege especially as the world continues to shrink through globalization and large food-producing companies, corporations and entities gobble up farmers, gardeners and small dairy producers.
If we’re not careful we will lose taste on two levels – first by the choices we make when we purchase and secondly by the applications and methods we employ that render our food indistinguishable from one meat to another, one vegetable to another or one drink to another. And science is not necessarily on our side.
The more technologically advanced we get, the more mutated our foods will become. That’s a fact. That’s a reality. We don’t have to look far to see, feel and taste the scientific experimentations. Tell me, when is the last time you went into a coffee shop and were not been bombarded with artificial sweeteners? When you walk the aisles of your supermarket or megastore, tell me you don’t stop and engage yourself in a debate as to whether you should pick up the no-fat, low-fat or light version of milk, butter or cheese. Tell me that you don’t often wonder what has been taken out and what has been put in so that many of these products still retain their looks.
The thing is that it is not too late to taste or to start tasting – farmers’ markets have been making steady strides in getting people to eat local. Some governments and organisations have been encouraging us to grow our own. Sustainable agriculture is on the rise.
Eat seasonally and taste how sweet the mango, pumpkin and pineapple are. Let the chickens run free, let the cows feed on the grass… Taste your food, before it is too late.