Taste as Experience: The Philosophy and Aesthetics of Food (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) - Nicola Perullo 2016
Second Mode of Access: Knowledge
I have enjoyed peaches and apricots more since I have known that they were first cultivated in China in the early days of Han Dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the great King Kaniska introduced them to India, whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman Empire in the first century of our era; that the word “apricot” is derived from the same Latin source as the word “precocious,” because the apricot ripens early; and that the A at the beginning was added by mistake, owing to a false etymology. All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter.
The second way to taste conceives of taste as knowledge and awareness of culture. In this perceptual experience, taste operates as the conscious fabric of a person’s biographical and cultural identity, a progressive acquisition. Here taste is “dressed,” controlled, and dedicated to appreciation as the capacity of understanding over time. Calling this experience “taste” does not connote the predominance of a hedonic impulse but that of reason, reflection, and balance. There are many ramifications along this mode of access to taste because, unlike the experience of naked pleasure, which tends to lack the capacity to reflect and is therefore less articulated, it develops on many different levels of awareness—from the novice’s curiosity to the most sophisticated connoisseur’s expertise—and it provides many consequent options. The curious person, the enthusiast, the gourmet but also health fanatics and vegetarians fall into this category because they all express a gustatory appreciation from qualitative and esteeming criteria that arrange an aesthetic judgment. If naked pleasure is basically the realm of unreflected and often tacit desire, dressed taste is the land of explicit, conceptualized, and often verbosely expressed knowledge. Please note that I am not proposing again here a dichotomy that I aimed to deconstruct before (desire/knowledge, nature/culture, and the like)! Instead, I propose to observe different modes of experiencing food from the perceiver’s perspective, as I have previously noted, from inside the perception. To give examples that have already been discussed, wine in this case will not be appreciated simply as “wine” or alcohol, or chocolate as a generic sweet or sugar bearer. Rather, particular wines or chocolates will convey constitutive values of appreciation through taste. Gustatory perception is consciously oriented toward such an exploration in order to obtain pleasure intensified by knowledge and culture or modeled on it in a sort of intellectual enjoyment. However, expertise is not always necessary for dressed taste: its domain is not only about recognition and awareness of one’s identity but also just as much about the approximation to otherness and exoticism. A plate of tortellini or arancini can be appreciated because of the memories they stir, fried grasshoppers can be appreciated because they are exotic, Sauternes can be appreciated because of its nobility and its production method. Connection to the past, open-mindedness, and broadening cultural perspectives are all ways in which the subject, armed with projects, horizons of expectation, and particular interpretative schemes, approaches the object on a scale that ranges from primary, basic curiosity to the most sophisticated connoisseurship.