By Leo Babauta
I have a theory that I’ve been testing: whether you have a taste for a particular food is a choice.
I’m sure there are things you turn your nose up at: vegetables (lots of people), or kale (my kids), eggplant (Eva), tofu (many non-vegetarians), quinoa (crazy people), something.
But what I’ve learned is that tastes can change. In fact, we can change them on purpose:
- I used to hate vegetables. Now I love them.
- I used to hate soymilk when I first tried it. Now I drink it daily.
- I didn’t like brown rice, about 10 years ago. Now I much prefer it to white rice (which has no substance).
- I used to love sweets, but I’ve given them up in the last few months and now I still would eat them but they wouldn’t give me as much pleasure.
And on and on, dozens of times I’ve changed my tastes.
So if taste in a food can be changed, why do people dislike the taste of certain foods? Because they’re not used to them. Once you’re used to a food, it can taste great … but when you’re not used to a food, it’s not so good.
Why do we dislike tastes that we’re not used to? Because we expect good food to be within a certain range of what we already like. Within our comfort zone. This is our expectation, and when food doesn’t meet this expectation, we dislike it. It’s not that food is inherently bad-tasting. For example, many people dislike bitter foods … but I love them. Umeboshi plums? Bitter beer? Dandelion greens? Love ’em. Food tastes bad because we’re not comfortable with them; they don’t meet our expectations.
But what if we got rid of our expectations? What if we said, “Food doesn’t need to taste like anything. Let’s see what this tastes like.”
I heard tell of a wine expert who wanted to develop his palate, and so he would taste all kinds of things. Even dirt. Put dirt in his mouth, and see what it tastes like. Most people would be grossed out about it, but what if you just wanted to find out?
Be curious. Explore the taste of foods. Let go of expectations and prejudgements. You might find out some interesting things.
And by the way: this works with everything in life, not just food.