Remembering to Taste

Weekend Meditation

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Eating is such a full-on sensory experience: taste, yes, but also smell and mouth-feel (texture) and even sound (the crunch of an apple, the slurp of soup). And we all know the saying that we taste first with our eyes. But how much do we remember to actually taste what we're eating? Are we still tasting after our third or fourth bite?

Some chefs believe that we encounter palate fatigue after just a few mouthfuls. Thomas Keller's French Laundry and Grant Achatz's Alinea are famous for their long (up to twenty-four courses) tasting menus, each course consisting of just a few bites. Their goal, and the reason in part why they are so popular, is to keep us alert and engaged in the food, in the immediate sensual experience of eating.

When I check it out in my own life, I find that this palate fatigue is actually true. The first two or three bites of a sandwich are bursting with flavor. And then there's this foggy area where I've lost that intense interest and I am just eating. For me, however, the flavor awareness always returns with the last bite. Something deep in my brain wakes up and says 'Oh no! Almost gone. Taste!'

I figure I can work a little on that foggy area and try to taste my food more. Experts say when I do this, I will eat less and slower but that's secondary to me. I'm more interested in seeing if it's possible to keep some of that fresh, engaged interest in my meal all the way through.

So far, this has been tough going. My habit is to check out, get lost in my thoughts (or in the book spread out on the table in front of me). Not to mention carrying on a conversation with my dinner companion or, classically, eat the full bag of popcorn before the trailers are over and the film begins.

But when I do remember to keep at least some of my attention on what I am eating, a kind of a calm settles over me. I feel a balance and a satisfaction that escapes me when I'm just shoveling it in. It's a nice feeling and I don't have to spend hundreds of dollars at a fancy restaurant to have it.

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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in September 2009. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.

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