Many Kinds of Deliciousness
Recently I found myself reflecting on the many ways that food can be delicious. The kinds of delicious go beyond the flavors detectable by our tongues, because a number of those that I’ve thought of rely as much or more on how foods feel in our mouths. (There is also, of course, the psychological realm of emotions and memories associated with what we eat, but those are beyond what I can address here.)
Here are some of the categories of deliciousness that I think make up most of the American diet: (1)
- Sweet – the whole universe of foods dosed (strongly or subtly) with sugars and their artificial substitutes.
- Lipidy – a word I’ve made up for all things fatty, creamy, cheesy, or oily.
- Meaty – different, I think, from lipidy, and not always pertaining to animal flesh. Some mushrooms, for example, are often considered to have a meaty flavor.
- Salty – ah, sodium, how we love thee.
- Starchy – carbs, glorious carbs: pastas, grains, breads, etc., especially in their more refined forms.
There are, of course, many others that we enjoy from time to time. But it seems to me that this list covers a big whopping chunk of what many of us look for in our food.
Let us consider a trip to our favorite burger joint. We order a cheeseburger, some fries, a soda, and maybe treat ourselves to a small ice cream sundae. The cheeseburger consists of a beef patty (beefy, lipidy, and salty) with cheese (lipidy) in a bun (starchy), and the condiments add a little sweet and also a little bit of acidity to help balance all the lipidy. The fries are starchy, salty, and lipidy, and most of us like to dip our fries in sweet-and-salty-with-a-little-acidity ketchup. The soda is sweet and (in most flavors) a little acid. The ice cream is sweet and lipidy with a topping that is usually sweet with some additional chocolate or fruity flavor. Thus, our meal is dominated by the five kinds of deliciousness I’ve listed above. With the addition of chocolaty and (for some) chile-type spiciness, almost all of our commercial snack foods are dominated by these flavors, too.
I am not suggesting that this is the result of some big conspiracy. And the big question of whether these features of our national palate harm us as a society or represent a symptom of large scale ills is one for others to ponder. I do, however, wonder if a limited conception of delicious creates a problem for people dealing with health challenges. I'm certain it was a problem for me.
Because I am a middle-aged fat man with both diabetes, I should be limiting starchy and sweet for blood sugar control, meaty and lipidy for cholesterol controller, and salty for blood pressure control.
What do those restrictions leave me from the list of the ways I understood delicious two years ago? NOTHING.
That's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one. And I found that I was unable to consistently make myself eat a diet that was high on health but low on flavor. It's not about being unwilling to give up cheeseburgers. It's about not knowing what I CAN eat that I'm WILLING to eat.
That, my friends, is why I had to learn to cook. I had to learn to feed my body without starving my heart.
In a future post, if I get to it, I'll talk about how I've expanded my conception of delicious.
(1) Doubtless, there are people that have spent considerable time on this topic that would find my listing incomplete or even laughable. Nonetheless, I press on.