Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2021

Silence of the Tastes: Can our Sense of Taste Save the Planet?

Opinion paper

By Zsofia Anna Toth, gastronome

Saving the planet with taste requires silence, but we are too loud to hear anything around us. The whole planet, the entire natural world with all of its species, farmers, cooks, environmentalists, and yet our health screams and wants to be heard. We can be saved by changing our perception of the whole gastronomic universe, which can be judged in a single bite of good food, but only if we start from scratch. Only if we start to listen.

Once upon a time…we invented fire, learnt how to play with it and how to turn raw materials into cooked food. On the way, we learnt to distinguish between chewing food and chewing good food. Chewing less did not only give us more spare time to do other things, besides sustaining ourselves which eventually ended with Homo Faber, but also slowly we discovered the inexhaustible universe of tastes and we became magicians, or as we say today, gastronomes. Gastronomy was born and until the 20th century has never been in danger, because we got highly addicted on taste. Our lives and food making were based on the respected natural elements, cooperating with them and hard handwork, and until recently no one questioned these powers.

We are who we are today partly because we discovered taste. And now we are on the edge of losing it, and if we do, the world as we know it, will fail. The system is too complex and therefore fragile, and if taste goes under, we cannot get away. If we do not change our attitude, our whole world will radically change, probably not for the better. If the saying is true, that you can fix things with what you messed it up with, then we need the help of taste more than ever.

Taste to exist requires a cooperation based on a whole, balanced, healthy way of living. For a second we thought too much of ourselves which made us believe that we are different, that we were smarter, more and not part of this system. It already turned out, we are very much part of it and we need to fix this broken relationship. There are probably many different ways to do it, but I am a gastronome, believe in the power of cooking, and I believe the way runs through the kitchen. We have to go back to our food temples, turn on the fire, cook and let the magic happen again.

However, during the 20th century eating became an ethical question, because the food sector evolved into an overly complicated and impersonal system. We have since forgotten that good taste only comes from good ingredients. That requires responsibility, awareness and care towards every living creature. Good food gives us culture and tradition; teaches us how to work with respect and patience; goes together with clean resources, fair trade and organic agriculture; makes humans work together with nature and each other.

We should go back to our kitchens and cook and unite everything which is precious for us. No industry on Earth has a larger, interconnected, network than gastronomy. And it is bigger and more significant than any other single ecosystem. This network stretches from the sunlight to the sea and the most insignificant beetle. This network spans from the greatest city with the most important and busiest people, to the humblest village with its intellectuals of their lands and every person in between. Gastronomy has the power to connect or disconnect all of these things.

Today, we are heading more and more towards the disconnected direction. We are complete strangers in our own kitchens. We barely know how to cook, where the ingredients came from, or how much effort went into production. This also goes directly for our health. We do not know what is good for us, and there is no one to tell us. Food causes obesity, diabetes and can be related to various mental illnesses. Food production practices are largely responsible for climate change, for starvation and poverty. This kind of food makes us inhumane. This kind of food does not taste good, simply because it cannot taste good. It can only feel good.

I believe taste is one of most important aspects of us as a species. If this was to change or vanish, we would be diminished irrevocably.

I believe cooking and good taste can save humans and this planet. Cooking is much more powerful than we think it is. Like any work of art, if left speechless, gastronomy has its rightful place with any other form. To get that experience we should appreciate the origins of the ingredients. We simply have to cook good food, sit down to share and enjoy a meal all together. When serving the plates and we start to chew the first bites, magic will happen, as it did before for thousands of years. We will become speechless and we stay silent and we experience the indescribable feeling of sensing tastes. We can hear the most harmonious music played on our tongue, by our taste buds dancing around in our mouth. This kind of music tells us that the order in the universe is restored. Just as all the best things in life it will happen, if we let it happen. The only question for us is this: Can we be quiet enough and listen, so we can hear the silence of the tastes?    


Catching fire by Richard Wrangham.

Cooked by Michael Pollan.

Terra Madre by Carlo Petrini.