Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2021

The shared process of culturing eco-tastebuds

Innovation showcase

By Farrell, B., & Fischer, M., PhD, University of Kent, England

What I think, I can let others know; what I see, I can let them see; what I say, hundreds can hear—but what the individual eats, no one else can eat under any circumstances. Simmel, G., 1954, 243/Symons, M., 1994, 341.

Putting ambiguity aside, as to whether another will hear or see the speaker’s or seer’s cultured meaning, the premise of this innovation showcase and related opinion paper challenge and explore Simmel’s statement (one that he reflected upon and challenged himself with). It argues that we do share the experience of eating because the individual does (co)taste, through sensorial empathy, what another eats. 

Social gathering to eat, commensality, (re)informs all the senses to adopt, adapt and assimilate as cultural learning, an example of the structure and practice of habitus, “a socially constituted system of cognitive and motivating structures, and the socially structured situation in which the agents’ interests are defined” (Bourdieu, P., [1997] 2013, 76). In addition, as taste buds (gustatory cells) have a life cycle of 10-14 days, this process of social tasting (re)affirms and (co)constitutes the emotional-sensory practice of frequent meal taking (Bourdieu, [1997] 2013 ; Breslin, P., 2013).

As a shared communicative encounter, the culturation of taste buds from birth and throughout life signposts what is safe and appropriate to eat (Breslin, P., 2013; Visser, M., 2017; Wilson, B., 2015). Unanimity of interpretation depends on internalised sensorial memories learned, or not learned, as part of cultural groups. The collective urge to bond together to seek meaning from flavour, unified taste and smell known as retronasal olfaction, is ultimately about sharing another’s experience of their mouthful (Breslin, P., 2013; Wilson, B.,2015; Wrangham, R.W., 2009). Described by anthropologist David Sutton when sharing the tastes of food is, “a key component of ritual, which has typically been understood as heightening or stimulating sensory experience to instill social or cosmological values” (Sutton, D., 2010, 209). This practice could be powerfully instrumental to a sustainable food future and culturing food choices through taste of “good, clean and fair” (Petrini, C., 2013, title) food (Rozin, P., 1999; Wilson, B., 2015).

Our mirror neurons, originally investigated in studies of primates and now explored in clinical psychiatry by researchers in the fields of neurophysiology, teach empathy, skills and self-awareness. Through mirroring the action of another eating, both physically and/or mentally, we consolidate ways to avoid poisonous foods, identify pleasurable food, introduce unfamiliar food and ignore disgusting food. All done by using our senses and by mirroring the responses to sensorial eating activity of others (Bloch, M., 1999; Fischer, C. 2011; Jones, M., 2008; Rozin, P., 2009; Visser, M., 1991; Wrangham, R.W., 2009).

The innovation showcase will allow participants to engage in the sensory and the sensory-mirrored performance of eating a vegetarian ‘Burger in a Bun’. The various sensorial stages of eating (although it is acknowledged that when it comes to eating the senses work together) of haptic, textural and thermal sense of touch, smell, hearing, taste, kinesthesia and sight will be explored as the storyboard below outlines (see Figure 1). The idea is that there will be pairs, who take 15 minutes to go through the sensory experience; one senses, the other watches in a performative version of focusing on the work of mirror neurons, eating and watching another eating. A key part of the experience will be the opportunity for participant discussion on transformations to a more sustainable food future through culturing taste buds.

The focus on meal expectancies and experiences, bounded by cultured taste buds of meat and non-meat burger cultured tastes, aims to explore the ways to make unfamiliar plant-based tastes become more familiar than western meat-based ones. The participative experiences and discussions will creatively contribute to the opinion paper (an extension of this abstract), The Work of Culturing Eco Taste Buds in the Digital Domain. It would be particularly interesting, through sensory ethnography, to expand on the understanding and potentialities of transformations to more sustainable diets through culturing eco-taste buds in the synthesised physical, digital and the physical-analogue domains (Stoller, P. 1997).

Figure 1: Experiencing and mirroring the anticipation of eating through sensory modalities. 






6.     TOUCH: FORM




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