"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sense of Taste

We all love food. We all crave certain foods. Eating ranks right up there at the top as one of the greatest pleasures in life. I'll admit my two favorites foods are chocolate and ice cream. Put them together and it's damned near heaven. But do we write about food? Or the sense of taste? Not so much. (I had a time finding examples of the sense of taste). When we do write about this sense, it's usually something that tastes unpleasant. Sometimes, what we taste isn't food at all.

I was pondering why the sense of taste doesn't find its way into our writing very often and I finally realized that it's because, generally speaking, it doesn't have anything to do with the crux of most stories unless it's a story about food, like the movie, Chocolat. (Naturally I would remember that one!)

I did manage to find some very good references to the sense of taste in the wonderful nonfiction book, Bread and Rice, by Doris Macauley, (an American woman's fight to survive in the jungles and prison camps of WWII Philippines):

"We squatted in the darkness of our cell, smoking the cigarettes the Filipinos had sent us. The tobacco burned away the slimy, fishy taste of the food."

"'Hurry to eat this–Japs will come soon.' We devoured it ravenously. Not since the mountain people had cooked for us had we tasted such dry well-cooked rice. The Japanese do not know how to cook rice. Theirs is always too wet or too sticky. I smiled gratefully through the bars at the woman."

"A few moments later we were in a large bamboo shed where the mountain people had thrown down their loads and were now squatting comfortably and laughing among themselves while the storm raged around them. They began passing betel nut and the women offered us their sweets and rice-sticks wrapped in bamboo leaves. Out of politeness we did not refuse, but as we sat eating the sweet, gluey concoction, we were thinking of steak and french-fried potatoes. . . ."

The sense of taste can evoke sensuous feelings, or it can elicit joy, delight, contentment, and pleasure. Depending on what hits your tongue, it could bring nausea, fear, pain, or even death. So strive to include this sense in your writing. Of all the senses, this one can be very personal and can summon powerful emotions, images, and memories in ways the other senses can't.


Huriya said...

Good point ... will keep that in mind.

B.J. Anderson said...

Good one! This is the sense that I neglect the most. Sigh. Oh well. I'll have to make a more concentrated effort.

Anonymous said...

Well taken point, Linda. I don't know that I have ever used the sense of taste in any of my writing.

We sometimes have a tendency to rely a bit too heavily on sight and smell. Taste would be a new avenue to explore. In fact, I just thought of a place where I could inject this sense into my latest book. Thanks for the tip.


Avril said...

I agree - often the most overlooked of the senses - I will remember this when I'm working on the draft of my new novel, especially as it has a Private Investigator in it who loves to eat!
Thank you

Jane said...

What an interesting posting. I, too, haven't considered the sense of taste much in my writing, but I love reading descriptions of foods and flavors. It's so much fun when writers "invite" us to feasts of their own creation.

Ruth Reichl, the former New York Times food critic, has inspirational descriptions of taste in her book, Garlic and Sapphires.