General Discussion

Perceiving Food


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General Discussion

Perceiving Food

Jim Leff | | Jul 4, 1999 05:02 PM

This is a continuation of a thread that's WAY down at the bottom of the Manhattan board index, "Village Eats Help". To read the message in that thread that spurred the discussion this responds to, go to the following address:

and work your way down through the links on that page to read the replies by Dave Feldman and myself (I'll repeat that URL as a link below this message). This is my reply to Dave's message:

What scientists don't seem to know yet, though, is whether there is a difference in PREFERENCE for seasoning or just a difference in
SENSATION. If it's the latter, then the person who is pleased with one shake of the hot sauce bottle might like his or her food as much as the one who pours a tablespoon full"

Dave, there's another factor (which could really foul scientific inquiry into this): hot food is addictive. Those accustomed to eating lots of spicy food require more and more spice, and are usually turned off by non-hot food, even non-hot food that most of us would find tasty. I have hot sauce enthralled friends for whom a plate of buttery mashed potatoes is sheer oppression.

I minored in sensation and perception in college, and learned that most human perceptions operate on a logarhythmically sliding scale. That is, we differentiate extremely fine gradations within a fairly narrow range (it'd be asking too much to expect to perceive fine gradations at a wide range!), but we can, over time, shift that scope. If you've been eating shaking pepper flakes and Tabasco on everything you eat, french toast, artichokes (...and white bread or understated salad!) will be off your range, and thus taste completely uninteresting. If they'd cut out the over-spicing, their range of differentiation would settle down to "normal"...and they'd find themselves "out of practice" and overwhelmed if they later ingested even half their previous dose of chili.

In my experience (pretty wide, actually...I eat with a LOT of people), the vast majority of people who unaccountably find a given dish bland, when questioned, turn out to be hot sauce/pepper addicts who disparage most less-hot food (with a few exceptions for things that are texturally appealling or long-standing favorites).

I'm curious to see what Chimera has to say about this...