The Blank Palate. The Bug Fair at the Natural History Museum of LA County.

Tabula rasa or "blank slate" is the notion that we are born into this world mentally blank, unprogrammed by any cognitive genetics or prior psychological influence especially knowledge. This idea has been in and out of vogue in various sciences and philosophies ever since Aristotle specifically wrote of it.

As someone who is constantly testing his culinary boundaries, I had to wonder if this “blank slate” for the mind could also be applied to the mouth or taste buds – a "blank palate", perhaps. Are our food and flavor preferences preordained or can they be shaped, trained or even altered? As far as I can recall, I’ve always preferred salty and spicy over sweet or sour flavors. Although I was very fond of candy when I was a kid, it was more for the visual aesthetics of the brightly colored wrappers and contents and the occasional prize inside rather than the actual taste of the sweet treat. But I noticed my tastes changing as I grew older and especially when I was in a relationship with a woman who had a thing for sugar. Then I found myself romantically indulging in things I’d rarely consume like a strawberry malt (with two straws sticking out of it naturally).

About two weeks ago I had lunch with a friend at a Korean BBQ restaurant. This friend was enthusiastically eating all that was placed before him. He ate without hesitation marinated octopus tentacles, seaweed salad and all manner of banchan and kimchi. So you can imagine my incredulity when he told me that there was a time in his life when he thought broccoli was inedible exotic fare. For most of his childhood his culinary roster was shorter than Paris Hilton’s first prison stay. His meals back then were a predictable and highly processed rotation of mac n’ cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (grape jam only and only on crustless white bread), mashed potatoes and gravy, hot dogs and fish sticks with ketchup, all washed down with refreshing fruit punch. He had this type of diet for most of his childhood and teen years, expanding this repertoire only slightly in adulthood.

So how did he start voraciously devouring octopus and seaweed? Love. He’s a white guy with a dull palate from New Orleans. (Yes, he has a dull palate and he’s from the Cajun-Creole capitol). His fiancĂ© is a Korean girl who is a big foodie and a fanatic for her native cuisine. She slowly introduced him to new foods by starting him out with easy-to-eat mainstream fare like Korean BBQ. She then gradually and conveniently introduced him to the weird and wonderful small dishes (banchan) on the table. Now he eats the stuff like he’s been chowing on them since his days of fish sticks and ketchup.

So, it is possible to expand one’s culinary horizons even when one is older. But what happens when one starts off eating a wide variety of foods at a very young age? How broadly can a palate be stretched? Is it really even expanding anything at that age because for a kid who eats Twinkies regularly, eating an apple may be pushing the envelope? And for a child who has a steady diet of fish heads, a Twinkie may be as outrageous as a fish’s head is to most Americans. Therefore it is less an expansion than culinary conditioning. Eat enough duck fetus and it becomes just another egg. So I understand.

But can this culinary conditioning go too far?

Please take a peek at this short video of my visit to the Bug Fair at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and decide for yourself.



Butterflies in My Stomach from alba on Vimeo

Comments

Juliet said…
Why not? I've decided that as long as it's not liver (which is just nasty!) I'll try it.
adam said…
As long as it's not unsanitary there's in principle nothing on a n animal I find disgusting. In principle. In practice the list of things I won't eat is rather far... sanils, various intestines, various cheese, various etc's... My only principle defence being: When there are so many nice things to eat on a cow or a pig then WHY do I have to eat snails and duck fetus and so on... but I guess that's an answer you've been answering or trying to quite a lot here...

btw - I always love your selection of music...
WannabeTVchef said…
I find that other than the things I know I do not like (English peas) I am open to most anything. However, I draw the line at eating the genitalia of another mammal. And with enough beer that line would most likely become blurry.
Anonymous said…
FYI with affection. You need a hyphen between Deep and End in your title. Otherwise you have Deep END Dining, not Deep-End Dining which I think you are trying to say?
Tokyoastrogirl said…
Eddie- what's this I read about you moving to Austin? When? Why? What about LA? What's going on?

;)
Van said…
brave little one. the apple indeed does not fall from tree.