Like the Telling Use of Language

Taste has been on the tongue recently. Jenny presented a paper last week in class that Nick picked up on in his blog:
Taste, then, becomes a mechanism by which distinction is made between people or groups of people. There is no inherent value that one taste or aesthetic style has over another, but prestige is attached to certain tastes and styles by groups of all classes. Thorstein Veblen has perhaps articulated this notion of conspicuous consumption most eloquantly in his book "The Theory of the Leisure Class," written in the early 20th century.
Not talking immediately to that question of taste but touching on it might be the Introduction to Marcella Hazan's Marcella's Italian Kitchen:
The languages of cooking have also developed so that we use them now to express ourselves subtly or boldly, elaborately or simply, extravagantly or frugally, with elegant restraint or rustic forthrightness. But all of cooking's infinite varieties of expression still take their meaning from a single, deep, ancestral emotion: the pleasure that is aroused by flavor.
She continues:
Taste is produced by the expressive use of the cuisines that have come down to us. One becomes fluent in a cuisine as in a language, steeping oneself in idioms, getting its accents right. Cooking well is very like the telling use of language: Expression must be vigorous, clear, concise. There can be no unnecessary ingredients or unnecessary step. A dish may indeed be complicated, but in terms of taste every component, every procedure must count.
Taste, then, might be both mechanism and language, but I think Hazan's emphasis (her accent) is on the way in which taste can be learned. Like a language, she says, it has its syntax, its grammar. I'm reminded, I guess, of Jenny's story about the way in which Rwandan cuppers are taught to taste: Flavors of apricot, they say, though many of them have never seen an apricot (and for more on her thinking about the cultures of taste, see here).


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