Tuesday, September 17, 2013

food for tongue (pertaining today's class)

art by urs fischer

a lot was discussed in class and it seemed more chaotic than usual. but chaos is brahman. let's see if i'm successful at explaining my points:

1- is taste a genetic disposition? i read this hypothesis @ the smithsonian:
Collecting genetic samples from 143 children and their mothers, the researchers showed moms and kids who had at least one bitter-sensitive region in the gene were generally able to detect even a hint of bitter flavor in a test drink.
that's not the whole story: "bitter" is one amongst a broader palette that includes "sweet," "umami," "sour" and "salty" (for a total of 5). the study goes on to make a more problematic conclusion:
The study also found children who had the bitter taste gene preferred higher levels of the sucrose solution they were given in the study. Researchers point out that as we age, life experience begins to override genetic disposition for taste. "Nature versus nurture" refers to an ongoing debate about how much genes are responsible for an individual's traits, compared to how much is due to the environment around the person. 
i'm of the latter persuasion, yet the institute of health makes it even more open-ended:
Recent advances in the understanding of taste at the molecular level have provided candidate genes that can be evaluated for contributions to phenotypic differences in taste abilities. However, many aspects of taste perception remain poorly characterized. Better understanding of the molecular components of salty and sour tastes is still needed, as is a more complete picture of second messenger and downstream signaling mechanisms for all taste modalities. More general studies of linkage and association between genetic markers and taste phenotypes may reveal genes encoding proteins
So, it seems that we cannot conclusively say that taste is genetic nor discount it, --as i seemed (too quickly to sort of imply in class). my problem is with the following argument:

since there's much we don't still don't understand about the influence of genetic traits in our dispositions, let's assume that genetics plays a bigger role in our dispositions.  

but this is at best misleading and at worst fallacious. our experience with food is that of constant negotiation. and this negotiation is cultural, psychological and part of our personal narratives. taste seems as arbitrary as our predilections for music (the comparison has been made time and again). if so, then taste seems to reveal something very unique about our personal dispositions. how about psychological factors? example: one can always reevaluate what one used to dislike (as veronica seemed to suggest with her pizza hut example). on the other hand, one can --inexplicably-- like something one used to dislike (my daughter hated broccoli until she tried it at the suggestion of her vegetarian boyfriend). taste is susceptible to hormonal causation. now, is hormonal activity causally determined by our genes? actually, the opposite seems to be the case.  so, does "nurture" win? this site presents four possible taste enhancers/inhibitors: 1- stress, 2- breathing through your mouth, 3- acid reflux, & 4- general sensitivity.

french sociologist pierre bordieu has written about taste in food & music as social indicators of "class" since "trends" in consumption seemingly correlate with an individual’s fit in society.  take for example our obsession with surgery as "cultural beauty," or our obsession with junk food (which really took off started in the 1970's). consumer interests based on differing social positions necessitates that each fraction "has its own artists and philosophers, newspapers and critics, just as it has its hairdresser, interior decorator, or tailor."

i suggest the following experiment: take a one-year-old child from argentina & japan and permutate their environments: the japanese to go to argentina and viceversa. do you see a problem for each child ending up eating the diet of the adoptive parents? after a few years you have a sushi-lover, meat-avoider argentinian & a steak-eater, raw-fish-avoider japanese.

2- as per hitler. are you familiar with godwin's law? let's try to avoid the guy for the time being. my contention is that there have been many hitlers in history --only we did not record their atrocities.

3- i passed over jose's last argument. i didn't really get it. but there was this other argument about why preferring a certain individual over another based on his/her intentional-volitional dispositions. and i wonder is it her ratnatraya dispositions that makes her special? i think of aristotle, for whom "character" (from the greek kharakter = engraved mark) is an expression of the volitional states of the human subject.

a good character a expresses (arete = "that which is good") his/her internal dispositions. so, via aristotle, all of a sudden ratnatraya makes sense! why is it good to cultivate rview, rknowledge, rfaith? because it makes the subject stand out spiritually. it's like asking: why would you prefer a friend that is forward, aware, honest & generous over one that is selfish, ignorant & dishonest?

is your preference a matter of preference or is it rather an attribute of his character?