On Taste (Part 1)

Most mornings when we get up, Robbie and I pay attention to the sounds around us. We name 5 things, taking into account the sounds inside and outside of the house. It is a technique we use sometimes throughout the day to bring us “back in”, to center or calm when the input of the day through learning, technology, and play can overwhelm the body and mind.

In June of 2016, Robbie and I left to tent camp in the U.S. National parks. As we went, we became more and more aware of sounds, smells and color. After 2 months of outdoor living, we made our way to Whistler and Victoria, British Columbia to visit family, transitioning from there back to Washington, DC. What we noticed in our time away was the ability to discern and pay attention to subtle variations to color, the wind and sounds in the wind and sky. Our ability to enjoy our environment improved, yet we also were aware of needing more time to do the “senses” thing.

So we continued our trip at the end of August after 2 weeks in the city, making our way to the Mt. Rainier National Park, Waterton-Glacier National Park, Lava Hot Springs, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Death Valley. Again, our sense became enlivened and balanced by each park. Each week we spent at a park, we accommodated the terrain, the altitude, the wildlife, the flora, the temperature drops, and the people we met while camping. Each sense was fed by the surrounding, and each was sometimes overstimulated by the cumulative 1000 hours of Greek/Roman/Egyptian/Norse mythology we went through, making the experience of the parks rich in mythology, archetypes, battles of good and evil along with the sheer majesty of something so much larger than who we are.

We listened to stories and listened to the wind. We went to water rituals for the Standing Rock reservation in the Pueblos of New Mexico. We took in much and slept hard. Yet the one sense we didn’t explore was taste, mostly because it was just more difficult and we are already exploring so much already.

Now that we are here in the Washington DC area again, we have been exploring taste with smell and touch.

When bring awareness to a “sense”, whether it is hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or touch, it is important to pause from whatever activity we are doing, particularly if it is a child. In the parks, we would find a quiet place to sit and notice what we heard, or draw what we saw in quiet.

Each sense has its own neurological network that extends from the receptor (ear/eye/nose/tongue/finger tips) through pathways of the body to the brain. If you notice how some children (and parents) have their meltdown’s in the afternoon, very often it is the “neurology” of the body saying enough. Punishing them for acting out is very often not the answer, nor are rooms with screaming children full of activity with no place to calm down. Instead, going outdoors in a natural surrounding, or in a quiet room with phone and t.v. off and paying attention to 1 sense or quietly focused on 1 activity with the hands can break the spell and stimulation of input. Without it, we keep our bodies and minds in constant stimulation, activating and overstimulating the addiction parts of the brain.

The interesting thing about taste is that the taste bud receptors have their own built in survivor reflex right at the tongue that will tell the child/person “no”, barring that the taste buds send a message to the brain stem and higher centers saying yes according to what we need and as we age, what we prefer. That preference can be because the body actually needs the food, such as a sugar if energy is low or salt if dehydrated, and can also be related to the need for comfort and a cognitive overlay from conditioning. Discerning this is more possible when we teach ourselves about taste.

We have 5 basic tastes to choose from: sweet, umami (amino acid), sour, bitter, and salty. Umami is the “taste” that makes us seek the most nutritiously dense food, such as breast milk, soy, meat, parmesan cheese and other foods rich in amino acids. While babies are born with all their taste buds, having more in fact than they will as adults, this is more of a survival mechanism between discerning what is pleasant and unpleasant, and less about sweet/salty/bitter/sour/umami. Babies have more nerve endings and greater development at the mouth than in their fingers, so things get popped into their mouth. From there, taste says “no or yes”. If neutral, it stays. If pleasant, it stays. If it is bitter or sour and some salty, out it goes. Breast milk is a taste nectar of pleasure for babies as it combines umami and sweet. Survival doesn’t get any better than this.

Yet as kids age, and more systems in the body start to develop, such as eye hand coordination, walking and fine motor skills, the sense of taste become less and less important. Unfortunately in situations where people are worried about money and are living in food deserts in the inner city, the readily available foods are foods drowned in salt and sugar, making the development of taste take a back burner, and setting up children for a lifetime of chronic illness through allergies, obesity, attention deficit disorder, sensory processing issues, and delinquency.

Even with the availability of fresh vegetables and fruit, whether because of time, culture or just not knowing, children and adults don’t learn how tastes combine to make them feel good. The focus then becomes on losing weight, getting fit and working harder, when by just having an understanding about what combinations taste good and are best for the body, time and energy can be saved, and add much pleasure to life. Also the ability to listen to the body, and have awareness of knowing when it has had enough becomes easier.

So all this to say, Robbie and I decided to focus on taste this past week. We are integrating movement, chemistry, touch, and taste in separate modules and “eating our results”.