The Arcs And Architeture Of Taste, Part II:


Manufacturing Desire

In architecture, above all else, quality is what doesn’t fall down. A stair is done well if it’s easy to climb. Windows can be adjusted to the price of glass and of energy.

Architecture is continuously tested, and advances seamlessly as resources or techniques advance. No contest was held forcing us to choose the Arch over the Post and Lintel, it was tried, and it made sense. When things make sense, we follow life’s rules. As Le Corbusier said in response to tenant complaints in one of his buildings: “Life is never wrong.” This is an amazing remark coming from one of the gods of a profession known for its egotism. Imagine a chef greeting a returned Soufflé with ‘Life is never wrong”.

So how did we end up with a diet which is making us sick?

The basic building blocks of our diet are protein, carbohydrate and fat. In the natural world the proportions are governed by the environment, and the animals in those environments adapt to their resources. That’s why an omnivore like the Panda can survive on bamboo. (Though they don’t seem happy about it.) People look around them, find something to eat, and that’s their diet. Philosophies and strategies of food selection are what every culture calls their Taste,

Our body can be fed by the simple ingestion of nutrients. Basic Architecture, like this:


…and later, when there’s time and money, we enhance, ornament and combine our food so it develops into a Cuisine, rather than just a meal:

In a building, some elements provide structure, and others bind those elements together. In food, there are binders also. And that requires more complex resources. With time came travel, transportation, globalization. Not new. Columbus set out to find spices. The HMS Bounty was laden with breadfruit. And always there was salt. Explorers traveled thousands of miles for this simple chemical—not a food, not even a spice—a seasoning no culture wants to do without, and which the human body cannot survive without. Salt has provoked wars, civic protests, and economic upheaval, and remains one of the world’s universal dietary “Keystones”.

There are also regional ones. For the French it’s bread and wine, for the Japanese it’s Soy. In India it’s spices.

As cuisines develop we lose some ingredients, add new ones, and combine old ones in new ways. It’s a process, much like language. The rough monoliths at Stonehenge are replaced by Notre Dame, which made room for the Pompidou Center, and on it goes. Complexity develops, possibilities expand. But only if they work.

The Pompidou Museum, Paris. Architecture as a “machine for living.”

Culture develops much faster than biology, especially when there’s money to be made.

In the early 20th Century, something new happened, something radical; something which changed the very way our tastes develop: Mechanization, preservation. Sugar went from a crop to an industry, And America the Beautiful loved nothing more than industry. Yes, we built great things which held the world together, but in the Kitchen, everything fell apart. Our resources advanced at lightening speed, but of course our bodies did not. This disconnect caused a seismic shift in our tastes, which we see around us every day both in cause, (sugar everywhere), and effect, (diabesity). We adopted a new Keystone, a new cement: Sugar. But we were fooled: sugar binds nothing, it lends everything a sameness, it’s the ‘open sesame’ to our palates. Where other ingredients accent and heighten flavors, sugar dulls them, blankets them. Sugar doesn’t really engage flavor, it neutralizes it. It deadens our tastes, and kills our curiosity for flavors. (Maybe it’s because sugar has no aroma, but that’s another, long discussion). Big business likes this. They make money, and no one complains. It’s a lullaby sung to bored children, and it has put our tastes to sleep.

 It’s everywhere, used in ways which until recently would have seemed ridiculous, (see below), because it doesn’t work. It doesn’t make food work. What to do? As with any white powder, you increase the dosage.

But, we’re not quite finished. What do you do when you have too much of something? You create need. How? Advertising. Advertising and the manipulation of taste through marketing. And that’s how we got to be a society which spends over two billion dollars a year trying to persuade children to eat more candy.

Humans once survived on about twenty-four teaspoons of sugar, about four ounces, per year. The average American consumes nearly 200 pounds per year, an increase of 800 times. And even though we know that it’s a habit and not a biological need, we go crazy trying to justify our cravings. There’s no rationale behind it, besides the commercial one. And there’s no culinary, dietary or esthetic reason for it. It’s just a habit. We know for example that sugar does nothing to quench thirst. It’s a dehydrator, yet we drink it when we’re thirsty, when we need hydration. Do you doubt that sugar drinks quench thirst? Try one. Right away, you want another. Most people don’t notice. They believe it cures thirst because, why else would else would you want another? Drugs are sneaky things.


The Missing Link: Consent.

And that’s how the ‘Architecture’ of our cuisine collapsed into itself, and we have dessert six times a day. Our biology is out of synch with our resources. But it didn’t happen by force, we let it happen. And we can stop it, although the following anecdote will show you how difficult that may prove to be.

An Artisanal Beef Jerky Maker in Berkeley, (The Berkeley), adds sugar to all of his organic artisinal beef Jerky products. He claims it helps ‘Balance’ the beef. ‘Balance’ what? ‘Balance’ how? Since when does Beef Jerky need balancing? Well, it needs balancing when you can’t taste anything besides sugar. Your palate has been trained too well. So you add sugar to your beef jerky, and you call it yummy. Or if you’re a Hipster, you call it balancing, or “adding complexity”, because it sounds important, (and Awesome! of course). But it’s not balancing, it isn’t adding complexity, it’s actually suppressing the flavor. Chocolate lovers know this, fine chocolate has far less sugar than the candy counter varieties. The legendary hams of France, Italy, and Spain contain only two ingredients: Ham and salt. If you went to Madrid, or Paris, and asked for sugar to be added to a Ham they’d think you were on drugs. Or American. It would be like adding a laugh track to Hamlet. But our tastes have been trained to shout a lusty YES! when we taste sugar. The answer is always YES! Would you like some sugar in your bacon? YES! Sugar in your Mayonnaise? YES! Mustard? Horseradish? Bread? Soups…Sauces…Salad Dressings? Sugar in your Pizza, your potatoes, beans?!!!? YES!! And we can pretend that it adds ‘complexity’ and ‘balance’, though really, all it does is make everything taste the same.

And that’s so comfortable for us, so easy, so nice.

We always say Yes.


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