Where Flavor Really Comes From

My motivation for writing this post was sparked by two misconceptions that I frequently encounter with those who challenge or simply inquire about my nutritional preferences. I don’t eat meat and I don’t eat dairy products. This is often met with many objections about following an “unbalanced” diet. As if stuffing one’s self with meat and dairy is healthier? Anyway, I find that for those who are entertaining a plant-based or vegan way, another misconception or objection is that a plant-based way of eating would be too bland or flavorless for them. It is this second misconception I want to address.

Before addressing flavor specifically, I think it is important to understand taste. It’s amazing how when you become more conscious and compassionate about your eating habits how it makes you want to learn more about your body. In this case, let’s briefly analyze the tongue. Before making any objections about lacking flavor one should understand taste itself. If one understands this it will remove this barrier or excuse (as the case may be) to adopting a more compassionate nutritional path.

There is some misinformation about the taste buds and what they can do. We have the ability (barring any issues) to taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savory). We don’t sense these different tastes in any particular part of the tongue. They may all be sensed on different areas of the tongue. That said, some tastes like bitterness seem to be particularly noticeable at the back of the tongue. This presumably has served human evolution by letting us know that a food was spoiled or poisonous. We then would gag or spit it out before swallowing it. At least if we’re lucky! There are about 2000-4000 buds on the tongue that renew every week. Amazing!

I have read different sources that the sides of the tongue are more sensitive to taste than the middle. But, taste buds don’t only exist on the tongue but also in the nose. Ever notice how when you have a stuffy nose that your ability to taste food diminishes or even ceases? The taste buds in the tongue alone are not enough. We need the taste buds in the nose. Additionally, there are taste buds (or taste cells) in the sinuses and the epiglottis that aid the tasting experience. So that’s an extremely brief overview of the tongue and its relation to taste.

Now let’s talk about flavor. I find it quite baffling that the die-hard proponents of eating meat believe that meat adds flavor to food. It certainly adds calories and other items, some of which are even beneficial like protein. Protein is the BIG red flag waved against going plant-based. People say “you’re going to become protein deficient.” Again, that’s completely false, but perhaps we’ll respond to that another time. Who uses meat to season food? The answer is no one. They just believe that they do. If you were to take a chunk of meat and cook it up just the way you like it, and then attempt to eat it, I’d wager you would not enjoy it. Why? It would lack flavor!

What makes one remain addicted to eating meat is simply not looking at how one makes meat “taste good.” It’s by seasoning. Seasoning with what? More meat? No one seasons meat with plants, herbs, fruits and spices! Try it yourself. Cook up your burger or bar-b-q your chicken and then just eat it. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it. All of a sudden what you once believed to be so flavorful would in fact be nearly if not entirely flavorless! As someone who was once a macho man meat eating machine, I use to use the “flavor objection” to avoid changing. But, after studying the tongue and flavor I could no longer hide behind that as an excuse not to go plant-based. So I just came up with other excuses of course haha!

My point in sharing this is two-fold. First, I hope it encourages you to look more deeply into taste and flavor. You won’t need to get technical about it. It’s very clear cut. Secondly, I want to remove this false misconception that meat is where the flavor is. I want to remove this excuse and crutch from your defense. Just be honest enough to say that I’m addicted to meat. Or, simply admit that “tradition”, comfort and “customs” mean more to you than being more compassionate and conscious about harming sentient beings and the earth by your eating choices. But, don’t launch flimsy arguments about how tasteless or flavorless food would be without meat. As I said, I challenge you to continue eating your meat without any ingredients or seasonings not derived from plant, vegetable, fruit, spices or herbs and see if meat still tastes so good that you’d still eat it. Well, that’s all. The flavorless excuse for not going plant-based is crushed…

-Sensei Derek Fletcher

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