Evolving Palates

When I was a child, I tasted sour cream, and I immediately wondered, “why on earth would anyone willingly put that stuff into his mouth?” I had similar reactions with a number of other foods. Salsa. Mushrooms. Tomatoes. Broccoli. Blue cheese. Even cheddar cheese received a suspicious first hearing — it was too different from the Kraft singles I liked as a young child.

Today, I enjoy a host of foods that I never would have imagined eating, back then. Gorgonzola cheese. Tzatziki. Sushi with wasabi. Broccoli and mushrooms and capers and chicken marsala. And, of course, salsa and sour cream — who could imagine Mexican food without them?

There are still some foods that I don’t quite “get” yet. Soft cheeses like brie and camembert still don’t do much for me, for example. But I’m conscious that my palate has changed quite a bit over the years, and I know that it will probably continue changing. I may not like camembert much now, but who’s to say what I’ll think in five months or five years or five decades? Palates change.

My last food-metaphor post generated a lot of comments. One line of discussion that a few comments hinted at there, but which never really came out into the open, was the idea that palates change.

Will the same happen with the gospel? I can’t say, but it certainly seems like a possibility. Some aspects of church doctrine or culture may seem unpalatable to me today. But perhaps, in five months or five years or five decades, I will look back, shake my head, and say, like I do now about sour cream, “I can’t believe I used to hate X.”

So what should I do with the idea that palates change? For me, at least, there are a few ideas to take away. First, that I should hesitate before making any projections about my own future palate — because palates do change. Second, that I should be equally sanguine about my own preferences, now. My exact list of preferences right now isn’t any more me than the list of preferences that I held ten years ago. The same will apply to whatever preferences I hold ten years in the future.

I shouldn’t be overly present-focused in my thinking. My palate has changed before, and that it will change again. Some things that I find repugnant now, I will find delicious in the future; some things that I find delicious now, I will find bland in the future. The wheel turns, and I with it. Wasabi is not true or false or right or wrong in any permanent, metaphysical sense. Wasabi is right for me, right now. My limited perspective allows me to say no more.

Perhaps the same can be said — or perhaps not — for orthodoxy, heterodoxy, feminism, anti-feminism, and a hundred different ideas. I don’t know if I believe this, but the idea intrigues me.

At least, it intrigues me right now. Perhaps by tomorrow the wheel will have turned again, my palate will have changed, and I will think that this post is all silliness and inanity.

18 comments for “Evolving Palates

  1. Well, I think along with palates changing, the menu also evolves, if you don’t mind the extention of the metaphor.

    I was reading American Jesus, by Stephen Prothero, which contains a section titled ‘Mormon Elder Brother,’ which traces the evolution of Mormon emphasis. Prothero termed the early Church “Textual Mormonism,” based on the importantce of the Book of Mormon to the church at the time, and argues that Mormonism began as a religion of words and gradually developed into a religion of rites, citing the importance of the Temple, beginning in Nauvoo.

    The twentieth century brought assimilation, with a renewed emphasis on christocentricity, which I think has continued through the twenty first century, but I also think that we have been renewing our emphasis on Textual Mormonism, as evidenced by the challenge from Pres. Hinckley that we all read the Book of Mormon again (and again and again and again).

  2. “Perhaps the same can be said — or perhaps not — for orthodoxy, heterodoxy, feminism, anti-feminism, and a hundred different ideas.”

    What’s really distasteful is your idea that the truth and falsehood are just questions of taste, that being orthodox or heterodox is just a whim. If you were talking about how much we *like* various truths that would be one thing. Your post would be right and even inspiring. I used to loathe the doctrine of deification but now I find it very sweet (I thought it was true the whole time).

    But saying that its all just a matter of taste and palate is gross, in all senses, and nasty. It means you really are a Menu Mormon.

  3. Awww, Adam, I love it when you’re all warm and fuzzy like that.

  4. That warmth is heat, Kristine, and that fuzz is prickles. But I’ll take the love if its still on offer.

  5. Adam,

    I’m not sure I understand why you find the post . . . unpalatable. :P

    I don’t think that I’m saying that truth or falsehood are matters of taste. I’m saying that my palate changes, and with it my ability to see some things as right for me.

    In a sense, I’m making an indeterminacy argument, but it’s not as broad as you seem to be saying.

    I watch my children make objective statements about foods. They argue endlessly about which foods are yummy and which are yucky. They can spend ten minutes arguing over whether cottage cheese is yummy or yucky.

    I’m not really sure that an objective yummy or yucky exist. I can say that wasabi is hot, compared to most other foods. I don’t think that that’s an assessment that will change. But if I say that wasabi is yummy, today, I should be careful not to overstate. Wasabi is not objectively yummy in the same sense that it is objectively hot.

    Church doctrines are what they are. I may find some of them appealing and others unappealing right now. I can’t say that that mix will remain unchanged.

    As for truth and falsehood — it’s a very complicated question what we mean when we say the church is “true.” I’ve got a future post in the works on that one. But it’s a very unconventional use of the idea of truth, that an organization is true. Mostly, the truth/falsehood dichotomy applies to concrete statements and ideas. I.e., “2+2=4” is true. Or, “the idea that secret Israeli spies destroyed the WTC” is false.

    This dichotomy doesn’t really apply to the statement about the church, and that raises questions as to what we mean when we call the church true. It’s probably outside the scope of this thread, though.

  6. Kaimi,

    You’re the one who brought up orthodoxy and heterodoxy as largely matters of taste, and continue it here by suggesting that your children seem to think that their likes and dislikes for food are objective. I find this offensive and foul. When we debate about whether we should follow the Prophet, or whether the Book of Mormon is historical, or whether homosexual acts are wrong or home teaching is right, or what not, we are debating truth, not preferences. I reject your reductionism that says that there is no truth in these questions, just preference.

    “I’m saying that my palate changes, and with it my ability to see some things as right for me. ”

    This is what I’m objecting to. The truths of the restoration and of the church’s claims to authority are not things whose truth changes depending on changes in our preference and in what seems “right for me.” You’re still preaching consumerism.

  7. Adam,

    I don’t see myself as making that claim. I’m not saying that truth doesn’t exist. I am saying that I should be cautious about making inferences from the fact that something seems right for me, right now.

    I think that the idea of an evolving palate as to gospel doctrines is one that is very much consonant with the scriptures. Alma 32:28 tells us that the word “beginneth to be delicious to me.” What is that describing, if not a change in palate?

  8. When I was a kid, I hated olives. As an adult I read a terrific article by Truman Madsen in the Ensign, all about olive symbolism and the atonement. So I gave olives another try, and lo and behold, I really liked them. I’m not sure whether my palate had just matured or whether I was motivated by what I had read, or maybe a little bit of both, but I’m glad I can enjoy olives now.

    (Blue cheese and yogurt are other things I came to appreciate with time.)

  9. Kaimi, #7:
    we’re probably agreed then, though Alma seems to think that his evolving palate told him something about truth.

  10. Getting back on the subject of actual (not metaphorical) food, I think the foods you like have a lot to do with your parents and what foods they like. Breastfeeding babies can taste certain flavor components of what their mother eats– garlic comes to mind– and they get used to the taste. I eat a lot of exotic foods and cook with a lot of garlic, and none of my kids has ever liked baby food. My first refused to eat it, my second would eat it if I mixed spices into it (e.g. curry powder in the rice cereal), and I gave up trying to feed it to my third and just ground up some of whatever we were having for dinner. Now, our most popular dinners are enchiladas, chicken provencal, and saag paneer; my kids turn up their noses at tuna casserole.

    We also made a point of taking our kids out to dinner at a variety of ethnic restaurants. They will eat sushi and naan and escargot (although they said the escargot had too much pepper). My third child’s all time favorite food is edamame (soybeans).

  11. I think the notion of changing palates can be applied to spiritual growth, however to say anything serious on the subject one needs to correlate meta-ethics with meta-aesthetics. Neither are trivial fields, but rather ones that require very deep analysis. What is it that makes the truth taste good? What is good and why? What is beauty and why does beauty correlate with the good and the true? And so on…

  12. What’s beautiful and what’s good is what’s not out of balance for it’s purpose, what’s evocative of rightful pleasure, what’s useful?

    What’s true is what doesn’t purposely mislead, what openly expresses experience?

  13. My family is from Eastern Europe. When I was growing up sour cream was a staple. We served it with everything. There was always at least a pint of it in the fridge. We NEVER ran out of sour cream.

    What I’m trying to say here is that in addition to our individual palates changing over the course of a lifetime, our palates (openess to certain truths) can also be influenced by our cultural background or the part of the world we were raised in. It’s always interesting for me to see how aspects of the gospel are received in different cultures.

    For example, the word of wisdom is still true in France and Germany, even though it may be a harder truth to sell because drinking wine and beer is so much a part of their everyday life.

    This works both ways. One Sunday our ward was visited by a stake high councilman who had been raised as a Sikh. As part of his talk he said, “to eat a diet high in fat and meat flies in the face of the word of wisdom.” Needless to say quite a number of people sat up in their seats that day.

    It was hard to argue with the spirit of what he was saying. But for a congregation raised on burgers and steaks, our cultural background had not prepared us to embrace that particular truth. From his cultural perspective, however, it was as natural as breathing. Just as it would never occur to me to think of sour cream as an exotic food.

  14. Very thoughtful. I\’m usually just a consumer of T&S but the discussion between Kaimi and Adam has introduced an interesting concept. Might there be a more dynamic relationship between our \”palate\” for revealed truth and the amount of truth that is revealed? Is that not what phrases like \”line upon line\” and \”I have fed you with milk, and not with meat\” are referring to? Perhaps as our portion of truth becomes more palatable–either personally or collectively (1978 revelation on priesthood?)–new \”entrees\” become available in our spiritual smorgasbord.

  15. Great post. I think the analogy works – as illustrated by Alma\’s scripture. Of course, once delicious and nutritious food can become lethal if handled incorrectly (e. coli and mad cow disease, anyone?). Not sure what this means for the analogy, though. Perhaps violent fundamentalist movements = adulterated and, now, poisonous food.

  16. And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
    (D&C 93:24)

  17. As the sun began to decline behind the long range of forest which bounded the western horizon, and the lengthened shadows of the tall trees were thrown over our prison, we called upon the Lord to prosper us and open our way, and then sang aloud the following lines:

    Lord, cause their foolish plans to fail,
    And let them faint or die:
    Our souls would quit this poor old jail,
    And fly to Illinois–
    To join with the embodied Saints,
    Who are with freedom blest:
    That only bliss for which we pant,
    With them awhile to rest.
    Give joy for grief–give ease for pain,
    Take all our foes away;
    But let us find our friends again
    In this eventful day.

    These lines were sung several times over, with the spirit and with the understanding also, and very loud and distinct–being heard by the old apostate and his wife, and by the keepers of the prison; but the doctrine of spiritualizing had become so prevalent that neither this, nor the flag of liberty, nor any other Scripture seemed to them to have any literal meaning, till they found too late the true interpretation by the fulfillment.
    (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ch. 32)

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