Tasty Food and Yummy Sandwiches

‘Come on in and see all the tasty food you’re missing!’

The invitation was displayed on a sign outside a small-town retail shop I frequently pass on weekly jaunts off the farm.  Another gastronomically-oriented roadside ad I noticed more recently was a grand display enticing travelers to stop and enjoy ‘a yummy sandwich’.

Tasty food and yummy sandwiches.  The words have stuck in my mind like a fly in a fresh spiderweb.  What do we have here?  Tasty food!  Yummy sandwiches!  I suppose at first glance it’s not unusual: owners of the establishments want passers-by to know what they can expect of their experience should they choose to drop by for lunch.  Yet, on a much deeper level, the common descriptive words ‘tasty’ and ‘yummy’ speak a great volume about our perception of food.

Don’t get me wrong: food should taste good.  In fact, a 2014 report by C. Bushdid et al indicates that we are specifically designed to enjoy what we eat.  Our tongues can distinguish five different flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory), but we tend to forget that our noses play a tremendous role in our enjoyment of food.  In fact, according to Bushdid and his colleagues, olfactory receptors located in our nasal passage are capable of detecting over one trillion different aromatic compounds related to food.  The report summary mentions the human olfactory system exceeds all of our other senses by a wide margin in the number of stimuli it can detect.  Everyone loves to talk about the ability of their dog’s nose, but where was that information in school?

Everything in nature has a balance.  Nothing exists in an elaborate state if there is not an equally complex counterpart with which to interact.  So, if human beings can detect an extraordinary array of flavors, it’s not a great leap to conclude that food – raw ingredients, the stuff being pulled from the earth – contains an equal array of flavor compounds waiting to be detected.  Do you follow?  If we can taste it, it has to exist in our food because the ability to taste would not exist without the presence of flavor.  Truly I hope you are having a mini revelation right now.

I’ve lived and breathed ‘farm’ since before I can remember.  There hasn’t been a moment I didn’t want to do what my dad does, growing food for other people.  In pursuit of this desired lifestyle I spent my early years working with animals and reading all the farm publications.  I even went to college for it.  I was steeped in agricultural know-how since the day I was born.  And never once did a single person mention growing flavor.

Flavor has become something we dump on food rather than something contained in food.  Agriculture gave up on flavor somewhere along the line and became a very simplistic mindset of ‘grow as much as you can for as little as you can, forget the rest.’  As food became more abundant and more bland, a flavor industry – the balance – came into existence.  People are brilliant, and we figured out how to identify every flavor compound in everything we eat, synthesize it, and mass produce it.  Today food scientists search to identify the most craveable flavors, add these to their food products, and toss out the rest.  The potential for trillions of flavors is reduced and streamlined down to a familiar few, sloshed together, reheated, and served at a restaurant near you.  Interesting.

We’re coming full circle here, so stick with me.  My point is there is so much potential and complexity contained within our food that reducing it to being ‘yummy’ and ‘tasty’ seems like such a waste.  Three year olds talk about yummy food.  Yet, there it is, hanging on a sign, presumably targeting adults who are operating the vehicles cruising by.  Few of them likely even think about the simplistic significance of such an adjective.  Customers have to stop accepting ‘tasty’ as good enough at the grocery store, and, to add balance, farmers absolutely should tap into the resourcefulness of their brains to provide a little depth in the food department.

It took me quite a while to defer from conventional farm thought that revolves around feeding the world.  Such a lofty goal signals the need to grow a lot of something cheap.  Today I just want to feed our customers in and around Clarion.  That goal eliminates the always-getting-bigger rat race that modern agriculture has become and allows me to think more about growing food that tastes good rather than growing food that needs good tastes added to it after processing.  People, with their underused olfactory receptors sitting in their head begging for something real, deserve food that is grown with flavor in mind.

Friends, there is so much more to nourishment than finding something tasty to ingest.It’s an easy goal to pursue; find one farmer who will talk about flavor and get to know their family.Add a little diversity into your diet and try a ton of different foods (the fewer ingredients the better).Keep this idea in mind: YOU are built to LOVE food.Embrace that gift, seek its counterpart, and stay away from anything that seems just a little too basic.You might just find a whole new way to enjoy the world.