Taste

The Lost Sense, or Why the Culinary Arts Should Integrate with Art Education

Published in
Issue #01

A Conversation Between Peter Klosse and Peter Sonderen

Abstract

This conversation inquires why the culinary arts—representing the sense of taste in relation to food—have hardly found ground in art education. The optical, the audible, the touchable and moveable have found fertile ground in all kinds of art disciplines, whereas the sense of taste and tasting, historically connected to the aesthetic judgment of artistic objects par excellence, has hardly found refuge for its proper object, i.e., food. This conversation shows that the field of taste and food has much in common with many aspects of the arts. Although there have been (and increasingly are) experiments with food in fine art and design, there were hardly any serious attempts to integrate the ‘art of cooking’ or the ‘art of the culinary’ into art education. Just like the art of architecture provides ideas and designs for a basic human need—i.e., housing—the art of the culinary should provide ideas and designs for this other basic human need—food. This lack or omission has become increasingly critical nowadays because of the controversial role the food industry plays in our appreciation and judgement of food. The food industry has invested a lot of money to inquire about the role and workings of taste, but it has deliberately kept this knowledge for itself. It is, therefore, time that in our age of food crises, new knowledge domains be opened to develop new vistas for food and food production. The art university with its expanding interest in research in and through the arts can provide both an interesting and necessary environment for a genuine art of taste and tasting. Taste and food, and the other senses, would be working together in an entanglement of fresh frames of thought and practices.


Peter Sonderen (PS):

When we were preparing the Food Friction conference[1] in Arnhem (November 2018), I suggested inviting you as one of its participants. Later on, I learned that you had indeed accepted the invitation. We finally met in a restaurant the evening before the conference. Although we would participate in separate sessions the next day, our table talk that night led to a reciprocal interest in our working fields. To sum up, you represented the world of food and especially the world of gastronomy, and I represented the art school, or more generally, art education and research in the arts.

One of our preliminary findings was that art education has, worldwide, hardly developed its own field of inquiry into taste; that is, taken in its physical, sensorial sense. Art education had developed room for many aspects of the body, such as movement, the visual, the auditory and the tactual. The olfactory and the organ of taste or gustatory organ, however, seem to have found no place at all within an art educational context.

Of course, many visual artists and designers have inquired into these fields, but what I mean is that there is barely any specialised art academy department for matters concerning food and taste.[2] This is remarkable. If we want to explain this, and that is a bit the effect of the road that I took here by restricting it to the sensorial, the hierarchy of senses that seem to have ruled in the past is implicit or perhaps even explicit. It has reigned in the domain of the arts, it has formed philosophical aesthetics, and it was reflected in and by society. The current societal domain of taste seems, however, to indicate a big change.

The growing population—by which I mean its increasing obesity as well—seems to indicate that matters of taste are increasing accordingly. That is to say, the question of taste is parallelled by an explosion of food matters. The latter goes hand-in-hand with the visual and the smell-able. If we enter our transitory places, like a railway station, for instance, we really have to run to our train, otherwise we will be caught by the offers of the numerous instant food vendors. Matters related to taste—I am not talking about good or bad taste—pop up everywhere now. The olfactory domain invades all our lives. It has become part of our experience economy. The recent development of food halls in many cities is only another instance of this mood of variety in experience; here, it is an encounter with a presumed multicultural aspect of food in the world.

So here we are. Taste is connected to the arts, to philosophy, and to society. A nice trio for our dialogue, don’t you agree? I think it worthwhile to co-inquire how tasting and flavour, the duo that you have put central to your research, especially in your The Essence of Gastronomy, relate to the other sensorial agents and their relation to the arts. Knowing that you want to inquire the possibility of connecting this field with art education, we have to look back a while in history to understand the current status quo. We also have to consider that art education is going through a radical change from being an educational institute into a research-centred place. Although art education is still focussed on providing the best environment, such as up-to-date teachers, apt buildings, state-of-the-art machines etc. for the student to develop their own talent, the how to reaching that point is changing considerably and rapidly. The focus on art research, which develops into many forms, changes its emphasis.

Although artists have always had an inquisitive approach with regard to their work, judging their work also as research implies another attitude because research—as is generally accepted—presupposes at least an explicit questioning of some kind of problematics and, in addition, a public opening or defence of the making process. That is to say, the whole artistic research, which is an inquisitive process, should be open to be questioned by others. This means that there is a certain publicness or openness beforehand, not only afterwards. Research, therefore, centralises the processes involved and their ramifications, and not only fixed outcomes.

If we go on to inquire how tasting and flavour could find their way into future art education, then these new approaches towards the arts in art education should be taken into consideration. With them, societal connections also come organically to the fore, because artistic research implies a systematic connection to the other. Taking the other into consideration is, perhaps, the basis of any society.

What do you think? Can we continue our conversation on this basis? And could you explain why flavour and tasting have become so important to you?

Peter Klosse (PK):

Temptation.

It is the first word that jumps to my mind. We are all tempted to consume more than we should. Apparently, the food industry does a very good job of seducing us into buying, eating and drinking all kinds of stuff for their benefit. Clearly, they know well what we like and how to tempt us—even when we do not need to eat. Their products are the result of very effective research on all aspects involved with food consumption. They know how to trigger our senses. The result of their success is reflected in our current food behaviour. The mass consumption of the so-called ultra-processed foods is directly connected to the increase in chronic diseases and climate change.[3]

Is this the first of hopefully many insights that our dialogue will generate? There is a lot of food research. It is hardly available in the public domain, however. Most of what is known is proprietary and in the hands of companies. They understand deliciousness and liking, and apply this knowledge successfully and beneficially on a global scale. Apparently, they even make you run at a train station to escape from all their temptations. Isn’t that something to wonder about? Should we consider them as a new breed of industrial artists that attract us on an unprecedented scale?

The more artisanal food artists, like kitchen chefs, don’t have research resources. Not even an institution to go to. I even doubt whether many people would use the same words to describe educational culinary institutions as you use to describe art education. ‘Providing the best environment (up-to-date teachers, apt buildings, state-of-the-art machines etc.)?’ I know of a few culinary centres in the world that could match that description, but it is certainly not the standard.

Do we prepare our culinarians to be able to seduce their customers? Have they been helped to develop their own talent? How have they been trained to start with? And, from a societal angle, are they well prepared for the world of food of today that has fundamentally changed? Furthermore, culinary research is just starting at some of these institutions in the world. You stated it correctly: the olfactory and gustatory senses have hardly found a place in an art educational context. It is done in the laboratories of the food industry, behind the closed doors. That is why we need to have this conversation! The world of real food (as opposed to industrial food) needs help. Now. We need to take a new look at food consumption, and—for that matter—the history of our senses.

I always make the distinction between food (and drink) and how we perceive it. It is the difference between flavour (what products have) and tasting (what people do). Or, in other words, to start understanding the deliciousness and liking of the real foods, we need to gain understanding, just as our industrial ‘friends’ have. We need to know about the factors that influence our preferences and ultimate food behaviour. Education and research are crucial in this development. People won’t like me saying it and some may even strongly disagree, but metaphorically speaking, culinary education and practice is still somewhere in the Middle Ages, organised like in the guild system with masters and apprentices, focussed on passing on the tricks of the trade. It is time for a culinary renaissance.

Oh—I almost forgot—flavour and tasting are so important to me because I was born in a restaurant with a Michelin star. I grew up in it and continued in my father’s footsteps. In my professional life, I wanted to get a better understanding of the trade and especially wine and food pairing. I ended up developing the knowledge, including a system to classify tastes, which I defended in my PhD.

PS:

Rereading our first lines, it indeed seems as if we are in the middle of preparing the kitchen—not yet the food—and putting all the machines, ingredients and other stuff in place. But what is the kitchen heading for, where and how shall it start, what does it need, and who is it for? And what about your introductory word ‘temptation,’ which immediately, I do not know why, reminded me of the old English saying, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating,’ which was instantly changed in my mind into ‘not only in the eating.’ This latter extension probably appeared to me because you make a sharp distinction between the flavour (what products have) and the tasting (what people do). In current new materialist philosophy,[4] thinking in a dualist mode has become rather suspicious. Dualistic thinking, which is always related to the Cartesian tradition, implies a strong anthropocentric approach to the world. The world only exists by and through us. In reaction to this, the philosopher Karen Barad introduced the term ‘intra-actions’ to stress the concurrency of human and non-human agents.[5] There is not a before, only a concurrency, an entanglement of agents. I have also called my latest publication The Entanglement of Theory and Practices in the Arts. This emphasises a non-hierarchical situation of how theory and practices in art interact.[6]

This is not to say that theory is the non-human and practice the human or vice versa; it rather points towards a non-hierarchical mode (in art, theory for ages used to be the normative and final law on which art was built). I like to view theory, therefore, also as a practice, and practice as a theory. There are differences between them, of course, and theory also has its own domain, yet its specific quality and activity in the arts is no longer to be prescriptive or descriptive, but rather to be co-scriptive. That is to say, it also (trans-)forms the works of art, and works of art also produce theory. Transferred to your words, theory is also a doing. It is not a fixed entity, but a means, a vehicle, to get a grip on changes and changing; it is not interested in the static and the fixing.

To return to your statement: There is a world of flavour-y things (or do you refer exclusively to human-made things with the word ‘products’?) and the active human world that discovers and unlocks all their qualities by tasting. Things seem to become only passive carriers of qualities, and man uses his body to actively inquire, connect or disconnect them. Seen from a new materialist view, I am curious to know if you see human taste and material flavour as interactions, or, perhaps, also as intra-actions? The first presupposes that the agents remain the same, although changes occur. The second implies that the agents do only come to the fore due to this relationship.

Another contrast. If I look at the words ‘real food,’ which you used (you mentioned them to contrast industrial food), I immediately understand what you intend. Real is meant here as the unspoiled and the untouched (free from commercial values, etc.). But what do we in fact know about this presumed realness? Can we really discern between original, untouched and unhuman products or things, and so-called industrial food? Is industrial food not an enlargement of food in general? What I mean is, can we still refer to realness, to originality, to unspoiledness? Is food (or what we use as ingredients for food) not already completely humanised as well? Which is to say, are the tasty things not only tasty for us? Basil is only produced for its typical flavour and not, for instance, because it is a weak yet lively green plant that likes to grow in groups and spread its odours. In other words, is the flavour of basil not only a relational thing, i.e., that it only exists in its relatedness to and for us?

Maybe I am exaggerating a bit now. What I am really interested in is how the professional food maker—let’s call them the cook—and matter—the possible ingredients of food—are related. You say that current cooks are generally not well informed and not prepared for the world of food that has changed considerably. I think you are right. Their making is embedded in theoretical and practical agents that are founded in what you call a Middle-Aged hierarchical world of masters and pupils—in short, in a guild system. Although this system can be fruitful and effective (see, for instance, Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman), it is founded on strict beliefs and procedures.

It is also a system based on in- and exclusion. It is protective, and it is based on tradition and habit. It hardly likes changes (and therefore creativity, which was developed as a concept only around 1800, especially within the arts); change is only accepted at the very top, viz. the master. This kind of master system that was dominant for many ages in art schools (and still flourishes in the classical music-oriented conservatories, for instance) has been abandoned in (fine) art education at the moment that ‘eternal beauty,’ as Gombrich coined it, was also no longer valid.

This change happened when the focus in art education (and not in the art world itself, which had changed already much earlier) was no longer pointed at the fixed system of aesthetic rules but the introduction of the possible. Students in the sixties of the twentieth century no longer had to endorse the system but were given the opportunity to develop their own relationship towards the larger world and (supposed) development of art. It was, therefore, the introduction of idiosyncrasy that was formed in (modern) art outside of the art schools since the nineteenth century, but not inside the schools yet. This turn to one’s own artistic voice is now still dominant in many art disciplines.

What is the voice of the cook? If we want to inquire how the art of cooking, if we may call it that, would fit into the current art educational system, we should analyse what kind of art it would resemble the most. Although there is a tendency to de-discipline the (art) disciplines in order to open domains for each other, I think it is worthwhile to compare them, anyway, as if they are family members.

So, does the cook look like:

  • the (fine) artist
  • the designer (fashion, product, graphic, etc.)
  • the musician (classical, pop, jazz, etc.)
  • the architect
  • the writer
  • the performer (dance, theatre)?

At first sight, cooks should have the ability to remake or reinterpret existing recipes. This would bring them into the category of performing arts: music, dance, theatre. Because inventing or creating new things is also an important part of the cook’s job, however, it would connect to almost all other arts. So, retaking and invention are the two sides of the cook. If we take the invention aspect further, this means that cooking could be on par with the art of sculpture as it has developed since the 1960s. Sculptors were looking for all kinds of new or other materials that could express their artistic quest. They were no longer obliged to stick to the traditional techniques or materials. It was their way of coping with one’s own relationship with art and the world. Maybe we can elaborate on this further? Or perhaps this is too restricted a way of thinking about food?

Still another question lingers: Is the withheld knowledge that the food industry has produced, as you said, important for the future ‘artist-cook’ (a title I would prefer before ‘designer-cook’)? Is seducing the audience (eating audience) the main goal?

PK:

Thank you for your rich reply, full of questions and contemplations. Let me start by answering your last question: yes, seducing the audience is the main goal. To put this in perspective: I believe that liking is the motor of food choices. Nobody objects to eating something that they consider delicious (mind the phrasing: it has to do with the issue of interaction, which I will address later). We must realise that ‘liking’ is a relative new luxury in the world of eating and drinking. For a long time—until about the sixties—people (the rich and famous excluded) were not in the position to worry about liking. Food was basically scarce; you ate what nature provided. The refrigerator entered our households in the second half of the fifties. Until then, you ate either what was freshly available, or whatever you conserved before by drying, pickling, brining, fermenting or confectioning.

The food system—from farm to fork—has fundamentally changed. The way the modern, affluent, twenty-first century person eats is different than ever before. Food has become abundantly available and cheap. Every part of the food system, farming methods, food production and distribution, has profoundly been transformed. There is food security, and by now there are more people who suffer from over-nourishment than hunger.

Additionally, we now know that this progress has come at a price. We experience problems associated with the loss of biodiversity, soil depletion, climate change, plastic soup, antibiotics and unwanted chemicals in our water and foods, and an uncontrolled growth of chronic diseases. The so-called ultra-processed foods of today have for a large part replaced real foods globally. These hyper-technological foods are made with preparation methods that we have never seen before; molecules have been modified without really knowing much about the consequences. So, yes, we can discern industrial food from real food; they can be lightly processed or eaten raw, directly from nature.

In retrospect, the decisions that we’ve made have had rather negative effects on the planet and the people, to put it mildly. This is widely recognised in recent global publications by the Club of Rome (come on!), the World Economic Forum (Innovation with a Purpose: The Role of Technology Innovation in Accelerating Food Systems Transformation), and the World Health Organization. The last-mentioned organisation is looking for ‘bold and innovative solutions to accelerate prevention and control of the leading killers on the planet: the non-communicable or chronic diseases,’ which are responsible for seven out of ten death these days.[7] In 2015, the United Nations adopted seventeen Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world: the 2030 agenda. Goals like climate action, life on land, life below water, good health, zero hunger, responsible consumption and production are all directly or indirectly related to food. There is no room for denial. We need to act to stop chronic diseases and degrading the planet. The big question is how?

This elaboration about the current state of our society is needed to explain why it is so important to seduce the audience. We need a system change because the present system is not sustainable. Making different, better food choices would have quite an impact and, therefore, I say that we need to focus on liking. The better choices need to be just as convenient, affordable and tasty as the ones we are asking the people to give up. Designing delicious dishes is a mission for the future.

That brings me to one of your other points: What does the cook look like? They can be a bit of everything you mention, including the performer. However, the role of the architect/designer seems to be the most needed from a societal point-of-view. Just suppose cooks would be educated as architects. They would learn about material and form. They would be stimulated to be creative and come up with new solutions if that is called for by the situation. It may require—and I quote you—a ‘focus that is no longer pointed to the fixed system of aesthetic rules (cultural traditions and recipes…) but the introduction of the possible.’ Shall we call it food choice architecture?

So, how does this relate to your other contemplations in this dialogue, the aspect of interaction and the question about the relationship between the professional food maker, the cook, and matter? I often use the following illustration to clarify this relation. You’ll be happy to see the interaction and entanglement, I suppose.

The cook works with products (natural, or processed to some degree), and this ‘matter’ has certain qualities or properties, if you want. Understanding ‘matter’ is crucial for design. Like an architect needs to understand the properties of building materials. However creative, a building should not fall apart or be dangerous to live in. Similarly, foods should be good to eat and well designed. On the other side is the person, the consumer, or the audience, equipped with senses to assess and evaluate the edible products. We hypothesise that a positive response (liking) is expected to generate repeat behaviour. Because people are different, there will never be one positive response; there is not one ‘right’ answer. This seems to be in line with the new materialist philosophy: liking is an interaction between the product and the consumer.

To conclude, all of the above is meant to shed a light on the question you started with: ‘What is the kitchen heading for, where and how shall it start, what does it need and who is it for?’ Ideally, the kitchen is heading towards playing a pivotal role in changing food behaviour. To do this, it needs to have a profound understanding of liking, which is an interaction between material (what we eat and drink) and its consumption, based on a human assessment all the human senses (not only the olfactory and the gustatory ones). It is meant for people that aspire to curb food behaviour in a way that is better for the people and the planet. It should start as soon as possible! We need well-educated cooks, food-choice architects, to inspire the change.

PS:

Liking. Hmmm. I think in Dutch the effect of this would translate to: ‘Ik vind het gewoon lekker.’ So, producing ‘good’ food should nowadays be about entering and conquering the domain of appreciation in its bare, rude and unsophisticated form, which has been the domain, up until now, of industry, especially since post-war times. Its tactic should be to influence and to reposition the seduced. You also stated that the industry has the knowledge of all seducing acts, and that it has kept it secret, or at least unavailable. This implies that this knowledge should become open access and should be used for better goals. Seduction is the set-out imperative.

Because we are talking about food’s/the cook’s relationship to the arts, I suggest continuing our comparison. As you have shown, you feel comfortable with the field of architecture; you introduced, therefore, the term ‘food choice architecture’ to express the parallel. I suppose your predilection is connected partly to the idea of usability. Food should be made well because it is good for people’s health. A house should be built because people have to be protected from the climate and other threats. In both cases, utility or usability is common. But what about arts that do not have a straight(-forward) approach to these concerns? Or that show other connections?

Let me take an example from recent art history. In the seventies, a growing number of artists became interested in food, especially in its social meaning, its uniting force, and its disconnectedness from the art market. Galleries or studios were, for instance, changed in places to eat together. We only have to think of the former architecture student, Gordon Matta-Clark. His restaurant FOOD in SoHo became legendary: The following notice appeared in the Fall 1971 issue of the vanguard art magazine Avalanche: ‘On Saturday, September 25, to mark the unofficial opening of FOOD, an artist-run restaurant at 127 Prince Street, free garlic soup, gumbo, chicken stew, wine, beer, and homemade breads were served to friends, gallery-goers, and passers-by until late in the evening.’[8] His recipe for neighbourhood people (in the seventies) was reenacted and recooked in 2010 by the École Culinaire.[9] Fine art, so it seems, displays another kind of relationship towards food. Food is about connecting in the first place.

But no, stop. And sorry for the interruption.

As another French female philosopher, Catherine Malabou, has shown, our brains are rather sculptural, in the sense that habits are formed and can be reformed because they are mouldable. My own moulds, however, always seem to return to the moment that I was raised in art history (in the eighties), where and when the explicit split between art and applied art was still a given. This division slipped also into my last argument—usability versus artistic freedom. This contrast or difference is, however, not so productive anymore, although I think the discussion about it is not completely useless, but this is not the place to elaborate on that aspect. The difference between art and design is getting smaller and smaller nowadays, or less relevant because both artistic approaches are increasingly involved with society.

From the very start in the eighteenth century, design was the servant of industry (architects developed the first models of factories, designers made the designs for all steps that were necessary to deliver goods to the buyer), whereas modern art confirmed or criticised the new developments in our environment. This latter, detached attitude seems to vanish, or at least change, now of character because artists do not want to give the impression of being only the outsider anymore. They want to take the role of the insider, or to work towards another insider, to become a change agent. They make use of society now, so to speak, to inquire from within where they can have effect or impact. This is one of the reasons that a lot of both artists and designers are now increasingly interested in food as well. Thus, not only food as food, but food as the instance that discloses all kinds of relationships we—as humans—have with the world. It is, in short, all about the relatedness of food, about the networks, and about the in-between-ness of food. The way we approach food is the mirror, to use this here perhaps misplaced metaphor, of our human relations towards the matter(s) of the world. Artists and designers therefore concentrate on all kinds of aspects of the big chains that (in-)forms food.

This image of relatedness also appears in the nice catalogue of the V&A in London, which has recently set up a large exhibition on food (Food: Bigger Than the Plate). Of course, their focus is also on the-role-of-the-museum debate (‘how to get real life again into its walls’), but I think that they have made an interesting contribution to the whereabouts of food. The forerunner of the V&A was even the first food museum (already in the 1860s!) in the world, in which ‘…food was rationalised as museum object, contained, labelled and displayed in a manner that prefigured industrial food processes.’[10] Food is the result or the appearance of the industry which is embedded in a complex network, just like fashion. How does liking relate to this?

‘Liking’ implies an ‘embodied experience.’ If something, an external stimulus, affects us, it does so because it touches many senses at the same time and thus implies the whole body. Liking is an important signal of appreciation, but its source looks blurry or indistinct, to use the philosophical term. Its indefinableness brings it in connection to the word that has intruded also the world of art since two decades: affect. In comparison to emotion—which is the psychological expression of affect according to Brian Massumi—the affect is something less clear but undeniable present. He therefore ‘…locates affect as such in a nonconscious “zone of indistinction” or “zone of indeterminacy” between thought and action.’[11] It evades ratiocination and takes place in the body. It is a bodily experience that can be observed but that cannot be analysed or framed instantly. It emerges.

In scientific food studies, which are psychologically biased, one speaks for instance of ‘social-affective context.’[12] These studies concentrate on the influence of the social environment on matters of liking (or disliking). So, the liking you are looking for is connected to a wide variety of domains. How can the arts—or to return to architecture—how can architecture help to open up and build a new approach towards the liking of (healthy) food and create a new industrious attitude towards food? Sorry for my roaming attitude, but walking around a complex field helps— hopefully—to find right connections.

PK:

Indeed, how nice it is to roam in freedom, contemplate and reflect. We’ve come quite a way. First, we noted that art education had embraced all senses, except taste. Worldwide. This is a great start. Is taste the sense that longs for recognition? Why has this important sense been neglected in the first place? There is no doubt in our minds that taste is connected to the arts, as well as to society and philosophy. We also noted that in order to enter the realm of art education these days, research needs to get involved. Our current food behaviour is at the root of huge societal challenges like climate change and the increase of chronic diseases. Therefore, there is an urgent need to tempt the consumer to make different food choices. In other words, there is a need for the design of delicious dishes that tempt the population to make better choices, e.g., more plant based, other sources of animal proteins, and ‘real’ (less ultra-processed) foods.

We can no longer afford to produce and consume foods that are not in line with the vitality of the planet and the people that live on it. Chefs need to be educated differently. Most of these traditional food makers are trained in a guild system to replicate the recipes of the past. The food industry developed the knowledge on deliciousness and liking. It is based on finding ‘bliss points’ in the brain, the right packaging, pricing, communication messages and so forth.[13] The change agents that the world needs should know what the industry knows. We need research that could be organised and conducted by educational institutions with culinary or art programmes. Their rich experience would be a true asset in the development of the chefs of today and to support where the kitchen needs to be heading for: providing the world with foods that are both nutritious and delicious. As a potential new branch of art education, taste certainly qualifies when we realise that it has grown to be a global problem that impacts societies, the environment, and life on the planet at large.

The term ‘food choice architecture’was introduced. You suggested correctly that usability is a part of architecture. In your elaboration, you mention aspects of safety and protection. Indeed, foods should be edible, functional, safe to eat. Just like a house should protect its inhabitants. Certainly, from your perspective, I had expected to also read about aesthetics and beauty. Isn’t it also an important driver of architecture—to combine usability and beauty? To illustrate, I admire Frank Lloyd Wright as an architect and know that one of his ambitions was to combine functionality and attractiveness and affordability. This aspect seems important in taste as well. If we want to seduce the modern consumer to change their food behaviour, the ‘better’ foods need to be just as attractive (convenient, affordable and tasty) as the foods that we ask them to give up.

People say, ‘There is no arguing with taste.’ This sounds rather convincing. But however well something is made or how many people like it, this doesn’t guarantee that you like it. It may not be your ‘taste.’ We must not confound taste and taste, or rather taste as an opinion or personal judgment and taste as a sensorial phenomenon, a product quality. Art education and research could contribute to clarify many aspects of taste from a sensorial point of view. For one, we’ve developed concepts and scales to measure sound and colour. There is no arguing about red, yellow and blue. And the scales haven’t impeded creativity, research or education. In fact, I believe it helps to have some anchors. Just because taste has been neglected, there is lot of work to be done to catch up. And—as I tried to point out—there is true need to do it.

PS:

‘Certainly, from your perspective, I had expected to also read about aesthetics and beauty.’ Your remark puzzles me because although I did not mention ‘beauty’ as a term, many ideas that I brought forward are imbued with aesthetics. Also in its traditional sense, as ‘perception’ or Greek ‘aesthesis,’ which was turned in the eighteenth century into the neologism of ‘aesthetica’ or aesthetics. Sensorial truth and beauty were then connected to the emancipation of the arts. Whereas aesthetics originally stretched towards all kinds of body-linked force fields like emotions and affects, ‘…the vehement passions (fear, grief, rapture… [and also] humiliation, shame, envy, irritation…’ [aesthetics] would be concerned with the utter entanglements of all of these elements,’ it, however, would finally withdraw itself or confine itself to—mainly—fine art, and the notions of beauty and the sublime. What happened to ‘…fear, anger, disappointment, contentment, smell, touch, boredom, frustration, weariness, hope, itchiness, backache, trepidation, and the mass of articulated feelings and moods that saturate our social, sexual, political, and private lives?’ Highmore asks.[14] He suggests that aesthetics should return to these starting moments in which aesthetica was connected to all kinds of phenomena that are bound to our body (aesthetics was indeed originally meant as an alternative epistemological entrance to the world next to our reason and conceptual approach).

Within aesthetics, all focus had been laid on the product instead of the process in which our meeting the world takes place. Works of art had eventually become moral specimens of how to cope with sensation: ‘…the art work completes sensual experience (resolves it into more satisfying and morally superior forms) is a central tenet within aesthetic discourse, and it immediately suggests that there is something generally incomplete and unsatisfactory about day-to-day experience…’ From this perspective, Highmore continues: ‘Aesthetics can only be interested in those forms of experience that are available to be resolved and completed (the meal that achieves gastronomic heights…).’

This latter example between brackets brings us back to our discussion. I am also hesitant in using the term beauty because it implies a specific and narrow approach towards our field. In that respect, it is interesting to see Highmore also focussing on taste. He shows that the term ‘taste’ is often in the middle of what he earlier called the ‘evaluative aesthetic discourse’ that had focussed mainly on the moral mission of the artwork and its evaluation. But the term should register the entanglement of ‘… sense and status, of discernment and disdain, of the physical and the ideational’ from the very first time. Bodily sensorial life is implied in such judgments and is thus mixed with physical, bodily and mental effects. This kind of reasoning is fruitful for our discussion, I think, because making (healthier) food attractive is one side of the coin, but we should also make the other side appealing.

We encounter here a complex field of experiences that should be approached in a guerilla way, perhaps. There is no one way of approaching the field. I agree, therefore, with you that taste, i.e., the tasting, is not universal in the sense that everybody likes the same things. Taste does not follow the route of the truth (as it was longtime followed in Western thought, and in the codification of the ‘genuine kitchen’). It is a mixed experiential sense that combines from its very start our bodies and minds. Just because of this ‘hybrid’ quality it becomes a very interesting issue in our networked society, in which relations have become more important than anything else. Taste is entangled, or perhaps better, entangles different domains. It implies the social, the political, the sensorial, the economic, the personal, the public, etc.

This interconnectedness makes it a worthwhile field for art. Art (research) does not look for one-sided solutions but for possibilities. Again, the faculty of taste should, therefore, find a good alternative embedding in the ‘realm’ of the arts. It should stay no longer alone/only within the economically or financially driven domains that are sustained—willingly of unwillingly—by sociological, agricultural, psychological or neurological sciences. The latter provide knowledge about seduction and group deception. Their approach is mainly one-sided and instrumental. Taste should, however, become vital, connected to life itself, where it also came from. This implies an improvement of the taste of things and the amelioration of tasting. Taste differs, but it is everywhere. Taste should reconnect itself to the new aesthetic realm and re-find and explore its multisided seductive qualities. What do you think? Perhaps you can give the final answer, if there is any?

PK:

You are so right to signal that we haven’t mentioned beauty and aesthetics yet. It certainly should be a part of our dialogue. Thanks for bringing it up. Aesthetics and beauty are the cherry on the cake. And although we haven’t addressed it yet, there is a section in my book The Essence of Gastronomy titled ‘Palatability and the Aesthetics of Gastronomy.’ Thinking and philosophising about beauty and aesthetics adds an extra dimension to sensory registration; it gives meaning and value to the simple perception of sensory signals.[15] The purpose could be to distinguish art from kitsch; real from fake. In fact, aesthetics has been studied in many sensory fields, except in the one where all signals come together: in gastronomy.

Now, I am neither suggesting that food or beverages are works of art nor that eating is an artistic activity. Eating and drinking can even be rather vulgar, especially as far as the biological function is concerned. Food from the best chefs in luxury restaurants comes closest to art, just as haute couture in clothing. In the creation of a dish, the combination of flavours, colours and choice of tableware aesthetic principles can be applied. Furthermore, beauty is not just an ordinary judgment: it evokes pleasure and desire. In its extreme form, people are willing to pay fantastic amounts of money for a meal or a bottle of wine, far more than the cost to produce it. The same applies to a beautiful piece of art, for that matter.

Knowing more about the beauty of flavour is an intriguing and useful field of study, because it may ultimately contribute to the satisfaction of the consumer. It could also be a part of a strategy to seduce consumers to select foods and drinks that are better for the vitality of the people and the planet. Already in the thirteenth century, Thomas of Aquino, ‘doctor universalis’ and Dominican priest, formulated that beauty needs three qualities:

  • integrity
  • harmony
  • radiance.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy and has everything to do with honesty, principles and consistency. The world of taste certainly needs more integrity. When it comes to harmony, we know that harmonious colours and sounds are pleasing to the eye and the ear. The opposite of harmony is chaos; our brain has trouble organising the data and therefore rejects it. In food pairing, we have experienced that harmony is a valuable guiding principle. Radiance is like the string of a violin; it needs to be set in motion, otherwise nothing happens. Music or things of beauty have the capacity to actually touch you and generate pleasure. This view may well be close to the mark. How can integrity, harmony and radiance be applied to modern gastronomy?

Can we consider ‘tasty’ as what beauty is in vision and sound? The study of how the brain responds the ‘beautiful’ sensory signals has been baptised ‘neuroaesthetics.’ A research group in London, led by Semir Zeki, suggests that neurology will eventually uncover ‘laws of aesthetic experience’ that identify the common preferences for symmetry, grouping and proportion that successful artists have been applying intuitively.[16] For the time being, gastronomy is not specifically included in neuroaesthetics. Research is needed to see if the same principles apply. For now, we can safely conclude that in matching food and beverage harmony can also lead to liking, provided that the combination is radiant, not boring.

In her book Making Sense of Taste, Carolyn Korsmeyer[17] elucidates beautifully that although food, or rather the creation of flavour, is not an art in itself, there are dimensions that make fine food and wine comparable to works of art. Beauty is not an accidental experience that just happens to someone haphazardly; it is primarily the result of doing things right and it requires cognition, experience. Clearly, pleasure is not guaranteed, as we have noted. Appreciation of works of art requires first a certain understanding and insight. More is needed: our brain needs to get aroused. Knowledge, experience, expectation and elements of surprise are required for this to happen. Although these elements are directly related to the taster, they can be influenced. Food experiences can be managed; or should I say ‘should’ be managed? We’ve discussed the necessity. The future needs taste specialists (formerly known as cooks) who are able to design flavour and arouse pleasure.

Wouldn’t it be a great new branch of art education and research?


Bibliography

  • Contento, Isobel R., Nutrition Education: Linking Research, Theory, and Practice. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett, 2007.

  • Dolphijn, Rick and Iris van der Tuin, eds., New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012.

  • Highmore, Ben, ‘Bitter After Taste. Affect, Food, and Social Aesthetics.’ In The Affect Theory Reader, eds. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth. Duke University Press: Durham & London, 2010.

  • Klosse, Peter R., ‘The Taste of a Healthy and Sustainable Diet: What is the Recipe for the Future?’ Research in Hospitality Management 9, no. 1 (2019): 35-42. DOI: 10.1080/22243534.2019.1653590

  • Korsmeyer, Carol, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1999.

  • Massumi, Brian, Ontopower: War, Power, and the State of Perception. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015.

  • Moss, Michael, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. New York: Random House, 2013.

  • Reber, R. et al., ‘Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure: Is Beauty in the Perceiver’s Processing Experience?’ Personality and Social Psychology Review 8, No. 4 (2004): 364-382.

  • Sloan, May Rosenthal, Food: Bigger Than the Plate. London: V&A Publishing, 2019.

  • Sonderen, Peter, ed., The Entanglement of Theory and Practices in the Arts. Arnhem: ArtEZ Press, 2019.

  • Waxman, Lori, ‘The Banquet Years: FOOD, A SoHo Restaurant.’ Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 8, No. 4 (2008): 24-33.

Footnotes

[1] The Food Friction conference, organised by ArtEZ University of the Arts, was held on November 30, 2018. 

[2] In the Netherlands, the Design Academy (Eindhoven, NL) has recently started a B.A. programme Food Nonfood. Many culinary arts schools, which are not associated with art schools in most cases, have a very traditional approach to the art of cooking. Courses mainly consist of repeating and confirming existing cooking traditions and management. This also applies to the famous Basque Culinary Center, which even offers a PhD degree.

[3] Peter R. Klosse, ‘The Taste of a Healthy and Sustainable Diet: What is the Recipe for the Future?’ Research in Hospitality Management 9, no. 1 (2019).

[4] For a general introduction to new materialism, see, for instance, Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin (eds.), New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012), p.48: ‘“New materialism” as a term was coined by Manuel DeLanda and Rosi Braidotti in the second half of the 1990s. New materialism shows how the mind is always already material (the mind is an idea of the body), how matter is necessarily something of the mind (the mind has the body as its object), and how nature and culture are always already “naturecultures” (Donna Haraway’s term). New materialism opposes the transcendental and humanist (dualist) traditions that are haunting cultural theory, standing on the brink of both the modern and the post-postmodern era.’

[5] Kameron Senzo writes: ‘Barad contests a human-centred concept of agency. She instead argues that intra-actions entail the complex co-productions of human and non-human matter, time, spaces, and their signification. Therefore, the human does not act on matter, but rather humans and non-humans are agential actors in the world as it continuously comes into being.’ Kameron Senzo, ‘New Materialisms.’ Last modified April 25, 2018. http://criticalposthumanism.net/new-materialisms/.

[6] Peter Sonderen (ed.), The Entanglement of Theory and Practices in the Arts (Arnhem: ArtEZ Press, 2019).

[7] See: https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2018/world-leaders-ncds/en/

[8] Lori Waxman, ‘The Banquet Years: FOOD, A SoHo Restaurant,’ Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 8, No. 4 (Fall 2008).

[9] Pulitzer Arts Foundation, ‘Art/Food: Gordon Matta Clark’s Gumbo,’ YouTube video, June 9, 2010,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjTi3we5dJw

[10] May Rosenthal Sloan, Food: Bigger Than the Plate (London: V&A Publishing, 2019), p. 21.

[11] Brian Massumi, Ontopower: War, Power, and the State of Perception (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015), p. 39; pp. 204-205.

[12] Isobel R. Contento, Nutrition Education: Linking Research, Theory, and Practice (Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett, 2007), p. 30.

[13] Cf. Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (New York: Random House, 2013).

[14] Ben Highmore, ‘Bitter After Taste. Affect, food, and Social Aesthetics,’ in: The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds.) (Duke University Press: Durham & London, 2010), pp. 122-123.

[15] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. ‘Aesthetic Judgment,’ accessed August 1, 2020, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aesthetic-judgment/#

[16] Rolf Reber et al., Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure: Is Beauty in the Perceiver’s Processing Experience?’ Personality and Social Psychology Review 8, No. 4 (2004).

[17] Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1999).



Peter Klosse

Peter Klosse is Professor of Gastronomy at the Hotel Management School Maastricht, part of Zuyd University of Applied Sciences. He is also a founder of the Academie voor Gastronomie and T.A.S.T.E (The Academy of Scientific Taste Evaluation). Getting a better understanding of liking and deliciousness plays a central role in his life and work. His innovative approach to taste is based on his PhD research on Flavour Classification (Maastricht University, 2004) and elaborated on in his book The Essence of Gastronomy (CRC Press, 2013). Klosse is a member of the Google Food Lab and actively involved with the Future Food Institute in Bologna, Italy.

Peter Sonderen

Peter Sonderen is Professor of Theory in the Arts at ArtEZ University of the Arts, Arnhem, and head of the honours programme Theory and Research. His PhD research on sculptural thinking (University of Amsterdam, 2000) foreshadows the focus of his current research, viz. theory, practice and research in the arts, performativity, ecology and the role of the new materialisms. He published Denken in Kunst (with Henk Borgdorff, Leiden University Press 2012), The Non-Urban Garden (AFdH, 2014), Unpacking Performativity (with Gaby Allard, ArtEZ Press, 2016), Theory Arts Practices (with Marijn de Langen, ArtEZ Press, 2017). In 2019, he opened the interactive platform Let’s Talks about (Artistic) Research (with João da Silva) and published The Entanglement of Theory and Practices in the Arts (ArtEZ Press, 2019).

Bibliography

  • Contento, Isobel R., Nutrition Education: Linking Research, Theory, and Practice. Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett, 2007.

  • Dolphijn, Rick and Iris van der Tuin, eds., New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012.

  • Highmore, Ben, ‘Bitter After Taste. Affect, Food, and Social Aesthetics.’ In The Affect Theory Reader, eds. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth. Duke University Press: Durham & London, 2010.

  • Klosse, Peter R., ‘The Taste of a Healthy and Sustainable Diet: What is the Recipe for the Future?’ Research in Hospitality Management 9, no. 1 (2019): 35-42. DOI: 10.1080/22243534.2019.1653590

  • Korsmeyer, Carol, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1999.

  • Massumi, Brian, Ontopower: War, Power, and the State of Perception. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015.

  • Moss, Michael, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. New York: Random House, 2013.

  • Reber, R. et al., ‘Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure: Is Beauty in the Perceiver’s Processing Experience?’ Personality and Social Psychology Review 8, No. 4 (2004): 364-382.

  • Sloan, May Rosenthal, Food: Bigger Than the Plate. London: V&A Publishing, 2019.

  • Sonderen, Peter, ed., The Entanglement of Theory and Practices in the Arts. Arnhem: ArtEZ Press, 2019.

  • Waxman, Lori, ‘The Banquet Years: FOOD, A SoHo Restaurant.’ Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 8, No. 4 (2008): 24-33.

 

Footnotes

[1] The Food Friction conference, organised by ArtEZ University of the Arts, was held on November 30, 2018.

[2] In the Netherlands, the Design Academy (Eindhoven, NL) has recently started a B.A. programme Food Nonfood. Many culinary arts schools, which are not associated with art schools in most cases, have a very traditional approach to the art of cooking. Courses mainly consist of repeating and confirming existing cooking traditions and management. This also applies to the famous Basque Culinary Center, which even offers a PhD degree.

[3] Peter R. Klosse, ‘The Taste of a Healthy and Sustainable Diet: What is the Recipe for the Future?’ Research in Hospitality Management 9, no. 1 (2019).

[4] For a general introduction to new materialism, see, for instance, Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin (eds.), New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012), p.48: ‘“New materialism” as a term was coined by Manuel DeLanda and Rosi Braidotti in the second half of the 1990s. New materialism shows how the mind is always already material (the mind is an idea of the body), how matter is necessarily something of the mind (the mind has the body as its object), and how nature and culture are always already “naturecultures” (Donna Haraway’s term). New materialism opposes the transcendental and humanist (dualist) traditions that are haunting cultural theory, standing on the brink of both the modern and the post-postmodern era.’

[5] Kameron Senzo writes: ‘Barad contests a human-centred concept of agency. She instead argues that intra-actions entail the complex co-productions of human and non-human matter, time, spaces, and their signification. Therefore, the human does not act on matter, but rather humans and non-humans are agential actors in the world as it continuously comes into being.’ Kameron Senzo, ‘New Materialisms.’ Last modified April 25, 2018. http://criticalposthumanism.net/new-materialisms/.

[6] Peter Sonderen (ed.), The Entanglement of Theory and Practices in the Arts (Arnhem: ArtEZ Press, 2019).

[7] See: https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2018/world-leaders-ncds/en/

[8] Lori Waxman, ‘The Banquet Years: FOOD, A SoHo Restaurant,’ Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 8, No. 4 (Fall 2008).

[9] Pulitzer Arts Foundation, ‘Art/Food: Gordon Matta Clark’s Gumbo,’ YouTube video, June 9, 2010,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjTi3we5dJw

[10] May Rosenthal Sloan, Food: Bigger Than the Plate (London: V&A Publishing, 2019), p. 21.

[11] Brian Massumi, Ontopower: War, Power, and the State of Perception (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2015), p. 39; pp. 204-205.

[12] Isobel R. Contento, Nutrition Education: Linking Research, Theory, and Practice (Sudbury, Massachusetts: Jones and Bartlett, 2007), p. 30.

[13] Cf. Michael Moss, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (New York: Random House, 2013).

[14] Ben Highmore, ‘Bitter After Taste. Affect, food, and Social Aesthetics,’ in: The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds.) (Duke University Press: Durham & London, 2010), pp. 122-123.

[15] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. ‘Aesthetic Judgment,’ accessed August 1, 2020, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aesthetic-judgment/#

[16] Rolf Reber et al., Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure: Is Beauty in the Perceiver’s Processing Experience?’ Personality and Social Psychology Review 8, No. 4 (2004).

[17] Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1999).