Using senses in writing – final chapter, “Taste vs. Flavor”
Posted by Lisa Lickel on October 3, 2012
This painting (Gérard de Lairesse, “Allegory of the Five Senses,” 1668) represents the five senses. Can you find them represented here?
Taste is as important as our other major senses, yet is often at least as much as, if not more so, overlooked than that of smell. Can we survive without being able to taste? Certainly, as much as we can exist without our other senses. Yet we would be the poorer for our loss.
In a word…chocolate.
Okay, I do know two people who don’t care for chocolate. They are both male.
Gustation, the sense of taste, is also a biological function involving chemical introduction to our sensory organs, commonly known as “taste buds” on our tongues. The olfactory system, our sense of smell, is located closely juxtaposed, so these senses work somewhat in conjunction. Can a person taste without smell, and vice versa? Naturally, although the perceptions of the individual sense are greatly enhanced by the other senses.
Taste: simply tasting food is a chemical process; the physical substance comes in contact with the gustatory calyculi, or taste bud, releasing the chemical signal sent to the brain which sorts it out and then reminds us of a previous experience, putting a name to the sensation.
Flavor, however, is the experience; the layer of pleasure, pain, reminiscence, that makes up the sensation of physically tasting a substance. As with the other others senses, a taste can evoke a powerful reaction.
Humans taste with the tongue. There are four basic recognized flavors: salt, sweet, bitter, sour. There are others identified in other cultures or even science, such as meaty (Japan), or metallic. Can those taste experiences stand alone or be justifiably one of the “four”? Go ahead, state your case! I’d love to hear your discussion.
What does taste or flavor add to a literary scene? Like the other four, the more a writer naturally portrays behavior, the more a reader can identify with not only the characters, but the story. Create a scene of a family meal. Is it a happy scene? A thought-provoking one? Angry, bitter, normal or dreadful? The food prepared, served, chosen, eaten can say a lot about your characters. How people react to a dinner, a breakfast in a diner, a power lunch, create a unique and intimate insight into an event.
Here’s where the layers of texture, of temperature of the food, of gourmet or completely outside-the-expected meals or parts of meals can be a character itself. What do people in your world eat or drink? What are their individual customs? Is meal time a social activity, a family event, or an evil necessity that takes away from life? Is food something your people look forward to? Obsess over? Annoyance? Treat? Are your characters adventurous, risk-takers, bold? Or shy, reluctant, bound by known likes and dislikes. Even those with emotional or physical disturbances can find their identity, their quirkiness, or uniqueness in food choice or food response. Shopping for food, gardening, hunting/gathering can create a powerful reader experience.
The final version of our mutli-sensory scene follows.
A one-layered version:
Selena left their dog at the house so she and Justin could take a quiet walk on the Circle Path before dinner.
A multi-layered, visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory and gustatory scene:
Selena put the crockpot on simmer for the roast beef in mushroom and port sauce so they wouldn’t have to rush. Her mouth watered at the thought of her grandmother’s special dish. The low temperature would allow the flavors of meat and wine and mushrooms to meld in a delight of senses. The reason for the crockpot was that she wanted to take her time on the Circle – the path around town, to enjoy the late summer afternoon and the first of the asters –without having to worry about the meal. Before leaving the kitchen, the drip of the faucet reminded her of the new washer still in the bag from the hardware store. Later—after the walk.
She pulled the door closed behind her and turned the key. Selena stalled a bit as she looked at her husband. Justin stood in the driveway, still as the light post, while he waited for her. She sighed. His hands were firmly stuck in his pockets.
Cicadas whirred from across the yard. Chloe barked and scratched at the door. Justin cocked his head in the direction of his English setter’s begging. Next time, baby, Selena thought. This time is just for us.
“Clockwise or counter?” she asked. His smile reassured her as he reached for her hand. His rough palm caressed hers and his warm fingers held tight, like a lifeline. Selena moved close enough to feel his body heat. The last of his mother’s tea roses bloomed in pink showers of petals along the front porch, reminding her of their wedding day. They’d never eaten the pieces of wedding cake, preserved in the freezer. Was it even edible? Butter cake, Grandmother had made, with frosting roses in pastel greens and blues and yellows. Pansies from Ooma’s garden, sugared, complimented the roses. So lovely to have had them work together like that. If only…
“I’ll follow you,” he said.
Selena brushed her cheek against his line-dried cotton t-shirt where the rumble of his voice faded before leading him down the driveway. With one hand in hers he rarely tapped the cane in his other hand against the asphalt. Soon they’d be on the path, piney woodchips muffling their steps and taking her back to their honeymoon at Jackson Hole, before all the hurts and defeats of the last two years.
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