Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Yums And The Sneers

I hadn't intended to write anything today. Really. Here at the Fortress of Crankitude, New Year's Day is traditionally reserved for junk-food recovery and miscellaneous grousing about undelivered mail-orders. But Ace backlinked to a post I didn't see when it was "fresh:"

Everyone likes sweets, of course. But he [Adam Carolla] was getting at the idea of reversion to the juvenile. That adults, rather than simply attaining the taste for actual coffee, and you know, drinking coffee, were instead reverting to their Childhood Palates of insisting that all things be "nummy."

That they be very sweet, and even very cute. "Moccachino." That's cute, isn't it?

And what adults had historically done, he said, was embrace adult tastes. Cigars taste good to an adult cigar smoker because he has cultivated that taste. Oysters don't taste good to a kid; oysters taste good to an adult who has cultivated a taste for oysters. Cognac isn't good because it's sweet. Cognac is good because we have embraced adulthood and trained ourselves to embrace more sophisticated tastes.

...and it got me thinking...and you, Gentle Reader, are about to suffer the consequences.

The heart of the Carolla / Ace tirade is the concept of acquiring the taste.

In one of Steven Brust's non-Dragaera novels, Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille, there's a brief exchange between the narrator-protagonist and his love interest:

    She sat down next to me and sipped some of my drink. She made a face.
    "It's single-malt whiskey," I said. "It's an acquired taste."
    "Why did you want to acquire it?"

There is a wealth -- a genuine wealth, not just another bit of Fran Porretto hyperbole -- of insight in those three lines:

  • Hard liquors are unkind to the digestive system, particularly the liver and the stomach;
  • Whiskey is very expensive;
  • Whiskey of any sort tastes biting and medicinal.

So why did he want to acquire a taste for it?

In another novel, Michael Halberstam's neglected classic The Wanting Of Levine, the protagonist invests considerable effort in "acquiring the taste" for tequila, which he originally characterizes thus:

    "This is good tequila," the friend said.
    Levine tried it. The stuff tasted like the sweat of hell.
    "If this is good tequila," he said, "then what is bad?"
    "Don't ask," the friend said.

In that case, there was an explicit reason: Levine, a Northeastern Jewish traveling salesman who had been assigned the Deep South as his demesne, believed that to win the confidence of his target customers, he had to be able to drink with them. He had, therefore, an economic motive for subjecting himself to considerable displeasure until he'd become accustomed to it.

Clearly, pleasure did not enter into Levine's consumption of this "luxury good."

When I was a lad, I discovered, upon first encountering them, that I liked certain foods that other children routinely disdained:

  • Liver
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts

This evoked a lot of "ewww!" commentary from other children near to my age. I wasn't supposed to enjoy those things. I was violating "guild rules" by liking them and admitting to it. I shrugged it off -- I've always been something of a maverick -- but it's remained a point of curiosity with me ever since.

Mind you, I also enjoyed various delights that nearly all children enjoy -- chocolate; ice cream; pastries of just about any variety -- but that wasn't newsworthy. That was "well, he's a kid after all" stuff. My defections from juvenile solidarity on the thou-shalt-not-enjoy food list were what evoked comment.

But note: all the other kids, in their desperation to "be grown-up," wanted to smoke. To me it seemed the most pointless and disgusting practice any human being had ever adopted. More, I could see that the attempt to smoke inflicted suffering and damage on my coevals. Why were they doing it?

I still enjoy all the things I did as a child, without changes. I still reject all the things I rejected as a child, with one exception: I came to enjoy semi-sweet white wine. And in this Year of Our Lord 2014, I shall celebrate my sixty-second birthday.

The whole "juvenile tastes" versus "mature tastes" business is an artificial attempt to separate adults from children in a qualitative way. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's a crock of shit. There is no qualitative difference by which an "adult" can be told from a "child." All the differences are differences of degree, including the most important one: the acquisition and acceptance of responsibilities.

There's an admirable authenticity, in my eyes, about an adult who'll admit to still loving ice cream, chocolate, and sweets. It's not that I share those tastes, but that so many adults who do share them are abashed about them and conceal them as best they can. Recent commercials by a certain tequila company to deride such tastes strike me as offensively manipulative: "Drink this so you'll look like a man."


Here's how to "look like a man:"

  • Stand behind everything you say.
  • Take full responsibility for your actions.
  • Fight for innocents who are unable to fight for themselves.

If you've been casting about for New Year's Resolutions to adopt, feel free to use those three; no charge. Forget the condemnation of "nummy tastes." If you genuinely enjoy sweets, the sole reason to eschew something of that variety is diabetes.

And seriously, folks: Happy New Year.


Adrienne said...

Happy New Year, Francis. I'll be busy this afternoon reading Which Art in Hope.

MamaLiberty said...

Excellent... :)

One of my favorites is an anecdote (not an exact quote) from the life of George Burns. The doctor supposedly told him that he would live a lot longer if he were to give up wine, women and cigars. Burns looked at him and said, "why would I want to live longer then?"

Anonymous said...

"Here's how to "look like a man:""

You forgot the part about the beard.

Happy New Year.

Robert What? said...

Happy new year to you. Thanks for the compelling blog.

You know, society used to provide some perks to men in exchange for taking on the responsibility of a hard-working, taxpaying, family-supporting adult. What is now referred to a "male privilege" by those who want the perks but not the responsibilities. However for men those perks are gone - although the responsibilities are still there. I think that, more than anything is the reason for the chosen juvenilization of society. No young man except a chump would want to "grow up" and assume those responsibilities - as they once did - with pride.

Vince said...

While I agree with the "look like a man" suggestions totally, I for one do not drink single malt scotch or Patron to "look like a man". I drink them because they taste incredibly good. Every one has a different body chemistry and tastes change with age. Maybe I am missing your point. Personally, I can take or leave sweet drinks or food, which is not to say I don't indulge in chocolate or ice cream. But what's wrong with oysters? I guess I just don't understand.

Unknown said...

But then some of us were just born adventurous about our food. As a kid I was raised to bland, nothing peppery. In Southeast Asia I acquired the habit, and became compulsive. So I wonder how kiddies from other cultures learn to eat chiles.
But the one thing I still cannot abide are mint flavored sweets. Mint as a herb is just fine.

J.R.Shirley said...

Happy New Year.