Disputations about taste What is good taste? What tastes good?

Harvard crew of circa 1910

Cover artwork a cilantro seedling

Taste is a very curious thing. We understand that how we taste something is almost entirely subjective, that while it depends to some extent on the physical and chemical properties of the things we’re tasting, the sensation is overlaid with all sorts of cultural and personal memories. Unless you have access to all of those, there’s nothing you can say about my taste. Except, we do that all the time. We slip easily from taste being indisputable to good taste and bad taste and from there to making taste the basis of moral judgements. What’s more, this is nothing new.

These thoughts, and many more, were prompted by a new book: Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates. It contains two chapters that cover taste directly (and a third that considers food choice from a slightly different point of view). In an effort to straighten myself out on the subject, I talked to the two chapter authors, and they’re going to be the guests in at least the next two episodes.

In the first instance, Margot Finn talked to me about the nature of taste and about how efforts to change people’s taste in food have often stemmed from a desire to change their behaviour.


  1. S. Margot Finn wrote Discriminating Taste: How Class Anxiety Created the American Food Revolution. She is “inconsistently” on Twitter.
  2. Food Fights is published by University of North Carolina Press. Here’s one place to source a copy.
  3. There is a transcript.
  4. Harvard crew circa 1910 from the Library of Congress. Cover photo of cilantro by José Camba on Flickr

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