( Originally Published 1899 )
POSSIBLY the first sense to begin differentiating is that of taste. The first food entering the mouth not only satisfies- hunger, but is grateful to the taste as well. It may be that the newborn child is provided with taste buds that respond even more generously than they do later, for the specific purpose of encouraging it to take the food Nature has provided. At any rate, a very short time suffices to enable it to discriminate between the sweet and wholesome milk and the insipid or adulterated article, as many nurses can fully testify. From such a simple beginning, skill in distinguishing among foods grows until many thou-sand different kinds can easily be detected. So highly may this sense be educated that it is said that expert tea tasters in the employ of the great tea houses can easily recognize as high as fifty different kinds of teas that have been mixed and steeped together. Epicures and lovers of the table in general are not necessarily gormands and gluttons, for they find their highest enjoyment not in the amount they eat, but rather in its ability to awaken pleasurable taste. Ten times more labor is put upon foods and drinks to make them palatable than is put upon them to make them whole-some. Nine cooks out of ten work to tickle the palate more than to insure ready digestion. The " best " things at the average table are those that awaken a new and pleasing sensation at the time of eating, rather than comfort afterward. Even the staples come to the table with subtle flavors that the ingenuity of the cook has dexterously added. Fruits in incredible variety are cultivated, not so much for their nutritive quality as for their ability to awaken corresponding variety in relish. The forests of the earth are searched for nuts and oils and leaves and roots that may stimulate a wider range of pleasure in the mouth of man. Luxuries, those dishes that delight the palate but serve little as tissue builders, cost us more money than the necessaries of life. Many men are kept poor to the end of their days because most of their earnings go into this red-hot hopper! More sickness and physical misery are caused by eating highly seasoned food than by any dozen other causes combined. That which Nature designed as a gentle stimulus to taste and to digestion has too generally become the scourge to both. Nature intended that taste and digestion should be warm friends : we have often made them bitter enemies. Then, for purely physical reasons, the proper cultivation of the sense of taste assumes proportions in the care and culture of the child that few people understand. It is just as important as exercise or sleep.
Parents insist on their children eating slowly and chewing their food well, but, while that is essential, there are other weighty things in the law also. When they are apprehended, they will read somewhat as follows:
For the first dozen years of a child's life his sense of taste should be developed with the same care as the control and use of his voluntary muscles or of any of the organs of the body. Highly seasoned foods and stimulating drinks should seldom be given him. On the contrary, wholesome food in sufficient variety of kind and flavor should be given to make eating a pleasure and to maintain easy digestion and healthy growth. Children's appetites are the best spices at any table. If they be wanting, it is poor economy to resort to artificial means. It frequently happens that a child refuses every dish on the table and clamors for one that his rugged father finds it difficult to digest. It is better that he eat nothing until the next meal than to yield to his appeal. A month's indulgence in such demands often insures dyspepsia before the child is twenty years of age. Of course, it is as cruel and unreasonable to force children to eat things for which they have an aversion, as it would be to force them to look at colors that pain the eye. With very few resources and very little tact any mother may easily discover what suitable dishes her children like and provide them in sufficient variety to make every meal a delight. Simple foods satisfy children, and the change should come in variety and not in seasoning.
This is not the place to enter into the discussion of the subject of the preparation of food, but it should be said that the art of cooking is being revolutionized in these days, and that what a poor cook has been covering up with sugar and salt and pepper and spices, the new cook is presenting in both a palatable and a digestible form with the merest suggestion of the spice box. All hail to the new system, but it has a great work yet to do in solving the problem for the normal development of the sense of taste in the child. With that under proper control, the health problem solves more easily.
The sense of taste is not to be cultivated by suppressing and confining it to a few foods. The greater the number and variety of the simpler forms, Nature's own productions, the less demand will there be for foods of the hot tamale order. But even here great harm may be done in nurturing a desire for change that may react, begetting disorders similar to those just mentioned. The intimate relationship between the mind and the vegetative system is so close that the former can never be ignored in considering the food problem. Imagination and emotion powerfully affect both taste and digestion. The course to be pursued in the case of each individual child can only be determined as his tastes, already awakening, are discovered and the resources of his family are known. Then the problem for the mother is not to find ways and means for pandering to them, but for correcting and educating them. Lectures may do them little good, but the right kind of dishes will sooner or later accomplish the end.
Not only is all this to be done for the sake of the health of the child, but for his moral character as well. Taste for highly seasoned food and stimulating drinks almost invariably becomes appetite, consuming and uncontrollable, later in life. Its long train of evils need not be rehearsed here. No heart is so pure, no soul so noble, that physical appetite long unrestrained does not corrupt. Every mother has it in her power to form the tastes and appetites of her children. They are always formed, but the process of re-forming is frequently a heartbreaking failure. Crimes hideous and revolting might easily have been prevented by a little intelligence and firmness in shaping the tastes of the child for food and drink. Nothing ever written is truer than this.
This sense is also intended to contribute to man's physical enjoyment. Its proper cultivation refines and enlarges that enjoyment not only in a sensuous way, but in an intellectual way as well. So intimately is the delicate discrimination of foods allied to good judgment in an intellectual, and particularly in an aesthetic way, that the word taste is universally used in distinguishing men and women of refined culture from those of the commoner sort.
The sense of taste is used in many of the arts and sciences, though possibly not so generally as that of smell and the others to be mentioned here-after. Every good cook and half of the human race ought to be good cooks needs a highly cultivated taste to test the quality of her mixtures and dishes; she is helpless without it. The mineralogist,the grocer, the pharmacist, the physician, the fruit dealer, the confectioner, the dairyman, the restaurateur, the baker, and many other professional, industrial, and commercial people find highly developed taste invaluable. A great army of men and women are employed in the preparation and sale of foods. The excellence of every pound prepared or sold is dependent upon the degree of cultivation of the taste of manufacturer and tradesman. Everywhere you turn you easily see the practical value of an educated taste.