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A Matter of Taste

Food. Without it, you’d die. That’s not in question. When Covid-19 showed its creepy consequence and it became apparent everyone in the UK was expected to self- isolate, naturally people’s first thought turned to survival. In other words, food (then toilet roll).

The queues outside supermarkets were long and I took part in panic-buying food in a distracted and hurried manner as though the supermarket would self-destruct in 30 seconds. Tins of chickpeas, tomatoes and coconut milk, along with the obligatory treats of wine and chocolate were bought. I got my products home and unpacked, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to leave my house for another week and pleased that I’d had the foresight to buy chocolate Hobnobs. Because let’s face it: self- isolation is more bearable with biscuits.

Sweet treats, while not necessarily nutritious, are there to punctuate a drab day. They always have been for me, with or without a pandemic. I know I’m a comfort eater, I have been for a while. However, going out and keeping busy has maintained a healthy distance between me and the allure of buttery toast, even if the habit remains.

With the option of leaving the house now gone, access to biscuits has become even more important. Despite being an emotional eater, I’m genuinely fascinated and interested by food too. I see it as a genuine pleasure, just like most people. However, I’ve recently found myself in the unfamiliar position of wondering how to replace that pleasure after contracting a mild symptom of Covid-19: Anosima, which affects the senses of taste or smell. Given this new situation, I’m left wondering, other than taste, why do we eat?

When you live a locked down life devoid of taste, a massive source of pleasure, it’s keenly missed. The fulsome flavour of wine is not available and the secondary pleasure of being drunk seems no longer worth it without the piquancy that the first delicious sip provides. Coffee, while giving you a caffeinated kick, is just an empty high without the rich accompanying aroma.

Yes, we need food for survival and that is its primary purpose. But for me, especially now in these profoundly joyless times, I would relish the temporary excitement of flavour on my tongue.

Yes, it is probably an addiction, and in normal times I know I use food to cope with my emotions. But having no sense of taste during self-isolation feels very unlucky. I know I eat when I’m bored, I know I eat when I’m sad, and isolation creates those two feelings in abundance. As long as I don’t let my feelings win, my sense of taste will have to wait, and I’ll have to view food as fuel rather than fun to quell my frustration.

Despite the frustration, having no sense of taste has forced me to accept my relationship with food. It has shown my weakness for junk food for what it really is: a short, sharp shock of sugar and salt that quickly dissipates and leaves me feeling unnourished and empty.

Like most addictions, it’s fun at the time, but ultimately does nothing for you.

This is from someone who doesn’t feel much guilt about having a packet of Frazzles or a Kit Kat. It’s so easy when you don’t feel great about yourself to reach for something that you know is crap. I miss taste – I do – and hope that it will come back. But I will have newfound respect for its pleasures and depths when or if it does, beyond just the fun of Frazzles.

Next article in issue 68

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