Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Day 11: Don't Eat Natto at Work

I still stick by my general statements yesterday about the extent to which natto has become increasingly palatable. Eating it this morning was no problem. However, I did eat it at my desk at work (I was late leaving the apartment and didn't have time to eat at home), which caused some co-workers to think I was cool and eccentric, and others to think that I was a disgusting heathen. On balance, I would recommend against eating natto in the workplace.

Overall, I'm surprised at how quickly the natto aversion has passed. The ninth or tenth day seemed to be the tipping point for both Valerie and me. I still wouldn't say I've "acquired" the taste, since I don't actually desire natto or even look forward to eating it. I'm basically at the point where I can tolerate it, which puts it on about the same plane as eggplant.

Today I also had some time to poke around for real research on the phenomenon of acquiring a taste. I think my unscientific assumption is that you're generally programmed to like the taste of things that happen to be commonly available and widely consumed in whatever community feeds you as a child. These tastes are acquired early on and relatively easily -- acquiring new tastes as an adult seems much harder. Strangely enough, the neurology of taste acquisition doesn't seem to have been studied as much as I thought it might have been. There is some research on general taste preference acquisition in infants (like this article), but this doesn't seem to answer our question, which is: How does one acquire a new taste as an adult? So I've started reading a little bit about the physiology of taste (beginning, of course, at wikipedia), which is fairly well understood. I'm guessing that what happens in the brain when you acquire a taste is the same sort of thing that happens in the brain when you learn other sorts of things, which is that new neural connections are formed and then strengthened over time. This is consistent with the general observation that acquiring tastes as a child is easier than acquiring them as an adult; it's like learning languages or anything else that requires the formation of new neural connections, which happens much more easily in young brains than in older ones. Anyway, I'll keep you posted if I manage to dig up more evidence to back up this general assessment of things.


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