You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. So reliably true, that one. No matter how much I try to be aware of that which I take for granted, it’s hard to see what has always been there. The lesson of the last couple of weeks has been all about taste and smell. Normally I have a really good sense of smell. Colds of course will take that away, but this is the first time when I’ve been unable to taste properly. There were days when I couldn’t even get mouth tastes.
Inside the mouth, we perceive sweet, bitter, tangy, salt and hot as basic flavours, but most of the nuance comes from what we can smell of the food as aromas percolate upwards into the nasal passages. I have no idea what went wrong with the mouth tasting, but by Christmas day, everything I put in my mouth was like cardboard, taste wise. It made me highly aware of textures in a way that normally I’m not, because the only way to distinguish between foods at that point, was the feel of it. There’s a startling diversity to the feel of eating different fruits and vegetables, I realised. That was a discovery. I’ve lived thirty five years and never truly appreciated the wonder of food textures before. Hopefully I can hang on to that.
Eating good food is one of life’s pleasures. I became aware of how much is lost when the flavour goes away, how mechanical and grim a process food consumption is when I can’t taste anything. And then the miracle of occasional flashes of flavour. A moment of perceiving something, the sheer relief of chilli or pepper getting through my system to register in my brain. Taste became a source of wild excitement, in tiny, unpredictable bursts. I’m still not quite right.
I also started to realise that I could tell, putting something in my mouth, how much fat content it had. Even though I couldn’t taste anything, on some level I was picking up fat content as a source of interest. I have no idea what the mechanics are, but our bodies are wired to respond to fats. Could I have this awareness all the time and just not have been noticing it? Or is it too subtle a thing to register consciously when all that flavour information is coming in too?
Deprived of my sense of taste, the whole experience of tasting has become something of a holy grail for me. The value of it is elevated in my mind where probably I wouldn’t have thought about it before – I just took it for granted.
I’ve learned to be grateful for the awkward life lessons that allow me to rethink things and understand anew. For me this is part of my Druidry, that learning how to take a setback or a problem and turning it into something useful, or meaningful. It makes it easier to take the knocks. I spend less time saying ‘bloody hell that was not something I deserved’ and more time going ‘I wonder what I can make that into?’ so there are practical advantages, and I do sometimes learn a thing or two.