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Having more of something you dislike will make you not only tolerate it, but possibly love it? What can I say? I don't get it

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jason ChaneyThink back to the first time you tried a cup of black coffee, a swig of beer or a sip of whiskey. What did you think? Did it please the tastebuds, or was your reaction more of a grimace or hasty effort to spit it back out?

Perhaps someone nearby told you, "It's an acquired taste." Right. Of course. That makes sense …

Actually, it really doesn't. What kind of backward logic is that? Wow, that tastes awful. Maybe if I try it again, it will get better. What?

What does make sense is the law of diminishing returns – basically the polar opposite of acquired taste. This "law" states that something you enjoy will become less and less enjoyable as you get more of it. A sports radio host I listened to years ago encapsulated it perfectly, regarding donuts. That first donut tastes fantastic, right? In fact, it is so good, provided you are still hungry, you want to chase that high with another sugary, delicious pastry. And so you do … but something has changed. It isn't quite as good as the first one. But with the memory of donut number one still lingering, you go back for another one. Now, three donuts in, you're not feeling so great. Your stomach is full and the sugar and fried dough that was once heavenly is now overwhelming. A fourth donut might just make you sick.

Again, this makes sense. But acquired taste? That apparently goes something like this. You drink a cup of coffee. It's bitter – nothing like a refreshing glass of juice or a fizzy soda. But you know what? Tomorrow morning, I'm gonna have another one because it might get better.

Beer drinkers, be honest for a sec. How did that first taste of hops and barley treat you? Did it remind you of your first taste of sweet, sweet lemonade … or of another yellowish liquid? I'll admit it took me a few brews – of beer and coffee – before I decided the taste wasn't revolting.

This exercise gets even more fun if you consider tobacco smoking. The thought that never fails to amuse me is that somebody long, long ago had to be the first smoker. Somebody had to see the tobacco leaf and make a leap of faith. They had to decide to stuff it in a rolled-up piece of paper or a pipe, light it on fire, and inhale the smoke … which undoubtedly spurred a hearty coughing fit.

But rather than decide this idea was probably not the best, they decided to try it again. I mean, when something makes you cough like crazy and tastes like ashes, it's gotta be good.

Then, at some point, this first-ever tobacco smoker had to show his newfound pastime to one his friends. And that friend probably thought this smoking pioneer had absolutely lost his mind.

But after what I can only assume was some next-level persuasion, his friend relents and gives this smoking thing a try – and promptly launches into a coughing fit of his own.

Of course, like most acquired tastes or tolerance build-ups, the coughing eventually subsides, much the same way that coffee or beer tastes more appealing over time. People end up loving what once caused them discomfort.

But I know what you might be thinking – coffee has caffeine, beer contains alcohol, and tobacco is a source of nicotine. All of these substances have feel-good drugs in them, so why wouldn't we love them?

OK, that's a good point – but it doesn't explain acquired food tastes. Think back to your childhood. Aren't there foods you either didn't care for or absolutely hated that you now find appealing, or maybe even delicious? I used to hate sauerkraut and horseradish. Now, I enjoy them both. How on earth did that happen?

A quick internet search of foods that are acquired tastes reveals a few consistent results – raw oysters, anchovies, cilantro and bleu cheese. Maybe you agree with this list and would add a few foods of your own. But still, the logic is absent. Having more of something you dislike will make you not only tolerate it, but possibly love it? What can I say? I don't get it.

In fact, trying to figure out this acquired taste thing is just going to drive me crazy. It's giving me a headache. I give up. I need a beer … a bitter, tasty beer.


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