The Social Construction of Taste

21 November 2021



Organiser: Fred McVittie

Until recently Fred McVittie worked in higher education and pursued his entomophalogical interests on the side. Now he produces edible insects for a living and advocates for their acceptance as a viable foodstuff.

How is it that some foods can be tasty and yet their consumption is considered tasteless, perhaps even disgusting? Insects, for example, are an excellent source of nutrients, feature in the diets of most populations around the world, and can be prepared in delicious ways, yet many of us show revulsion at the very thought of it.

One way to get at this question is to ask why we use the word ‘taste’ to describe things that are far beyond the reach of our tongue. We talk about our personal tastes, even when referring to things that we have no intention of putting in our mouths. Our taste in music is not determined by the licking of cds or the chewing of vinyl. Conversely, we might indicate our dislike or disapproval of something by saying it is ‘tasteless’, perhaps even ‘disgusting’. We might even perform the visible actions of physical disgust when confronted by things we find cultural objectionable; we act out our approbation with the wrinkling of the nose, the turn of the lip, the gape of the tongue, as if the very idea is making us gag.

In this session I’ll be expanding on these ideas to consider why the idea of eating insects makes us queasy and how we communicate these evaluations of ‘taste’ between one another, establishing cultural preferences for some foods and not for others.

For the brave souls in attendance I’ll also provide insect-based snacks for people to try.