Science and Environment

Secret's NOT in the sauce

DE RERUM NATURA - Maria Isabel Garcia -

Chicken soup by my mom, canard a l’orange by Celso, fried chicken by my sister-in-law Ate Glo, dahl by Mitzi, Russian coffee cakes by Suzette, pudding by Dette, and mechado by my Lola Abua. No chicken soup, canard a l’orange, fried chicken, dahl, russian coffee cake, pudding or mechado in the world, tastes better to me than those cooked by the people I named. I have asked them if they use secret recipes but they laughed at my question saying there are similar recipes in the Net followed by a gazillion other people if I am interested. But I am not interested in cooking. I am interested in knowing why theirs taste so much better.

It turns out that the secret is “love” — “love” not of cooking but for whom they are cooking and letting them know they enjoy preparing it for them. Psychologists recently published results in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science on performed experiments revealing that given exactly the same food, people perceive that food to taste better when accompanied by a note that it was especially picked out for them. The scientists say it could now explain why food that is associated with “smiling mothers” sells. Food is perceived to taste better that way and since perception is your personal reality, then it does really taste better!

In my own observation, I notice that restaurants that feature old family recipes handed down for generations to reach your table, also seem to have that extra umph that excite my taste buds and satisfy my brain so much more than the same dish served without the narrative. And those restos whose charming owners go around tables asking people how their food is and to try this and that, I am pretty sure it really makes the food in those places more delicious.

This is pretty comforting to me because contrary to several claims I have heard, there are no secret fluids coming out of the chef’s pores that make his/her stews so tasty when s/he cooks with love and care. The secret’s in the diner’s brain, when she is made to know that the food was carefully prepared for her.

But meaning well does not only earn you points as a pretty cool human being. It also makes people you interact with feel less pain and more pleasure. These were the two other revelations in that same experiment I mentioned. For pain, they applied the same electric shock to groups of people and they found that people felt less pain when they were told that they were being purposely shocked because they were being aided to win some money. This pain was perceived to be less than if they were “shocked” accidentally or on purpose for no good reason. Apparently, people feel less pain when they are assured that they are feeling it for their own benefit.

For pleasure, it was a bit startling to me because it involved an electric massage pad that was turned on by either a computer or a caring partner. I repeat, it was just “turned on” by the computer or human partner; it was not a choice of massage by a robot or your partner. The subjects still reported that they got more pleasure if the massage pad was turned on by their partners. The obvious lesson (especially for men): you just cannot be an anonymous “on-turner.” You have to let your partners know that you care enough to turn her massage pad on (literally and I guess metaphorically.)

So there, science has just shown you proof that it is not enough that you mean well — you have to let people know that you do so that the food you cook or get for them will taste better, their pain will be less and their felt pleasure will go up a notch. Hallmark cards made a fortune out of that science. Let it now work for you.

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For comments, e-mail dererumnaturastar@hotmail.com


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