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First Bite

How We Learn to Eat

By Bee Wilson
  • Read in 13 minutes
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  • Contains 8 key ideas
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First Bite by Bee Wilson

First Bite (2015) reveals the real root of eating problems: our very first childhood experiences with food. Backed by fascinating scientific studies, these blinks explain the perils of marketing food to children and the negative influence of gender norms and well-intentioned families. Finally, they direct us toward positive dietary change.

Key idea 1 of 8

Think you were born to hate certain foods? Think again. Your palate is built through experience.

Have you given up on the possibility of your child ever liking broccoli or brussels sprouts? It might seem as if children are hardwired to hate certain foods, but this simply isn’t the case.

Researchers, whether neurologists or biologists, agree that our palate isn’t something we’re born with but something we learn.

The mainstream consumer, however, is mostly unaware of this fact. Many of us believe that our love for sweets is an evolutionary phenomenon. Humans learned to seek out sweet foods because, unlike bitter foods, they generally weren’t poisonous. So as sugary treats are everywhere, we can blame our brains for being unable to resist the sweet temptation.

And yet here’s an interesting wrinkle. While humans supposedly crave sweet treats, what one person considers sweet may be thought of as bland and tasteless to someone else.

A 2012 study revealed that some individuals don’t get their sweet fix from sugary cereals, but rather prefer a ball of mozzarella or a sun-ripened cob of corn.

There is plenty of sugar in foods that aren’t immediately thought of as sweet. Consider that nearly a third of the population in Western countries doesn’t reach for sweetened cereals for breakfast.

The most important factor in your palate’s development, far more important than your biological makeup, is your food environment.

Which sorts of foods did you grow up eating? If you didn’t consume a lot of sugar as a child, fresh corn on the cob tastes as sweet as can be. But if you gobbled a lot of processed salty snacks and sweet treats, that ear of corn won’t satisfy your craving for sweetness.

In short, taste isn’t something we’re born with but rather something we learn through eating.

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