The Story of Flavors

I love cooking.  It is profoundly loving to feed people.  With that one gesture you can say, “I love you and so here is a token of my love.  It represents my desire for you to thrive because it makes me happy when you thrive”.  Food is a universal language.  It brings people together on all continents and in all cultures on this planet.  I often call it “the great unifier”.  I love it when the busy activity of our individual lives stops and we come together around the table to share the experience of flavors.

I was born with synesthesia (a “disorder” many extrasensory people have).  Most of the time, synesthesia is a major hindrance.  It makes life hard.  I live with no filters between me and all of the sensory stimulus which floods in from everyone and everything around me.  But there is one benefit to having synesthesia that I wouldn’t give up for anything… I can taste experiences in flavors.  In other words, my brain matches the vibratory rate of a flavor with the vibratory rate of a feeling state that is induced by an experience.  This is not the same thing as an “association”.

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An example of an association is: I’m eating spaghetti, which makes me think of sitting in Italy overlooking a vineyard at sunset.  The experience that vibrationally matches a dish usually has nothing to do with what we traditionally associate with that dish.

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An example of finding an experience in flavors is: I’m eating beet salad with toasted almonds.  The human experience that matches the vibration of this dish is:  It is autumn; I am a pre-teen boy who is barely entering puberty and who is living in a small town.  I haven’t got many friends, so I am playing alone after school in a marsh about a mile away from my house.  The sun is growing softer as it approaches the horizon.  I’m catching toads and placing them in a bucket.  I’m getting hungry so I begin to walk home and I wave at the familiar townspeople when they pass by me on the road every so often with their windows down.

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When we go out to dinner, my communal family members love to ask me what experience matches the food they are eating.  I have often toyed around with the idea of opening a rather unconventional restaurant, which is all about the experience.  At this restaurant, the menu would detail a plethora of experiences.  So instead of ordering a specific dish, you’d order the experience you want to have and you would be served the dish that matches that experience.  I think synesthesia is in fact what makes me so good at cooking.  I know based on the flavor of each ingredient, what story I am ultimately telling the person who will be eating the dish.  I know how to deliberately combine ingredients in order to tell good stories with the food and I know how to avoid combining ingredients so I don’t tell bad stories with the food.  The result of that knowing is that I can create recipes with wonderfully harmonious flavor profiles.

That reminds me… Someone asked me this week, what my favorite spices are.  I thought about it for a while and I finally have my answer.  Even though I use garlic all the time and love it, my favorite spices are rose, vanilla and bay leaf.  To me, rose is everything glamorous about the world.  This is going to sound odd, but rose is like laying in bed naked with a bewitchingly beautiful, exotic, curvaceous, woman; knowing that when you think back on the night you spent together, you will feel that bitter sweet bite of nostalgia.  Vanilla is like the part of everyone that can still be touched by kindness (no matter how much they have walled themselves off to the world).  It evokes the vulnerable part in people that is still “human”, even in the cruelest of people.  It is stable, it is cozy and it is like the parts of childhood that we may actually miss.  Like warm towels fresh out of the dryer.  It tastes like home should feel like.  It is a “common” flavor only because it (like the human-ness in all of us) unites us all.  And if wisdom and perspective had a taste, it would be bay leaf.  It tastes like all the good things about tradition and all the stability one gets out of learning lessons the hard way.  The flavor of it is like a candid image of an old, hand-hewn log cabin in black and white; with it’s occupants (in 1800s clothing) smiling at each other at the end of summer right before the season slows down into autumn.  It tastes like an antique.  It gives perspective to life.

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To me, food is edible art.  It is art that promotes wellbeing in others.  It is the centerpiece of connection.  There is a grace inherent in it’s impermanence.  It can take all day to create something that takes less than five minutes to eat.  And it is always worth it.  It is always worth the smile I see on someone’s lips when my food has provided them with a moment of pleasure.

38 Comments

  • You write so beautifully by explaining your extra-sensory gift! I too have synesthesia, and in reading your words a smile crosses my face. It makes my soul happy to hear of others with this condition as well as making an external validation of our vibratory world! Love that idea of a restaurant….and so many other ideas that spin off other types of synesthesia! Love your energy you give to the world! :-)

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  • lovely! and what an unusual and wonderful type of synethesia.

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  • It reminds me to the Movie: “Like water for Chocolate”. Love it!!!!!!

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  • Teal, thank you so much for this. We have had a tragic death in our family. I have lost many loved ones over the years and have never had the opportunity to provide a dish. This time, I am in the position that I am able, and have prepared several dishes for the gathering we are having after the funeral tomorrow. I pray that when my family members partake of the food I offer, which some of is “comfort” food, they will be COMFORTED and experience the the very deep love with which I prepared every dish.

    You really helped me by sharing this article. I know it may not be quite in the way you would expect, but THANK YOU!

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  • beautiful! i, too, have synesthesia but don’t have flavor experiences, i smell colors. i absolutely love your description of vanilla, it resonates so strongly with me! it would be so much fun to go wine tasting with you!

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  • A fascinating, mouth-watering and enthralling tidbit – revealing yet more of the possibilities of human experience.
    Thank you Teal.
    I find it interesting – how the immediacy of taste can translate into such a linear description, I wonder if this implies that a modulating vibration results in linear contrast – as in music . . .

    I feel so at home with your transparency – & with what your transparency reveals, Teal.

    I wonder what sweetness we shall take home from the experience of the workshop in London – a reverse synesthesia, of sorts.

    Love to all XXX

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  • I love this. It is tantalising. I love this.

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  • You should consider making a cook book with your synesthetic descriptions. This was extremely interesting to read; Not only from a spiritual standpoint, but from a neuroscientific one.

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  • I love reading everything you write!

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  • That is a serious bonus of your abilities! Cool restaurant idea.

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  • Woow! It’s amazing how you describe your experience with food. I love the idea of the restaurant, I want to order an experience :D Thanks for sharing your beautiful and fascinating narrative. Love you :)

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  • Thank you for sharing this! As I was reading it I began to smell vanilla… How do you do that!?

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  • Yum! You made me wanna cook! I’m so happy for you that you can do something so wonderful with food, I wish I could do that too! I love it!

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  • I was thinking about writing a detail paragraph about this blog you created, but this sums it up:
    I love you :)

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  • thank you for this wonderful experience, I do this very often, but from my experience the vibration is never the same, so even though I cook the same food with same ingredients, the strory is always a bit different.

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  • So beautiful, Teal. Always interesting and inspiring to read/ hear what you have to say,
    but this bit was especially wonderful. Thank you…

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  • Wow…how I can relate to this, since I am all about food… Thank you! X

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  • I think the idea of creating the restaurant is brilliant! :)

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  • wow i really related to the bay leaf i have fond memories of my dad using it in his meals and when you described it i just thought ..ya .. thats about right ;) nice post i ushualy reach for garlic and bay leaf or oregeno alot :)

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  • I’m absolutely loving this blog! I’m finding it mind boggling to consider how much information you must be taking in at the same time with all of your gifts. I love to cook for people too. Would be great if you could post some of your recipes :-)

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  • gosh , never thought of it like this.
    my mom always says: love goes through the belly.
    but i got as far as treating food as unconvenient necessity.
    … hah. i know, i refuse a lot of life´s offerings.
    hm.

    Thank you for this article.

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  • I loved this post! Amazing feelings while reading…. The restaurant idea is awesome! :D

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  • What a joy to read your blog. Wonderful and inspiring. It’s a great way to get our connections back with food and discover stories behind flavours. Thank you Teal.

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  • Such a great blog!! Inspiring and passionate! Yum! ;)

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  • Weird… I don’t know if u wrote this before or after my message to you about knowing how passionate you are about food. It’s either an inspired (sort of) response or a synchronicity. Either way it’s awesome! TY!!!

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  • Thank you for opening my eyes to this. I also not only love food, but I love sharing it with and making it for others. (Much more than, say, doing things for them or giving gifts.) I also have a very mild form of what you described but I never attempted to verbalize the food experience, just thought of it as vaguely mystical (when the food is good). I’m thinking it might be fun to try after reading this.

    “The most sincere form of love is love for food.” — George Bernard Shaw

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  • Awesome! I love beets and beet juice, they’re so intensely rich and vibrant with life. Beet & carrot is a great combination. I bet you make a mean smoothie (okay, a nice smoothie, but a really good one).

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  • wow teal! you wrote that on 25 sept!! the same day I cooked something and offered it to someone, I haven’t done that for such a long time… coincidence is the way the universe talks to me, I think we’re connected :)

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  • Dear Teal ~ I love what you have written. Thank you for this view of love. I’m first remembering the thrill I have when drinking cold carrot juice. Does it send me down Alice’s rabbit hole? Ha!

    I’m writing you now because I saw you somewhere in a pix wearing star earrings, actually. With one on each side of your head…some trip!

    Today I dared play seriously at building the focus needed to conjure with compass, straight edge and !sharp! pencil–the pentagon (grown out of circle making). I have some distance to go to take this in. If I were able to ask you a question, I would ask you about your relationship with this so sacred shape, and specifically if you’ve always dared wear it so close. Also, what has become of you, with this playing with your consciousness?

    Peace and many blessings,
    Lansing

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  • and music? what kind of experiences do you have when listening music? what kind of music give you the best experiences?

    love,
    ana

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  • Wonderful.I love vanilla and those matches of experience to flavours are exactly how I see on rose,vanilla and bay leaves.We have many bay trees here,so I know that experience. :) .Loved this entry.

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  • I always say… food is one of the absolute best things about being incarnated in 3D. ;)

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  • HI Teal
    You have given me a new appreciation of flavours. I normally just throw together what i have without giving much thought to how it will taste so long as its edible. Now i see that flavours compliment each other. I love the way your synesthesia reflects experiences to you depending on what ingredients you use.
    Does that translate to scents? Its a shame you don’t wear them because i have a feeling you would be a wonderful perfumer.

    I had a thought, have you heard of The Doctrine of Signatures, the shape of food does determine what organ it is for? and if you were prescribe a food known to help with an ailment, would the story it tells you reflect the cure in some way? How interesting it would be to actually test it and then be able to prescribe or make a recipe for a certain ailment or condition using a story.
    I know celery stops indigestion, like you i suffered for years and years. Not so much now and i no longer take acid blockers or even indigestion tablets. But aloe vera juice and celery stop it naturally.

    I wonder what story a celery soup would tell and what you could add to it to enhance the story and cure. Oh you got me thinking now.
    Love the blog Teal.
    Thanks

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  • I’ve prepared raw food in a restaurant for about 1,5 years. I noticed people reacted differently to the food by what energy and attention and love i put into it. They became ecstatic when i put all my love into it and came down to the kitchen to tell me they loved the food. At the same time I realized that I myself react to the energetic composition of food as a whole. (where it comes from, biological or not, the way it’s prepared, by whom it’s been prepared, the energy of the place it’s been served etc etc.) I don’t think i have synesthesia, but i do recognize the way you create stories or scenes like that. Just a creative mind i guess, :-)

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  • Yay :-) this felt so close to me for many reasons.

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  • OMG! OMG! OMG! Thank you, thank you, thank you! This makes me feel so much joy!!! I feel like… “ah ha!” or “I’m not alone!” When I smell and taste things, they also conjure emotions & memories (hard to explain). I hide it most of the time because it hurts to feel the confusion & isolation when I try to explain what I experience. Just to read someone else is experiencing something similar helps me feel less odd, different, wierd, and strange. Now, I kinda want to go play with my food.

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