Apparently there is a growing body of research regarding the apparent nastiness of cilantro in certain people. To a number of folk – and I have no means of providing numbers here, except that the number is growing – cilantro tastes like soap. Or, at least, has a nasty bitterness to it. It’s apparently a genetic thing.
Perhaps the research is over, and as usual, I’m late to the party in discovering this, but I first learned about this whole concept while listening to the Stuff You Should Know podcast many months ago. I can’t remember which episode, but you ought to check them out if you dig trivia.
But this aversion to cilantro got me thinking. You know, about food, about life, about changes, and heck, yes, even about writing.
Cilantro is the Spanish name for coriander, also known as Chinese parsley or dhania – and no doubt you’ve encountered it at some point in your life. It’s nearly indistinguishable from regular parsley – especially when it’s a little wilted, or cooked in a dish – and can be found in a variety of Hispanic and Asian dishes.
Normally I wouldn’t care for this sort of thing. I’m not what people would call a foodie, though I do love my guacamole, but still, this blog doesn’t really concern itself with food.
Except when it does. As typical as human behavior as it gets, I went and did some reading on cilantro only after having experienced this phenomena myself. I was at a friend’s house in Brooklyn, and she brought a variety of groceries home from a local market, among them a huge bundle of cilantro. Seeing this, I was seized with the memory of the above-mentioned podcast, and decided to put myself to the test. After all, I’d seen these things in grocery stores all the time, but herbalism is so off my personal radar that I confess I never really had the opportunity – or drive – to experiment. Having expressed my current goal to those present, I went about chewing a few freshly washed leaves.
They tasted awful.
And not only awful, but familiar – I remember tasting this, in the past, in what I considered to be the worst guacamole made. There could be something to this.
So it was that I found myself quite possibly in yet another minority category. But what has this experience to do with writing?
The question all writers must face: How can I use this?
Well, the way I see it, food is one of the most distinct cultural traits to be found. I think it’s a safe bet that there’re two major factors that go into identifying a culture: the language they speak and the food they eat. Sure, things like music, art, customs, how they treat their women, economy … all those are distinguishing things, but on a foundational level, you can really tell a lot about a person – a culture – by the food they eat and how their language works.
Cilantro is positively adored by millions of people around the world. Some cultures use it often and frequently. But what if there existed cultures that utterly despised the stuff? Traditional cultures, as might be applicable to a fantasy setting, I mean. I’m aware there exist modern communities (arguably a ‘culture’) of cilantro haters, such as might be found at imaginatively-named websites like this.
I’m not talking about something like in the movies Signs or The War of the Worlds, where extraterrestrial creatures are found to be susceptible to things we as humans count as commonplace. I’m not talking about a race of dog-people that will die if they eat a bit of chocolate, as might be readily consumed by any human culture.
I’m thinking more for the sake of variety. There’re plenty of foods on this planet that an American might find disgusting, and visa versa, but most of that food is still edible. It’s for cultural reasons, the way you were raised. It’s all in your head. You may not like the taste of cornsilk tea because it’s weird and different, but you can still at least drink the stuff.
I think description of food and flavor is an excellent opportunity for enriching your world when writing, whether it’s Fantasy, Science Fiction, or what-have-you. Creating your own exotic spices and dishes is one thing, but consider also the reactions that “normal” characters would have to these things, or how “others” would react to the so-called normal stuff. Cilantro is just one herb – imagine what else we might discover in our own world that is scientifically repulsive to certain people?
Imagine what certain groups of people, or even non-human races, might find physically incapable of considering edible? Genetic predispositions toward certain foods is in fact nothing unusual; we consume sweets because our brain, through the tongue, tells us that it’s a source of easily gathered energy. Fatty stuff is so satisfying because our brains tell us that fats are great sources of long-term energy.
Similarly, repulsion towards smells, such as that of decaying flesh, are like ringing dinner bells to animals like vultures and flies. To us humans, that stench is repulsive for a reason: dead things love company, so steer clear.
If you don’t know already, go ahead and do yourself a favor and try eating some cilantro. See if you’re among the majority of people who love the stuff, or like me, find it to be pretty much abhorrent. Whether there’s a genetic reason for this remains to be seen, but taking this idea and expanding it to one’s writing could serve to enrich your worlds. Give it a shot!
Today’s track is from a recently discovered OST, and packaged with it you’ll get a quick impression of the movie Gravity (2013).
In short, I dug it. I did not have the opportunity to see it in the big theaters, as it was reputedly made to be seen, but even while watching it at home I found myself engaged and interested – despite hearing some sort of spoiler long ago. In terms of scientific accuracy, well, okay, I’m aware there were some flaws. Niel Degrasse Tyson is quoted as saying the movie should have been called Angular Momentum and not Gravity, heh. But he confesses to enjoying the movie; and so did I.
When you consume a story, there is a need for characters to grow and change. This is especially noticed in its absence, such as the book Ready Player One, in which the protagonist hardly changes at all. In Gravity, the protagonist goes through growth, and coupled with the action – and not to mention the delightful and appropriate soundtrack – I rate the movie as most definitely worth seeing.