June 07, 2006

The spinach parable

Taste is a complicated thing. The word itself is rather vague -- I could be talking about taste in clothes, taste in music, or what people like to eat. Here I'm referring to the latter. It's also complicated trying to explain why we think something tastes good and something else tastes bad.

For example, consider spinach. I love a nice piece of spinach, steamed just right, sweet and tender and ... spinachy. Notoriously, though, a lot of people can't stand spinach. Why the difference?

Well, one factor is the way I was raised: lots of fresh veggies and homemade dishes, and junk food was rare in our house (though not as tightly regulated as in other families). So I learned to develop a taste for veggies. Another factor is preparation: like a lot of veggies, if you overcook spinach, it turns into disgusting, inedible mush. My mom knew not to let it steam for more than just a few minutes, and I learned the same, so now I expect spinach to be textured and flavourful, not bland and mushy. My personal biochemistry is also important: leafy greens are an important source of iron for vegetarians (though we really don't need as much iron as you might think), and I've known vegetarians who ate too much junk food, got a little anemic, and started having cravings for spinach.

So aspects of both my biology and history contribute to my taste for spinach, in contrast with a red meat eater whose only experiences with spinach have been of the mushy, disgusting variety. Of course, choice also plays a factor: I could eat chard, or collard greens, or kale, or just eat a steak, but I often make the personal decision to eat spinach rather than those others.

Sexuality works the same way. Like iron, we all have a natural need for sexuality. But you can't give one concise answer to the question of why I'm attracted to this person and you're attracted to that person: some research (though much of it is not very good) has suggested that hormones and immune systems play a role in attraction; others emphasize the importance of cultural context and our individual sexual histories; and we can't discount the fact that there's a certain amount of choice in who we get involved with (or fantasize about).

So when Jerry Falwell and his ilk attack people who 'choose' to be gay, they're overlooking how much of our sexuality and attraction is out of our control. And when neurophysiologists identify the part of the brain that 'makes people gay' (as has supposedly been done three or four times now), they're forgetting how much of our sexuality and attraction is based on our choices.

Of course, we shouldn't forget the heteronormativity that's lurking behind all this -- Jerry Falwell denied, somewhere or another, that he chose to be straight, and neurophysiologists just assume that straight men are normal. There's nothing wrong with eating either spinach or chard (or trying spinach occasionally but sticking with chard most of the time, or alternating spinach and chard, or ... ) to get your iron, and there's nothing wrong with getting it on with someone who happens to have the same or different kind of genitals as you (or trying the other kind of genitals occasionally but mostly sticking with the same kind, or alternating, or ...).

3 comments:

Kryssa said...

"and there's nothing wrong with getting it on with someone who happens to have the same or different kind of genitals as you (or trying the other kind of genitals occasionally but mostly sticking with the same kind, or alternating, or ...)."

that is just completely brilliant.

Noumena said...

Well, that's what homophobia's all about, isn't it? 'Same genitals good, different genitals bad' is pretty much the initial axiom.

:-D

Buy Cialis said...

We shouldn't think in what things tasting good or bad, we have to think in properties it has, for example spinaches are terrible at least that's what I think about it, so it's perfect in our diet because it has different minerals we need to be healthy.