Neurotic Tastes for Nationalist Plates


Looking through history post-1500, one thing that is striking is humanity’s apparent penchant for sensory stimulation. Sigmund Freud’s (1856-1939) works addressing “conscious and subconscious mental processes that lay at the root of neurotic behavior”.[1] Leading into the 1500s, was Portuguese demand for sugar, Italian investments in Palestinian & Mediterranean island plantations for it, and European demand for silk, spices, and porcelain. Even a ginger trade from India had been established, along pepper from China, and clove and nutmeg trade from Maluku.[2] Ivory from Africa and the earlier mentioned luxurious goods from China were also traded.[3] While demand had been established for these goods since the 1500’s, in light of Freud’s “root of neurotic behavior”, one such root, is most certainly, taste.

A World of Flavor

The Columbian Exchange represents rapid access to new tastes, smells, and sensations (oh, the mighty chili pepper) for Europeans, allowing them “richer diets” and tangier flavors.[4] American potatoes, of both common and sweet varieties, and corn even made it to China.[5] Of the great variety of foods from the Americas, are “maize… beans, tomatoes, peppers, peanuts, manioc, papayas, guavas, avocados, pineapples, and cacao”.[6] Potatoes were characterized as an aphrodisiac, by Europeans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[7] So great the demand for silks and spices, Christopher Columbus went on an expedition for it.[8] Great demand spurred the Portuguese to establish engenho (sugar mills) in Brazil.[9] Tobacco and spirits in the Americas further drove demand.[10] African okra complemented other vegetables in the fashioning of gumbos.[11] Coffee spread throughout the Ottoman empire in the eighteenth century. So great the demand for coffee and the accompanying nicotine, that Sultan Murad IV outlawed the products; the ban failed.[12]


It may be a subconscious pursuit that drives humanity to demand new or better tastes, sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and even intellectual pleasures. While food today takes on a “nationalist” themes (i.e., French, Chinese, American, Middle Eastern, etc.), looking back through history, most foods today are not at all “national”, but the result of continued exchanges of materials as vehicles for taste. What is it that drives intelligent psychology to attribute the success of a complex process to the most recent “creator”, or “inventory”, or “political border”?[13] Is not a “flavor profile” a culmination of an entire world’s efforts? Some might argue, “well you must call it something, and you cannot call it by a college semester’s worth of history every time you wish to go out to dinner.” Looking forward, the pattern holds true. In a world of greater complexity, perhaps consciousness itself is neurotic in attributing complexity, stereotyped as “let’s go get Chinese”. If that is the case, then looking to the future, will humans be arguing over the flavors of “American Space Travel” vs. “Chinese Space Travel”? If the relative world offers any guidance, just look at the names of airlines, or the assembly sticker under the hood of an “American” car. I can assure you, that the concept of a nation is most likely absent in the brain meats of a chef when standing above a pan, tossing, scraping, pouring, slicing, and tasting, only to be later served to neurotic connoisseurs craving euphoric states through nationalist plates.

[1] Jerry H. Bentley, Herbert F. Ziegler, and Heather E. Streets-Salter, Traditions & Encounters: Volume 2 from 1500 to the Present, Sixth Edition (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015), 815.
[2] Ibid, 481.
[3] Ibid, 482.
[4] Ibid, 499, 521.
[5] Ibid, 501.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid, 521.
[8] Ibid, 537.
[9] Ibid, 549.
[10] Ibid, 550-551.
[11] Ibid, 580.
[12] Ibid, 618.
[13] In data science, attribution modeling would call this “last touch attribution”, which is viewed as a weak and misleading form of attribution modeling. It is most often used to claim full credit where partial credit would require more complex and difficult to achieve attribution.