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(An Ex-Instincto's Guide to Instinctive Eating--continued, Part B)

How do I know when I've experienced a bona fide taste-change?

Now assuming you carried out this taste-change experiment, you'll notice that your experimental food still looks the same. (This will be your sanity test--don't be going loony on us at this point.) The banana is still yellow, or the cauliflower is still creamy white. Further, someone else may find the banana very tasty. (Especially if they weren't forced to observe you pigging out beforehand.) But you find it unpleasant after having reached "the stop" or taste-change. You may be tempted to say that the first plums were perfectly ripe, and that's why the taste changed; that the later plums weren't ripe, or the second pineapple was a "bad one," or another reasonable excuse. Nevertheless, if you truly got the stop, you'll be unable to find another plum, pineapple, or whatever you chose to eat--anywhere (not even at your local Kroger's ;-) )--that will taste good.

The stop could have been a change from pleasant to acidic, to over-sweet, extremely bland, a complete loss of flavor, biting, "dry-mouth," burning sensations, insipidness, bitterness, or sourness, among other hard-to-describe sensations. (Don't forget to pat yourself on the back at this point: You've now experienced the indescribably nonverbal "eureka" moment of instincto legend.) It may also have involved texture. Bananas that were at first melting may have become rubbery in taste and texture. Cucumbers may have become raspy and hard to chew, when initially they were pleasantly crunchy, juicy, and sweet. Fresh figs may take on a completely unbearable mouth-feel. Pineapples and kiwis are known for their intensely burning taste-change, though some long-time instinctos find the stop to be a loss of flavor with no burning sensation whatsoever.

Upon experiencing their first clear taste-change with a raw food (i.e., satori, kensho, moment of supreme enlightenment in the Zen tradition ;-) ), many people often remember previous experiences, especially with fresh fruits, where the taste became unpleasant or was surprisingly unpleasant from the start. Those who have picked and eaten their fill of blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries in a field may remember how difficult it was to find a good-tasting berry after an hour or so of sampling. (Yes, this experience counts as the famous taste-change, too, unless, of course, you were just plain too tired to taste. :^) )

Even in fresh vegetable salads, unless the tastes are completely smothered with dressings and condiments, a particular vegetable may become so unpleasant that you might fish the pieces out of the salad so it tastes better. Which leads us to the conclusion that the taste of a particular food does not reside in the food itself but in its interaction with our senses of smell and taste; the taste is in our mouth, in a manner of speaking.

You may have noticed while eating your particular fresh food that not only the taste became unpleasant, but the smell as well. Our senses of smell and taste differ from our senses of touch, hearing, and vision in their ability to dynamically interact with raw foods. We can never know in advance just how pleasant or unpleasant a raw food will taste. (Or so instinctos say: and as I said before, ya better agree with 'em, or else! ;-) ) Only by sniffing and tasting are we provided this information.

Denaturing foodstuffs into exciting foods like spaghetti and pastries makes the foods more dependable in a sense. Your favorite candy bar or beverage rarely lets you down by tasting terrible. If the scrambled eggs do not taste so great we can always put some salt and pepper on them. We can even keep strawberries from "changing" on us by adding sugar or cream or both. These are tricks of sensory stimulation similar to adding spices and dressings to fresh vegetable salads.

To keep this oh-so-scientific, you probably should experiment with Snickers bars or chocolate chip cookie batter or something as well. ;-) (Go ahead, make my day--and yours too.) Eat it until it doesn't taste good anymore and compare the experience. Seriously, some people do get pretty strong stops even with cooked foods, especially if they are simply prepared and unspiced, so whether only raw foods can be eaten instinctively is an open question. Open, that is, to everyone but an instincto purist who is almost religiously positive that only raw foods (and not raw dairy!) should be eaten.

So assuming a food tastes good from the onset--and of course it doesn't always--we can envision a simple graph of the taste-changes of a particular food. Some foods have, overall, an incredibly quick change while others have a slower, steadier change. The following graph and explanation are from Instinctive Nutrition, by Severen Schaeffer.

Relative Taste-Changes of Different Foods
The diagram shows the typical taste-change patterns for three vegetables: leeks, tomatoes, and yams. A person's innate biochemical programming both imparts a good taste to a native food when it is needed, and causes it to turn bad when need has been filled. "Good" and "Bad" are not absolutes, however. The vertical axis in this drawing shows a continuum from "delicious" to "revulsive," but these feelings are relative to each other, not to some hypothetical absolute standard. They necessarily reflect different intensities of sensation for different foods, and for different individuals at different times.

The horizontal axis represents the amount of food eaten in terms of number of "bites." We cannot know in advance whether a change of taste will occur with the third bite (or "mouthful" or "morsel") or the twenty-third or the sixtieth, so "n" represents an unknown variable. It enables us to simply represent a taste-change without specifying how much might be eaten before it occurs. [Schaeffer (1987) Instinctive Nutrition, Celestial Arts: Berkeley, CA, pp. 178-179]

Do humans still have such a "food instinct"?

Sure, silly. (At least I'm pretty sure. ;-) ) But the studious scholar (that is, one unfamiliar with instincto lore, hehheh) might be surprised that this instinct still exists in humans. After all, our species has cooked its food since well back into prehistory. (At least the last 40,000 years or more. See discussion in the "Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution" article here on the site.) Yet our DNA, and the corresponding food instinct, is similar to the DNA of our Paleolithic ancestors, who go back much further than that--by a few million years. The philosophy of instinctual eating holds that we still share with all mammals the capacity to be healthfully guided in our selection of foods by sensory pleasure. And thus, our biological inheritance ought to implicitly include the capacity for utilizing taste-changes to help guide our interactions with original foods.

It may be that our senses of taste and smell are intended to be the "gate-keepers" of our alimentary canal, capable not only of choosing which foods to eat, but also how much to eat of a particular food at a particular time, or so instinctos telling stories around the original campfire would have us believe. The catch is that this instinct, or at least "instinct according to instincto theory" ;-) , appears to function most properly with raw, unprocessed foods--foods as served up by nature, not chefs. This shouldn't be too terribly surprising since mammals, primates, and early humans evolved in the context of raw, wild foods. How humans might best utilize this vestigial alimentary instinct in the present day is pretty dang controversial--to everyone, that is, except an instincto purist for whom the answer is an undebatable given: eat 100% raw foods of the most natural and highest quality according to sensory pleasure alone.

As infants we struggled to operate within the parameters of this instinct governing our food intake. Anyone who has ever tried to feed denatured foods to an infant has seen the attempts to avoid a food--turning away, spitting it out repeatedly. Sooner or later, though, the infant must adapt or starve, not to mention avoid the wrath of the caregiver.

Rarely do we feed an infant raw unprocessed foods, but sometimes fruit is fed to very young children. Anyone who has fed an infant original foods has seen the human food instinct in very pure form (whether they liked it, or agreed with it, or not ;-) ). Infants will open their mouths and lean toward an attractive food and, if allowed to eat their fill, will suddenly turn away not accepting another bite. An instincto would say the instinctive "stop" has been reached for that particular food at that particular time. (An exasperated parent, of course, knows better, and would surely figger the kid needs to be taught a lesson by shoveling a little more pap down their throat for good measure. After all, what could a squirmy little pile of raw instinct possibly know about what's good for them, ain't that right? ;-) )

What about cooked foods? Don't we have an instinct for them?

Ah, yes, the question that arbiters of official instincto edict have already ruled out of order with a summary crack of the gavel. Instincto writings have generally claimed (erroneously) that cooking has only been around for about the last 10,000 years, but in fact, our species has been cooking foods for a long time (at the very least, the last 40,000 years as mentioned above, and perhaps considerably longer ago than that. [See Part 2 of the Paleodiet vs. Vegetarianism interviews on-site for a detailed discussion of the fire/cooking question.] It may well be that we are adapted to some minimally denatured/cooked paleo-foods (animal foods, veggies, fruits). This is a topic of speculation that can fall on each side of the issue.

Personally, I just don't know. For me, raw veggies and animal foods have a much more pronounced stop than cooked, but that's not to say that there is no taste-change at all with cooked foods. Whether the lesser taste-change in cooked foods means we shouldn't ever eat them (as instincto purists would argue) is also unclear to me. Some people claim that they get taste-changes with non-raw foods, but in general instinctos deny such experience, saying that any such taste-changes must not be "proper," or come late, or are otherwise some sort of an instinctive ruse. In the chart below we see foods from a purist instincto perspective; that is, according to their level of denaturation and clarity of taste-change.


(Foods in the first three groups are assumed
to be eaten raw and individually.)





Wild (raw)
All naturally occurring plant and animal life, eggs, honeys, etc., in raw, undenatured condition. Wild shellfish, fish, animal meat, organs, marrow, nuts, tubers, stalks, leaves, fruits, bark, eggs from any animal, etc. Strong, fast, and definite. If needed by the organism, a raw wild food will taste better than a domesticated counterpart; if not needed, it will taste worse; in other words: stronger.
Domesticated forms of plant and animal life,[1] eggs, honeys, etc., raised without use of human-made chemicals, in raw, undenatured condition. "Organic" fruits, vegetables, honeys, nuts; shellfish if feeding exclusively on wild foods; farm animals fed from Group I or II. Clear changes for the most part.
Same as Group II except raised with use of human-made molecules (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, post-harvest treatments, etc.). Commercial fruits, vegetables, honeys, nuts; farm animals fed grains; and other foods from Group III-VII. Slower, more gradual changes; often a "chemical taste" becomes pronounced after a few mouthfuls.
Any of the above eaten in combination, even if raw. Fresh fruit or vegetable salads, ceviche,[2] "trail mix," lemon on papaya, guacamole, spiced and salted foods, etc. No proper taste change; the instinct is confused trying to evaluate different foods at the same time.
Any of the above chopped, ground, grated, juiced, pulverized, etc., even if raw. Fresh-squeezed citrus, carrot juice, tomato juice, nut butters, blended fruit "shakes," hamburger, grated carrots, etc. Either no taste-change occurs, or it happens in a very mild form and is usually "late" (fermented foods could be included in this category).
Any of the above crystallized by low temperatures, even if subsequently thawed. Quick-frozen foods of all classes: vegetables, fruits, shellfish, fish, meats, etc. Tastebuds are numbed by cold foods; thawed foods have no taste change; they usually taste bad from the first mouthful[4] (thawed nuts and honeys taste good but have no proper taste-change).
Any of the above heated more than a few degrees above body temperature. Steamed, roasted, broiled, baked, fried, toasted, etc.; even sun-dried fruits and fish can be "cooked" enough to damage them. No taste-change.
Packaged foods resulting from the variety of industrial techniques used in the food processing industry. Junk foods and convenience foods in all their restaurant, cafeteria, and home-consumed forms. No taste-change. Usually taste "too good" and won't stop, which is why they sell so well.

[1] Excluding all forms of wheat and dairy products; none of which has a proper taste-change--at least according to instincto theory.
[2] Raw fish and/or shellfish mixed with lemon or lime juice, onions, etc.
[3] Raw fermented foods share many of these characteristics as well.
[4] Thawed nuts and honeys taste okay but their taste-change may not be proper.

Who cares if raw foods have a taste-change? What difference does it make?

All this might be regarded as a curiosity or an interesting party trick, except that as Burger experimented more, he found that by following one's latent instinct for food (by selecting original foods using pleasure as a guide), it seemed that humans could attain a superior state of health. Further, sick people could often recover, even from severe illnesses, by trusting their senses and eating a variety of undenatured, raw, original food--the kinds of foods our mammalian ancestors have eaten for some 200 million years.

So on one end of the continuum we find healthy-enough folks who are attracted to the idea of being some sort of super-nature-human taking up instincto with zeal. And on the other end we find some very ill folks grasping instincto-therapy (strict sensory selection of foods from a huge variety of quality foods) as a last straw. I clearly am one of the latter, or at least I was in my early years of instincto.


(Brief Recent History of the International Instincto Scene)

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Back to Re-Examining Instinctive Eating / Instincto

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