Through a strange series of events I recently acquired a live-in indentured servant.  That may sound like a wonderful thing, and surely it is; however, we’re both still coming to terms with the change.   While I am adapting to the loss of my quiet solitude and independence, she is adjusting to eating (and usually preparing) the vegetarian menu. 

Earlier this week she baked vegan pumpkin cupcakes at my request.  They were so good that she baked another batch a couple days later to share with her friends.

 “I just won’t tell anyone they’re vegan.”  She said. 

I was bewildered by that statement, so I asked, “Why not tell people?”

“Because they won’t understand.”

“What’s not to understand?”

“Vegan sounds healthy, and people don’t think health food tastes good.”

“You need to tell everyone they’re vegan to eliminate that ridiculous misconception.”

“Ok, I’ll tell them after they eat it.”

This exchange left me thinking about culture and the role of language and perception in food taste.

First, why would the terms “healthy” or “vegan” automatically be perceived as something that doesn’t taste good?

Second, when I think “cupcakes,” I don’t think “health food,” vegan or not.  Despite the mass quantity of sugar, I suppose vegan pumpkin cupcakes do have relative health merits – vitamins A, E, C & K to name a few. Plus pumpkin is a pretty good source of iron. Still, it is a cupcake! Cupcakes are usually considered “junk food.”

Finally, on a related note, why would something that stays “fresh” in a box on a grocery store shelf for months (e.g., Twinkies) be perceived as food at all?  (Hint: an annual $10,000,000,000 food marketing machine.)

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