Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
‘Taste’ appeared among the original keywords proposed by Raymond Williams, and was selected again for inclusion in New Keywords (2005). Williams (1976 , 308) focuses on the physical sense of the word, but points out that its meaning from the thirteenth century was much wider and closer to the modern terms ‘touch’ or ‘feel’. The current association with gustatory sensation and specifically the mouth emerged in the fourteenth century, although current scientific research shows an increased interest in the interdependence of the senses, and specifically the association of taste and smell. The term is double-edged, however, not only implying perception of the flavour of an item (most notably food) via the organs of taste, but also reflecting (from the eighteenth century onwards) forms of supposedly objective discernment and discrimination associated with what is deemed aesthetically pleasing in art and other areas of cultural production. The latter meaning might be associated with the important traveller/tourist dichotomy (Buzard 1993; Urbain 1993 ), with the traveller's (good) taste or tastefulness often contrasted with the more tawdry and tasteless appetites of tourism. Anti-tourism may therefore be seen – in the terms of Pierre Bourdieu (1984) – as an attempt to translate, via taste, class distinctions into the cultural capital relating to travel. As Williams (2014 , 310) presciently comments, ‘[T] he idea of taste cannot now be separated from the idea of the consumer.’ The entry in Keywords comments that – unlike other sense words with metaphorical uses such as ‘touch’ and ‘feel’ – the extended uses of ‘taste’ have been almost entirely abstracted from physical sensation, but it might nevertheless be argued that in the area of gastro-or enotourism, the ability to appreciate the flavours of indigenous produce represents the acme of good taste.
The specific focus on taste as a form of sensation is central to travel writing, notwithstanding the shifting semantics of the term discussed above. David Scott (2004) – exploring the place of taste in Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes, Michel Leiris and Patrick Boman – describes ‘grammars of gastronomy’ evident in the travelogue, and taste is an integral part of many key anthropological texts, including work by Jack Goody and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Food and drink play a practical purpose too, providing fuel for the journey, especially when this depends on extremes of physical endurance.