What would it be like to dine with The Giver? BookTrib steps into his world to explore…
During one of his most intense training sessions with The Giver, 12-year-old Jonas was introduced to the vibrant diversity of food. As a dynamic parade of fruits and vegetables, teaming platters of sumptuous, steaming entrees, and sweet, honeyed confections and desserts passed through his brain, he was floored by the mélange of pleasure-packed sustenance. But even more, he was taken aback by how much everyone seemed to relish the experience of eating with such passion and pleasure.
It was during this session that The Giver also introduced Jonas to the missing link in his current relationship with food: hunger. In all of his 12 years, Jonas had never craved something specific, or even nourishment in general. As someone who inherently enjoyed the freedom of choice, more so than others in his society, Jonas found the far-reaching powers of food, and its ability to stretch the limits of sense and imagination, truly revelatory.
In order to expand his understanding of food and hunger and to give Jonas a true appreciation for the memories he was receiving, The Giver arranged a series of training sessions devoted solely to taste. In each session the two analyzed the four primary taste sensations: bitter, sweet, sour and saltiness, exploring their presence on the tongue and in the mind, enhancing Jonas’s understanding of which flavors he preferred and how best to communicate their effect on his palette.
To begin, The Giver introduced Jonas to bitterness. Plying his taste buds with lemon zest, bitter melon, peppery arugula and dandelion greens, along with freshly plucked herbs like dill and saffron, The Giver educated Jonas on the detoxifying qualities of these hardened flavors. He taught him that although many bitter flavors seem harsh, these unique foods often function as restorative, cleansing tonics. As a final lesson, The Giver gave Jonas his first cup of a coffee. Jonas spat it out in disgust while The Giver laughed. As Jonas struggled to rid his mouth of the acerbic liquid, The Giver returned his cup for a follow-up taste, having mixed a spoonful of raw sugar into the coffee…thus presenting the next realm of taste.
Usually regarded as the most pleasurable of taste sensations, this was, understandably, Jonas’s favorite lesson. At the very least he was surprised by how decadently this sugar substance had transformed the vileness that had been, just moments before, his cup of coffee. As Jonas received memory after memory of luscious, sweetened delicacies, The Giver was sure to distinguish between items that are naturally sweet (like pineapple, watermelon, apples, dates, coconut sugar and maple syrup) from those that are concocted to please with a cloying combination of flavors (such as sugar-coated jelly beans, airy angel food cake, warm, doughy chocolate chip cookies, and syrupy apple pie). It was during this portion of their lesson that Jonas learned firsthand how too much of a good thing can actually be quite sick-making.
Although The Giver explained sour’s puckering dichotomy—the brightness of bold citrus flavors like lemon, lime and orange versus the horrid discomfort that can arise after a swig of soured milk—Jonas loved the sparkling energy that overtook his taste buds when met with pungent sour foods like kimchi, bubbling kombucha and ripe kumquats. He was especially delighted to experience the candied end of the sour spectrum, sucking greedily on Cry Babies, Lemon Heads and Warheads until his taste buds were swollen and he thought his whole mouth might explode.
For Jonas, saltiness was quite special. It seemed so different from the other tastes, especially when one could merely pass a saltshaker over anything to increase its depth of flavor—and with astonishing results! Jonas loved the burst of flavor fresh sea salt imparted to ripe avocado, but also understood the delicate balance needed when he accidentally over-salted a plate of eggs that had been cooked with extra calciferous bacon. He loved the crunch of savory snacks, like fresh-popped popcorn and crispy tortilla chips, and was surprised by the decadence of salted sweets, like watermelon and jelly toast. Remembering the effect the spoonful of sugar had on his bitter cup of coffee, he thought maybe this also-granulated flavor-creator might have its own unique effect on the bitter drink. As he spat out the acrid concoction, he vowed to spend a little more time learning about the tastes. Clearly, there was much to be discovered.