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A Taste for Sweetness

Alanna writes about the development of taste in infancy - sweet first, and only later salty, sour, bitter and savory - and how this progression mirrors spiritual growth. -Editor.

I recently listened to Terry Gross interview the chef Grant Achatz on Fresh Air. Years ago, Achatz was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and though his treatments were ultimately successful, during the process he lost his sense of taste. I can only imagine what that would have been like for a man in his position, with his genius, to lose something so central to his purpose in life. As the interview goes on, we hear how over time his sense of taste was gradually restored, beginning first with sweetness, and then progressively incorporating all of the other tastes—bitterness, sourness, saltiness, and umami. Achatz infers that this incremental incorporation of one taste at a time follows the basic development of the sense of taste in infants, which, by this logic, begins with an appreciation of sweetness. To be clear, I did not spend time researching the scientific validity of this claim, although his personal experience speaks volumes. But to me this seems to reflect a few things that I think are true about the Lord and his love for us.

I believe that we have been—are being, will be—created by the One God of heaven and earth, the perfect union of divine love and divine wisdom, Jesus Christ.1 I think that the marriage within the Lord, his Being, is the source of all true happiness. The imprint of this marriage, this preconditioning towards happiness, is evident even on the tip of our tongues. The sweet states of infancy, fastened to the concept that infants register sweetness exclusively for a time, acts as a sign to me that the human race is preordained to participate in a relationship with a loving God.

“The Lord’s presence involves liberty; the one is the consequence of the other. The more present the Lord is, the freer we are. In other words, the more we love goodness and truth, the more freely we act. That is the nature of the Lord’s influence, coming by way of angels.

Hell’s influence, on the other hand, coming by way of evil spirits, brings with it the forceful effort to dominate. Those spirits connive at nothing else than to put us completely under their yoke that we become nothing and they become everything. When they are everything, then we are one of them—and hardly even one of them, but like a nobody in their eyes. So when the Lord delivers us from their control and removes their yoke, a battle begins. And when we have been delivered—reborn—the Lord leads us so gently by means of angels that it is anything but a yoke, anything but domination. Through pleasure and happiness we are led and loved and esteemed. This is what the Lord teaches in Matthew: ‘My yoke is mild and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:30)" (Secrets of Heaven 905).

The idea that we all pass through a state in which we only recognize sweetness speaks to me about the Lord’s protection. From a vantage point of contentment, we can know pleasure's opposite when we encounter it. It is as though we are made to experience happiness initially so that this can function as a compass throughout our lives, guiding us toward reunion with itself, our source.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Revelation 22:13).

Although we may begin in bliss, life is a growing process. I seem to be continually moving from a state of relative darkness to one that is light by comparison. This is uncomfortable. I am thinking of my nephew's face when he was given a raspberry for the first time. As adults we've learned to appreciate a raspberry for what it is... supple nodes of flesh, a tart explosion, all the subtle fruity flavors—but he didn't register these aspects of it at all. 'No thanks!' It's too bad for him now, but I anticipate he'll learn. Where we are being brought may be even better than where we came from, dramatic as that sounds.

As a child, I liked nothing more than sweet things. My mom would guard against my having them, but I would nevertheless find a way. My tastes have changed now.2 They have adapted to accept and enjoy hundreds of things I had no taste for previously. I think the primacy of pleasure in our lives is a crucial reflection of the nature of the Lord; our source and our end; what we are working to hold and to share.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindess and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:1-5).

All kinds of experiences are useful, but there are many that I do not immediately savor. Witnessing life through a framework in which the Lord's goodness is a precondition helps me to accept all of the other things that occur in life and treat them as I might an unfamiliar flavor. There is nothing in reality that cannot contribute to the the rich feast that is always taking place at the Lord's table.3 It is my awareness and appreciation of what is, not the object of my attention, that informs the quality of my experience. The Lord is sharpening my palate, and widening my tastes. And there is no doubt in my mind that in the end, this is sweet.

“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).


1I am putting a very fine point on it here, and I'm not sure how useful that is to anyone, but I feel compelled to say it this way. I don't feel the reality of this constantly, but I do have moments of recognition that buoy these beliefs. What I don't want is for this statement to exclude anyone from appreciating the goodness around them.

2And by changed I mean reversed. To the exclusion of many fine things and the potential disappointment of warm and friendly hosts, I seem to relish sweetness as it exists in nature only. I am not even talking about licking honey off of my fingers here—that's too sweet for me. What I am referring to might be the leaves of kale after a frost which, in an effort to postpone immanent death, replace the water in their tissues with sugars. This renders the plant even more delightful! I'm disclosing this information merely as a humorous and ironic coincidence that I thought you, as I, might be tickled by knowing as you read what I've written here.

3White pepper ground over a steaming dish can deliver odors reminiscent of cow manure, but even this has its own charm.

Alanna Rose

Alanna spends most of her time on 'the' farm in upstate New York, making paintings, meals, and tending to things generally. She and her husband Garth Brown are in the process of building a house together and co-creating a cheese farm with Edmund Brown and Normandy Alden.

Reader Comments (2)

Thanks. I never thought about "sweetness" this way before. At age 65, I am more concerned about alternative cures for controlling and repressing type II geriatric diabetes such as enzyme therapy and plain and simple cinnemon spice mixed with Chinese green tea and curcuma - both of which also have certain anti-cancer effects. I drink a cup of that to start the day and end the evening. Granulated sugar bark also has anti-carcinogenic properties. Great article about "sweetness". And that makes me all for "women´s ordination" because that is something most men would have missed.

It was really sweet of you to submit this about "Sweetness". But sometimes I prefer sour like in sauerkraut - or good vinegar - my favourite being genduine "aceto-Balsemico" from Italy. That,plus olive oil, fresh herbs, greek goat cheese, black olives - tomatos -onions-garlic - cucumbers... Mmmmm. Or try this come next Easter... finely slice garlic "sticks", and then use a sharp paring knife to stab small holes in a leg of lamb - inserting the garlic.all over... then place in baking paper soaked in olive oil... add onions and tomatoes around the roast.potatos, and wrap... pop into the oven at medium temperatures and roast - half hour for each pound of roast.Its my favourite Greek easter dish...

We could turn this into a recipe blog. Anyhow, gotta go. Tomorrow is another day of sustainable energy work after a hearty breakfast of sweet raisons, yogurt, a little milk, oatmeal, a sliced diced banana, oatmeal, wheat flakes, other grains... and a touch of honey for sweetening. Yogurt and honey without the grains is also very common in Italy and Greece for breakfast. I like to add grain for a Swiss Muesli. - and then a slice of smoked ham or swiss cheese on buttered dark, moist whole wheat bread .... usually from "leinsamen" seed. Other days it is French - with a half stale baguet left over from the previous day being dunked in "café au lait" - with brown sugar sweeting.

Hope ya´ll had a "happy U.S. thanksgiving with stuffed turkey, marshmellows on mashed sweet potatos, mashed potatoes, veggies, apple cidre and the rest of the fun and an evening of popping popcorn in an open hearth fireplace. (ah the memories.) Sweetness was a very appropriate topic for a thanksgiving blog. Thanks.

Now after having enjoyed my evening cup of dark dutch hot chocolate (A favourite beverage of Swedenborg in old age as well), it is off to bed at 3:30 am so I can be bright eyed and bushy tailed overaged cubscout at my work starting at 10 a.m. (5 hours sleep suffices in old age for some strange reason.) (and its a Saturday on top of that. When the clients call - I even have to work on weekends, holidays or evening and night shifts. But that is life. Goodness the thought of full retirement scares me. I love my workl. Hope you all love your professions as well.

(A guy here in Munich won a Siemens "inventor of the year"award. He´s a cook at a Siemens corporate cafeteria, and he instituted a meat free day in all the companies cafeteria´s in Germany. It not only saves tons of meat, but all the co2 emissions used in growing the crops to feed them, transporting the animals to the slaughterhouse , etc... We are "green".

The neat thing about being a Clowesian here in Munich and doing social service for the homeless with a Benedictine monastery is that I can eat at the monastery when if I call to sign in in the mornings.... and German religious holidays mean especially excellent meals... I am looking foward to Christmas eve lunch - starting out with a soup and a dumpling, then with roast goose, traditional German walnut and dark bread stuffing, mixed potato and grain dumplings, sweet blue cabbage, with a desert of magnicent German pastries, ice cream and fruit. (And for those who can hold alcohol, I don´t drink- only 80 Euro cents buys you a pint of Andechs beer - brewed by the same monks other monastery - and Andechs is considered to be the best in Germany. Their dark beer is preferred on holidays. I drink mineral water or fruit juice for meals. - my favourite being a grapejoice-apple juice-mineral water mix which the monastery also has available for the same price. I love religious holidays. and we have a lot of them here in Bavaria because of the great food the monastery kitchens prepare. So what if the monkks have to do without sex- they make up for that with some of the world´s best cuisine I have ever tasted.

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKent Doering

This is hilarious Kent! Thanks for sharing all the food details!

In response to your statement about enjoying other tastes besides sweetness, that's the thrust of this entire essay actually. It's obvious to me that sweetness is something that people enjoy, but the pursuit or insistence on it throughout life, whether this be dietary or emotional, is detrimental in a number of obvious ways.

About type II diabetes: I believe it can be controlled. My advice to you would be to follow Mark Sisson's blog : ( - copy and paste that address for his complete advise on primal eating) and consider taking his 'primal challenge'. This would involve giving up all grains, legumes, most dairy (grass-fed butter/heavy cream and raw milk cheeses are exceptions if dairy doesn't cause you trouble) most fruit, and all sweets, except for dark chocolate, for one month and observe how you feel. I did it and I loved it.

All the best!


November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlanna
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