I have not been able to taste anything in several weeks. Now, before you get yer panties in a bunch, I’ve been tested for Covid twice, both times negative. Apparently, there are numerous reasons a person can lose their taste and/or smell including your garden variety cold, sinus infection, etc.
This is the first time that I’ve ever lost my taste so completely. I’ve had colds or allergies where you can only get hints of tastes, but all the complexities of the tastes are still there. A cherry still tastes like a cherry, and chocolate still tastes like chocolate, but the flavor is subdued, as if they exist somewhere in a fog, but you can still detect them.
This was utterly different. There was no hint of smell or taste, not even in the distance. If I had my eyes closed, I would not have been able to detect what I was eating. I might have guessed, based on the texture or shape. The experience was simultaneously frustrating and a bit scary (what if I could never smell or taste again?), yet fascinating. I imagined a blind person who becomes adept at identifying the world through sound, or a deaf person who feels music through vibration. I could not have created this scenario, the way one could pretend to be blind by using a blindfold, or pretend to be deaf by wearing sound dampening headphones. The loss of taste could only be generated by illness or injury.
I knew I got hungry through the pangs in my stomach, and sometimes only because my brain knew that it was lunchtime, but I never craved food due to smelling it. Sometimes, I would have a penchant for a piece of chocolate, mostly because my sugar levels drop at a certain time of day and I reward myself with a small piece of organic, dark chocolate, but since I couldn’t taste it, I lost interest in it. Even pizza, which I stop for about once / month on the way home from work – what was the point? There would be no pleasure in it.
At times, I just really wanted to be eating something, to feel something in my mouth, to experience the crunch of something breaking between my teeth, so I settled on some veggie chips. At first, I pretended that I could detect the saltiness of them, but I soon realized that existed only in my memory, so I focused on the chomp. I could feel the ridges and grittiness of the chip on my tongue, I could hear the crunch of the chip inside my head. That seemed to satisfy me for a few minutes. The upside was that I lost a few pounds due to lack of interest. (Typically, I don’t gain or lose weight, but between the pandemic, my loss of walking ability for 4 months, and summer vacation with lots of family members, I put on a few pounds and had fun doing it.)
Little by little, I began to regain my sense of taste, but it has been a very slow progression. For instance, I love black licorice, which has a very strong flavor, but even that did not register. Finally, one day, I was able to detect the slightest hint of anise on my tongue. At first, I thought it was just the memory of the taste. While eating most things, I had to rely on my memory. I couldn’t determine if I was actually tasting anything, or if I was deceiving myself. I closed my eyes to really sense what was happening. Alas, there was no taste at all. The licorice had the slick wetness to which I was accustomed, and the texture was somewhere between gummy bears (which I dislike due to their bounciness in my mouth) and figs, which are moist and slightly chewy. That was satisfying, but without the flavor, I had no real reason to ingest candy.
On the other hand, I still gave into my need for a small piece of chocolate at the end of a hard day’s work. I kept hoping that this would be my breakthrough. Milk chocolate seemed to be more satisfying for my imagined endeavor. The creaminess of the milkfats settled on my tongue, as did the sensation of silkiness. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it without the memory. As it were, I only ate half of a tiny piece, enough to lift me into a reverie.
Cheese was fascinating. I thought the pungent strength of the cheese on my taste buds would pop through at least a little, but all I could detect was a hint of saltiness. The cheese was crumbly in my mouth, and a bit slimy, and the only reason to continue eating it was the nutrition. I had the saddest thought that I might never regain my taste buds and I would lose such a rich sensation that made life so much more fun. I attempted to keep my hopes up.
As my taste buds have begun to reappear, it seems that eating strong flavors, like pickles, are my best bet. Not only the saltiness, but a sort of spiciness broke through. Still, my sense of smell was barely working, and I’ve always been one to smell my food because that’s part of the charm and sensuality of eating, so the experience was seriously lacking. I excavated the memory of the pickle – briny, savory and tangy. I even closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have any distractions.
This has been quite the test of my mindfulness, really forcing me to be present with this quotidian action that we all take for granted. While I have no desire to lose my taste buds again (they have not fully recovered), I do appreciate the opportunity to observe the subtleties of food in more complex ways.