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Kyle Cherek On The Evolution Of Our Tastebuds


Why are we so driven by smells and tastes of delicious, delectable foodstuffs, like mom's homemade lasagna? And, for that matter, why do we have an emotional connection to it?

Not too long ago, Lake Effect contributor Kyle Cherek, host of the Emmy-winning public television show Wisconsin Foodie, gave a TEDx talk discussing these queries, focusing on the intersection between flavor, history and memory.


He says that we can start by looking at evolution.

"I would submit that the reason that we developed a sense of taste, really an emotional connection to flavor," he details, "is what led us out of the fertile crescent, and in 180,000 years, to populate the furthest corners of the earth."

He says that taste can be tracked from our early evolutionary beginnings as vertebrae needing to distinguish between toxic and beneficial substances up through millions of years later, when we discovered how to cook meat.

He references Harvard professor Richard Wrangham's book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. "In essence, when we started cooking, a whole host of other evolutionary changes happen. To oversimplify, our stomachs got smaller, and our brains got larger," he explains.

Thanks to this evolution, we are biologically in a different place and are able to fully appreciate that glass of eggnog, slice of fruitcake or potato latke during the holidays.

"What science has taught us is that when we taste, we actually have taste buds that cover our tongues, the back of our throats, the roof of our mouths, and our noses," he says.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.
Kyle Johnson Cherek is a culinary historian and food essayist. He was the former host of Wisconsin Foodie on PBS, and for over a decade he has chronicled regional food stories, exploring where our food comes from, and how it shapes who we are. His signature wit and keen observations have made him a sought-after keynote speaker, media contributor, and culinary storyteller. Kyle has been awarded the Wisconsin Broadcast Association Award twice for his compelling essays on food culture.