I've always billed myself as a hedonist. The brevity and uncertainty of life seemed to call for it. Recently, I've had much cause to ponder the concept of natural sweetness and how overloading on peak experiences blunts our appreciation in both physical and metaphysical ways.
This year finds me challenging my eating habits, morphing my sugar addicted lifestyle into a moderated, low-glycemic one. It didn't take long for me to taste the sweet life. It takes no more than a few days for the taste buds to spring back to duty after years of blunting with sugar. It turns out that sugar is but a drop in the ocean of sweetness, and I was making a poor substitution. So poor that I just now discovered fruit is actually sweeter than doughnuts. I'd always considered fruit to be something you ate when there were no cookies available; the poor man's cake. The glorious complexity of the naturally sweetened world was lost on me.
There are chemical reasons why sugar-laden goodies are the valium of the taste-buds. A substance called lactisole is manufactured by sugar companies, and at concentrations of 100–150 parts per million in food lactisole largely suppresses the ability to perceive sweet tastes from sugar and artificial sweeteners. Huge amounts of sugar can be added to products like sports drinks without the tell-tale taste we associate with sugar. Googling "natural sweetness" yields 122,000 entries. It looks like I'm not the only one searching for it. It's worth finding.
As I sit here savoring a whole bran blueberry muffin (sugarless but incredibly sweet), still warm from the oven, I reflect on how my appreciation for every experience has deepened. The urge to submerge myself in a big box store or designer boutique bursting with the heady fragrance of new merchandise is still there. But, increasingly, it feels more and more like a circus.
Last night, a quest for mouthwash took me past the personal beauty section of our local grocery emporium--a former favorite haunt. As a new consumption outsider, the bright lights, startling colors and huge seductive signs appeared to have all the hallmarks of the Las Vegas strip. Win a chance to be model-perfect, they scream; only $8.99 per roll of the dice. It's difficult to focus on natural sweetness with all that hype flooding the senses.
Natural sweetness can be found virtually anywhere and it costs very little. It's a matter of beating back the brambles of too many peak experiences and uncovering our appreciation. Dusting it off and tuning it to the complex beauty of subtler experiences requires some time away from consumerism. But the reward is wonderful. Suddenly, the mundane is spectacular again and simple things like naturally-sweetened blueberry bran muffins become a reason to smile. I like that.