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what makes a hound - nature or nurture?

david feldman refers to the question in one of his posts - nature or nurture? the issue fascinates me - only because i'm increasingly becoming aware of attractive, intelligent people, whose taste in books i like, whose ipod i'd borrow and whose choice of film gets no argument from me ... but who have dead palates.

whats weird is that some of these people are madly passionate about food.

and then there are people like my brother who stayed behind in bombay - we have NOTHING in common. a few barely civil grunts is all we can manage whenever we do accidentally meet - i might as well live on pluto as far he's concerned. but if he tells me that the sali boti in this restaurant in parsi colony is great, then i know its phenomenal.

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  1. Howler, good to see you back on CH.

    I am convinced it is nature but nuture comes into it too. I have always wanted to taste and try everything my DH is the same way. My sister was very conservative about food, we used to say she would only eat white food. My parents were foodies and always trying to introduce new and wonderful things, being sure we got to top restaurants where ever we lived, so it wasn't like my sister wasn't given the opportunities. Doug's brother is a fairly conservative eater too sticking to what is familiar and safe (their father was the same way and his mother was a very frustrated cook). His wife is pretty conservative too and I have had their sons at the table and when confronted with something new or unfamiliar ask their mother if they will like it. They are both in grad school now and out of the house but I can guarantee because of their up-bringing anything new culinarily will be looked upon with great suspicion.

    I guess it is like the old which came first chicken or the egg question.

    1. I think more nurture than nature. My mother was a graduate of the U. of Kentucky with a degree in Home Economics (try to find that today). So, she knew food and was an outstanding southern cook, we were served a very wide variety of different foods when I was growing up. My father was an airline captain who flew international. Made my first trip to Europe at age 8 where I enjoyed my first paella in Spain, that was in the 50's when i doubt 90% of the people in this country had ever heard of a paella. There was fish and chips in England, too many different things to remember in Italy, wonderful sausages in Germany. With that start I've never been afraid to try almost anything. I can remember him bringing home live lobsters home from Boston when he flew there. That was many years before there was a tank of them in the grocery.

      In the 60's I was in Viet Nam so got to experience any number of different Asian foods, Viet Namese, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. All of those I love today.

      So, I think experiencing a wide variety early on in life nurtures one's interest in food, a interest that will probably last a lifetime.

      1. Nuture.

        My parents traveled a great deal. We grew up eating more exotic produce and absolutely using every spice on the rack! Growing up, many friends would say, "what's wrong with apples & oranges?" when having lunch at my house. My Mother would chime in, "take a trip to Jamaica, eat this papaya!" I loved her for that!

        I'd love to hear an example of how a CH is born/nature.

        1. Gotta be mostly nurture, though there may be a natural inclination to go this route.

          Even beyond nurture, the experiences one has as an adult further the food experiences one has during childhood & youth.

          So maybe there's another category--something to do with exploration beyond nurture.

          1. Interesting thread.

            I think Nature plays a certain role in how curious and determined a person is--two characteristics I frequently associate with Hounds.

            Nurture plays a big role in channelling those natural tendencies into food.

            But isn't there a certain destiny in it, too?

            1. My mom (RIP) could dry out a turkey or chicken just by looking at it. My Dad believes there are only two seasonings: salt and pepper. Not an interesting food atmosphere.

              Perhaps we nurture ourselves as our palates become, um, "aware."

              I'm just happy to be nurturing a couple of kids who will ask for interesting food more often than, say, Doritos. Is it my nurture? I like to think it's a bit of it. But I do think nature has a part - it's that sense of adventure and openness that leads us to new food experiences, as Non Cog said.

              I love this thread, as I have a group of nieces and nephews that like, well, nothing, and am called upon to suggest things. Do you think it's the food we give kids, or the way we talk about food to kids that matters when we are talking about the nurture end of things?

              1. Nurture. Family members who cooked were few & far between, but I was around people who cooked & soaked it up.

                On my Mom's side, only my Aunt would cook much interesting. I still remember live lobsters scuttling around the kitchen floor. My paternal Grandma (age 88) still cooks, nothing exotic, but very tasty middle American cuisine. And Christmas cookies, hundreds of dozens. Our neighborhood daycare lady was French and the woman could *cook*. I can still picture her dicing a garlic clove. Honest to G-D, dicing. She would hold it in one hand and carefully cut a deep crosshatch in one end, then slice off these tiny little cubes. My Stepfather, rest in peace, cooked very NYT gourmet.

                Now, I will try almost anything. On menus, I love to look for interesting and unusual stuff. I perversely savor chow all the more if my sister is curling her lip, denouncing some yummy discovery as "weird".

                1. The answer is obviously Yes, since it's even harder to separate those two factors in this case than in most: everyone gets born, everyone eats, and most of us grow up eating in the company of them what bore us. I certainly got it from every direction: my family was swarming with good cooks and food freaks, and even the ones who were really bad at cooking most things and/or affected disdain for the pleasures of the table turned out to have some weird genius in one particular corner of the kitchen. Like my Great-Grandma James, a tiny pretty lady whom I dearly loved, who was the sworn enemy of Demon Rum, and yet the only two things she could cook worth a damn were her fried chicken, which required a shot of whiskey to steam the meat to perfection, and her to-die-for fruitcake which she would make every January for the following Christmas, wrap in cheesecloth, and douse regularly with brandy through the ensuing year. Her daughter Mildred, my Grandma Kuntz, could ruin a hot dog, but her cakes and cookies were the things of a child's dreams; Grandpa Kuntz more than made up for her deficiencies in the meat-and-potatoes department, having grown up in a large pig-raising Mennonite family with a taste for the family's products and a talent for cooking. On top of that, a long wartime stint as a truck-driver gave him a well-remembered mental map of every decent roadfood joint in the Midwest, many of which were still in existence when I knew him.

                  How the hell could I *NOT* be a Chowhound??

                  1. I emphatically say nuture. My husband's family's cupboards (and those of his friends) are stocked with Wonderbread and Campbell's chicken soups, and Sunday dinner is ALWAYS very well done potroast, canned green beans, instant mashed potatoes. It is the same in every one of his sibling's families, EXCEPT for one sister who did graduate work in Italy and Africa for eight years.

                    1. I am going to go against the grain and say nature. When my sister and I were growing up all rice was brown, yogurt was homemade, fondue for christmas, etc., etc. When my parents divorced and my mom became a single mom, in came some alphagetti, zoodles and frosted flakes. Fast forward a good number of years and I will eat just about anything, but would generally not choose to eat sugary, processed or deep fried foods, whereas for my sister an eggo waffle, a can of pepsi and a cigarette is a perfectly respectable meal. We remain best friends but we just can't get that aspect of each other. No one can explain how our food preferences are sooo different.

                      But in defence of nurture, I think that those closest to you can push your natural tendencies further to one end of the spectrum. Like me, my DH is pretty adventurous and like me counts spinach as his favourite vegetable (ahh, love). Because of that if one of us brings homes something from the store because, well, it looks kinda cool, the other one is always game to try and make a meal of it, which in the end tends to make our chowish tendencies more pronounced than if we had each hitched ourselves to more sunday potroast and mashed potato types. Canned green beans, yummmm.

                      1. don't know if this answers the op or just confuses the issue, but it seems like people decide to jump into the processed food pool and swim, or into the foodie hottub & soak-- the marlboro sucking person won't have probs with frozen waffles, diet soda, food coloring, taco bell, wine that tastes like apples & is tinted green etc-- no offense intended to JennaL's sis, it's just that once you go to a McRib & that's what you think is good, you tend to keep going down that road-- on the other hand people who decide to make their own soup/pie/bread/mayo/saladdressing/bbqsauce/dimsum/whathaveyou, or at least decide to inform themselves about what the heck it's supposed to taste like tend to get more and more interested in food, be better cooks and rest. patrons, have lives that are made more enjoyable by the food & bev on the table etc. smart people sometimes choose to mainly fuel their bodies on carton-eggs. i think that nurture has more to do with this delimma because most europeans have a clue about food & appreciate small high quality things like bread, butter, table wine etc. while the vast majority of americans can name their favorite meal at McDonalds by # and have the attitude that when it comes to food, cheaper is better. it's hard to distinguish which is the deeper american cultural addiction: junk food, or "bargain"

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: soupkitten

                          ouch soupkitten, that's a broad generalization...an a culture clash not worth arguing. There is always room for improvement/nature or nuture among all food lovers since we "partake" til our last breath.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about food, but still can appreciate Doritos!

                        2. What a great thread!

                          And yes! to Non Cognomina, although we probably might just as well characterize ourselves as curious and control-freaks; that's *my* experience, at least. And I mean it in the warmest possible way.

                          I vote nurture.

                          It doesn't stick for everyone, but it does for some. My father practically burned down the house roasting goose; he gave up meat for Lent annually and spent 40 days in a rage; celebrated with Genoa salami when the fast came to an end. For me it stuck, and today we swap recipes and tips on where to buy stuff. For my brother and sister, it never did. Sucks to be them ;-)

                          1. hey guys my above post wasn't meant as a big slam, i am a reformed junk foodster myself, also had to make the most of my foodshelf grocery bags, so i have had my share of bad food-- it's just my observation that junky food tends to beget more junky food (also i think there's crack in the fry-grease)-- sure, i may occasionally snarf down some chips, myself & i don't think it makes anyone a food hypocrite to crave a greasy burger once in awhile-- my obsevation was just meant to be that people who get used to good food & drink can't go back after awhile-- those who upgrade to artisan butter, good wine, home baked bread etc. don't usually go back to oleo, boone's farm & wonder bread, & for good reason. i'm not trying to be a meanie, i'm just very opinionated & outspoken, & speaking from experience in this case. :)

                            1. Nature. In my family, I am the only person who is obsessed with food. My mother was a good cook but when I once asked her why my two brothers were useless in the kitchen while I was her sous-chef from the age of about 6, she said she couldn't stop me. I was cooking full family meals in my early teens, subscribing to cooking magazines and sourcing exotic ingredients a bit later.

                              Same for my husband. He comes from a family of bland meat-and potatoes home cooking types and his siblings and their families still eat that way. This makes for some painful family get-togethers. But he'll try anything and is happy to go exploring with me for unusual ingredients and cuisines. Both of us are regarded as a bit odd by our respective families.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: cheryl_h

                                Clearly the answer is that we became chowhounds because of our natures and we parents will be able to create chowhounds via careful nuturing!

                                Or I think that's what we're all hoping to hear at least : )

                                My mother was a not a particularly good cook and would not go to ethnic restaurants. I am a very adventurous eater and an avid cook while my sister enjoys a lot of processed foods and is a disaster in the kitchen. But in comparison with the nation at large we are probably both fairly adventurous eaters and enjoy a broad range of cuisines. We grew up curious about the foods we could not have and were required to eat well enough that neither of us could be paid enough to eat at an Applebee's.

                                I've exposed my son to a huge variety of food and cuisines and people who haven't done so consider his eating habits remarkable. However it is entirely possible that he'll grow up to be disinterested in food. I would be shocked if he somehow turned into a picky or pedestian eater however.

                                1. re: cheryl_h

                                  I think that is what I was trying to convey. I was the same way and my sister who had all of the same oportunities was food phobic.

                                  1. re: cheryl_h

                                    I agree you can tell by what happens within the same family. My husband is a major chowhound and his parents are, too. But, one of his sisters is a stove top stuffing, green bean casserole type person. She uses country crock as butter when she bakes and half of the people in their family can't tell the difference between that and butter. But some can. They grew up with the same good food (both parents are great cooks). For them, it's nature.

                                  2. I think it must be some of both, and something in our souls. My Mom was a good cook, she learned from her mother who cooked for her family and the ranch hands. My father made amazing "Irish" spaghetti - no recipe - just by feel and taste and it took him all day and I can duplicate it. Of course he also liked his steak to be so well done that he could chip off bites. He'd eat anything Mom put in front of him - as long as his meat was well done.

                                    Mom was an adventurous cook. We had to have something new every week. Now and then there's be a chile dinner - one large can of Dennison's chile and a can of water (sometimes they just had to stretch a buck). But, both my parents worked full time from day one. My brother like to hang out in the kitchen with Mom, I got to do dishes. Now I'm the chowhound in the clan and he has a beautiful kitchen that neither he or his wife use. They don't appear to be much interested in trying new things.

                                    Everyone says that I have to learn to eat to live in order to drop about 35 lbs I need to get rid of. Sorry. great food is the reason for life. My daughters are the same way. My husband is the same way. Our friends are the same way, well at least when they're eating at my house.

                                    Sure there's an occasionaly burger somewhere when we're on the run. But I can't wait to go back to the little Thai place we found last week! Yes, while I was having some medical issues I made use of some prepared foods off the Schwans truck and now and then we'll still do that if it's been a hard day or if I just can't screw up the needed energy to cook from scratch. But I'd rather have creamy polenta with braised shortribs with melted tomatoes and onions.

                                    I think a chowhound is a person who appreciates, adores, and obsesses about great food and drink, knows where to find it, how to make it, and when to just relax and enjoy the turkey casserole they are eating. JMHO :)

                                    1. My entire family (mother, father, and brother) was obsessed with food, and food was the center of most of our celebrations. I think all of them were a little more adventurous than most, but to the extent to which a Chowhound is someone who has far-ranging and adventurous culinary proclivities, I'm probably the only one who qualifies. Although it's theoretically possible that the family love of food is genetic, it feels like nurture.

                                      But why does my brother have a hard time tolerating spicy food. Why does my father dislike rich sauces? I blame nature.

                                      1. Nurture. I was a terribly finicky eater until I met my husband. My mother is also finicky and a terrible cook! Oh the days of overcooked canned spinach - it just sends chills up and down my spine. I used to have to pretend that I was eating a number of other things when sitting at the dinner table in order to get some of the stuff down. (mind over matter) After dating my husband for a while, he began to insist that I at least try some things. His mantra was - "There are a billion people in the world who eat this and enjoy it. How can they all be wrong? You can at least try it." So here I am, 16 years later many pounds heavier. But I love food now!

                                        1. I always find this a fascinating question, and while I tend to come down more on the side of nurture, I do think nature plays a role. There have been threads on CH that have discussed how babies who are breast-fed may have wider palates than those who don't because what their mothers eat is tasted in the breast milk. And there are certainly taste-limiting issues like the ones Dave mentions above; we're starting to hear more about phenomena like supertasters that explain physiological reasons why some people have limited palates.

                                          The nurture argument is interesting because it's not just about what you grew up with. There have also been several threads over the years in which people have talked about growing up eating bad cooking or boring, palate-deadening food, and having no idea that food could be something so stimulating or interesting, until an outside source - a friend, roommate, travel experience, etc., changed it all, and they started to become chowhounds. Sometimes the nurture comes later in life and from other sources. Some of these posters talked about having "Aha!" moments, and attributed their wide interests in food to reactions against what they grew up with.

                                          I managed to dig up this old thread, which I loved rereading, if anyone wants to indulge in stories of chowish childhoods: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/286410

                                          1. Interesting thread, a subject that I've been thinking about for a while.

                                            I'm a supertaster, so I think I'm definitely more inclined toward being a CH because I pick up more from food/wine than most other people.

                                            What about everyone else? Are the rest of you CHs supertasters? What came first, the ability or the interest?

                                            1. I'm a nature AND nurture girl, I think.

                                              My mom cooked all the time. She and I pretended to be on Julia Child's cooking show when we cooked together. Mom made lots of things from scratch.

                                              However, until I moved out, the vegetables in my repertoire were carrots, corn, potatoes, and green beans.

                                              Once I was on my own, I discovered things like artichokes and asparagus, kale and leeks, sweet potatoes and cabbage, and on and on. . . Brussels sprouts, tomatoes (which my mother HATES and I love) were never present in our house growing up.

                                              Her enthusiasm for food and cooking , however limited, was surely what influenced me to become a food fanatic.

                                              My husband, on the other hand, comes from a family of eight who ate mostly what was most inexpensive but fresh. His mother hates to cook. (I prefer to cook and she prefers to clean--we get along beautifully.)

                                              He is a much better cook--although equally as enthusiastic--than I am.

                                                1. Although marlie202 believes in a genetic origen, I have to support the nurture group. I had aunts on my mother's side and cousins on my father's that could cook all our collective a*&&^s off. And I grew up in Fresno, CA, where every immigrant from an agricultural society arrived. Everyone had to have restaurants that would cater to the tastes of very large groups of their own people (rather than to some version catering to 'murcan tastes). I've since lived outside of the US for 30 years all over the world (Jesus, I'm a boring old fart!). In all, I appreciate my "nuture" for having driven me to all foods everywhere and to striving to cook like others in my family, both living and dead.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka


                                                    My cousin would not eat conventional jarred baby food from the very beginning. He would hurl himself onto the dinner table and start gumming away at the more flavorful things. He never once took a sandwich to school, it was always pasta, stir-fry or pilaf of some sort. Today, he can accurately discern every single spice in a dish.

                                                    In the meantime his brother came along and until the age of 11, would only eat plain rice or pasta with salt. No pepper, no cheese, just salt.

                                                    My husband has been exposed to a lot of different things since coming into my CH familiy, and while having developed an appreciation for variety, is equally content with the STovetop stuffing he grew up with.

                                                    Nurture may enhance and enrich a palate, but nature has either given you a true CH one or it hasn't.

                                                    1. re: alex8alot

                                                      What a wondwerful account. What the *%&%*&* do your two cousins say to each other? Are you sure that the younger cousin isn't doing all this to his brother just for fun?

                                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                        As it happens, they are both now rather sullen, monosyllabic young men, so they don't bother with words at all. And I suspect that the younger one would prefer not to be this way because in a family of CHs, you can imagine that he is persecuted for his non-palate.

                                                  2. From my personal experience, I'll put my vote in the Nature category. I was a pretty unadventurous eater as a child and my parents never encouraged me beyond the standards. My mom was a child of the 50s -- casseroles, casseroles, and more casseroles. And then later on, Market Day, Market Day, Market Day. I always liked food, but think I owe my chow-ish-ness to my deep inclination (at a young age -- I think I was 7 when I first said I didn't want to eat meat, for what I'd now define as ethical reasons) towards vegetarianism. When I stopped eating meat I really started to venture outside of my comfort zone, and finding the good veg-food became something of a treasurehunt for me when I started travelling more. That's also why I started cooking -- my mom made it a point that she wasn't going to make any 'special' food for me, so if I wanted to explore the wide world of tofu and meat substitutes, I had to get out there and do it on my own... In that sense I'm strongly on the nature side (or maybe it's something like anti-nurture?). Also, my brother is also a chowhound of sorts (raised in the same decidedly unadventurous household that I was), and from what I've been told about my grandfather, who died before I was born, he was definitely a chowhound. So I think I come by it through a mixture of genetics and other influences, all unrelated to nurture.