Cardboard

You hesitate briefly, your hand hovering over the saltcellar—it may not need salt. You pull your hand away, pick up your fork and dig in. You raise a forkful of scrambled eggs to your mouth, take a bite, and chew on it reflectively. It is blander than you could have possibly imagined. These eggs could not have been cooked within a mile of anything remotely resembling spicing, not even salt or pepper. You marvel at the blandness—you’ve never encountered eggs so perfectly tasteless.

You mull the eggs over in your mouth, rolling them around with your tongue, focusing on the signals coming in from various taste buds, trying to detect even a hint of flavor. Nothing. As you press the egg to the roof of your mouth, you notice the subtle texture; curious, you shift pieces around, analyzing the sensations. Your teeth sink into the egg with little to no resistance, you note a light touch of…what? Not rubberiness, not Styrofoam. Pastiness?  A textured version of gelatin, not smooth, of course…Perhaps as one would imagine a tomato juice-based gelatin.

You’ve never noticed the texture of scrambled eggs so distinctly. You decide to experiment; you’re going to try to divorce the sensations from each other—taste from texture.

You tackle the toast. It’s easy to ignore the flavor—though not as bland as the eggs, the toast too, is essentially tasteless. You turn it curiously. Yes, it has traces of butter or a butter-like product spread on it. Tasteless butter? You shrug and continue chewing, analyzing. There’s a satisfying crunch as your teeth penetrate the toasted outer layer, the sensation enhanced when your teeth strike the softer inner layer of bread. The scratchiness as it scrapes your gums keeps you occupied…for a few seconds. Then you return the piece of toast to the plate; like the eggs, it does not hold your interest for long.

Next are the home fries. You bite into a piece. Mmmmm… Oops! You’ve forgotten that you are to disregard the flavor. You pop the rest of it into your mouth, your incisors bite through, splitting the paper thin skin with an almost audible pop, releasing the smooth texture of the inner potato flesh. As you chew, you note the pleasing blend of textures: the occasional rustling of teeth scraping against the papery skin, the sensation as your teeth sink into the pasty inner flesh, and the crunch of crisply fried edges.

You return your attention to the eggs and the toast, but you just cannot keep it there, it’s so boring, and…unpleasant. You are drawn back to the home fries—you find the combination of textures irresistible; moreover, though you continue to struggle to divorce flavor from texture, the savory flavor keeps sneaking up on you, tempting you away from the rest of the items on your breakfast plate.

What if all food was poorly flavored?  What if everything you had to eat, day in day out, was tasteless? What if all food tasted the same, or even worse—what if it all tasted like cardboard? Eggs, toast, home fries, steak, cheese, chocolate, apples, grapes, milk—all cardboard?

After one of the brain bleeds, I spent a month or so tasting cardboard whenever I ate. It didn’t do much for my appetite.