Matters of taste: bridging molecular physiology and the humanities
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Taste perception was the focus of an undergraduate course in the health sciences that bridged the sciences and humanities. A problem-based learning approach was used to study the biological issues, whereas the cultural transmutations of these molecular mechanisms were explored using a variety of resources (novels, cookbooks, and films). Multiple evaluation procedures were used: problem summaries and problem-solving exercises (tripartite problem-solving exercise) for the problem-based learning component and group tasks and individual exercises for the cultural issues. Self-selected groups chose specific tasks from a prescribed list of options (setting up a journal in molecular gastronomy, developing an electronic tongue, designing a restaurant for synesthetes, organizing a farmers' market, marketing a culinary tour, framing hedonic scales, exploring changing tastes through works of art or recipe books, and crafting beers for space travel). Individual tasks were selected from a menu of options (book reviews, film reviews, conversations, creative writing, and oral exams). A few guest lecturers (wine making, cultural anthropology, film analysis, and nutritional epidemiology) added more flavor. The course was rated highly for its learning value (8.5 ± 1.2, n = 62) and helped students relate biological mechanisms to cultural issues (9.0 ± 0.9, n = 62).
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