Is it good to have taste?

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Eu-Jin Goh and I spent some time today discussing the question of whether it's good to have taste. Lots of products span a wide range of quality and price, but with differences that are purely aesthetic and take practice to appreciate. The classic example here is wine, which spans at least 5 orders of magnitude in terms of price. Now, all (or at least most) wine contains alcohol and to an unpracticed taste, the differences between a $5 bottle of wine and a $500 bottle of wine aren't that great. So, is it good for you to have taste?

The obvious advantage of having taste is that you get to enjoy really nice stuff. For a long time I didn't really like sushi, so it all tasted much the same. On the other hand, now that I've acquired a taste for sushi, I really appreciate good sushi, and I enjoy it much more than I ever did before. So, that's on the plus side. There are downsides, however. The obvious one is that I'm much more acutely aware of how bad bad sushi is. Whereas before I could just eat it, now it's basically intolerable. This means that if I want to eat sushi, I have to eat good sushi, which is much more expensive.

I don't think there's a definitive answer here: it depends on how easily you can afford the good stuff. If you can, then you're probably getting more pleasure from having taste than it's costing you. On the other hand, if you can't afford good stuff, you're just torturing yourself by developing good taste.

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9 Comments

Perhaps you've hit on the difference between good taste and snobbery: good taste merely implies the ability to discriminate between higher and lower quality, while snobbery requires the outright rejection of anything of low quality. I like to think I can appreciate fine food as much as anyone, for example, but that doesn't mean I can't also appreciate the joys of obtaining large amounts of free bad food--it just means I like free good food that much better.

In other words, I have good taste, whereas you're a snob.

Where clothing is concerned, good taste has an often overlooked advantage: it lasts longer. Not only in terms of its useful lifetime, but in terms of the fickle finger of fashion.

The same thing happened to me a few years back, with respect to coffee--I found that I just couldn't bring myself to drink bad coffee anymore. I surely derive more pleasure from drinking good coffee now, but I also spend a lot more money.

So, by Dan's metric, I'm a snob. (And on a lot of other things as well--I pretty much can't stomach badly written books or newspapers, bad TV, etc.)

--John

That seems like an odd definition of snobbery. Snobbery is attempted enforcement or reinforcement of social class through "admiration" of material things. Just not liking stuff that you no longer think is any good doesn't qualify, I think. Declaring that people's tastes can't evolve (in sushi, books, or cars) seems to deny the possibility of effective education, unless you think that there's some ingrained "genuine" set of preferences that people have at birth, and any change to that set is purely socially motivated deception.

Also, there are definate knees on the curve. I have an OK/decent taste in wine. I tend to BUY however, the "good but inexpensive" stuff, rather than the "best at any cost" stuff.

Also, you can compensate by reducing consumption. EG, I also like good Scotch and Bourbon. And I BUY good scotch and bourbon. But I drink so little of it at a time and overall that the cost ends up being minor.

First, remember that you can enjoy a sense of taste without spending a lot of money. Ever turned on a radio to hear some music? Visited a free museum? Looked at some fine china? been invited to a good meal?

Second, a sense of taste means knowing quality even when many dollar signs are not attached. I'll know that the wine I'm drinking is not as good as some of the most expensive in the world, but I may find quality at each price point, and be able to enjoy my thin wallet better for it.

I recommend developing (as I have done) a taste for what's called "found art." That means I can pick stuff up for free that may look incredibly good in a frme.
- The Precision Blogger
http://precision-blogging.blogspot.com

What is worse is having no taste, then developing some.

One look at my LP collection is sufficient to demonstrate this point.

Unlike with bad coffee, however, there is a certain twisted satisfaction to listening to ELO's Out of the Blue once in a while.

There are some items which one can develop a refined taste for, but which nonetheless are still readily consumed even when "inferior". Beer (for me) is one. TJ's $5.00 stuff is good enough, even if Chimay is better. Pizza is another -- remember Woody Allen's joke about it being like sex ("Even when it's bad, it's good").

To follow-up on Chris Walsh's post, I find that appreciation gives me a better ability to make preference choices. Regardless of whether you can afford good things, there's always a consideration of value for money.

My value instinct makes it difficult to pay a lot of money for bad steak, but it allows me to appreciate Outback. The same value instinct makes it difficult (for me) to pay $1000 for a bottle of wine, because I know I can get a similar pay-off from something costing much less.

Jim: More expensive clothing might last longer, up to a point. But I suspect that point will actually be reached at a fairly low price point.

For example, a basic wool flannel blazer from J. Press should be far more durable than one in Super 180s from, say, Kiton.

Furthermore, a basic "trad" way of dressing is less likely to go out of style than expensive designer experiments.

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