Once I was living on my own, and responsible for supplying my own meals, I learned to embrace a simple phrase pulled out any time I was visiting family: “Everything tastes delicious when you don’t have to cook it yourself.” My sisters have never tried to call me on this by whipping together a mushroom- and olive-based meal, but science may be on a trajectory to prove me wrong.
Science, of course, uses a more multi-syllabic vocabulary, so instead of deciding whether something “tastes delicious” researchers assess “the enjoyment of consumption”, and instead of simply “cooking” people are “engaging in ritualistic behavior”. I hadn’t really thought of following a recipe as being a “ritual”, since that word usually has supernatural overtones, but apparently following a recipe is sufficiently symbolic and sequenced to qualify as ritualistic.
The good news is that if you have a habitual way of unwrapping a chocolate bar – perhaps you carefully peel away the wrapper of only one block of squares at a time – it may actually serve a purpose of helping you enjoy the chocolate more. It will even work for carrots, so perhaps future healthy eating advice will provide a suggested series of hand gestures to engage in before eating each vegetable or fruit.
The bad news, of course, is that this tries to make a lie of my claim that food tastes better when it involves no effort on your part; the ritual of following a recipe will give an extra source of enjoyment to the chef, but not to the onlookers. I have my own answer to that, though: the rituals investigated so far are very brief ones; unwrapping a chocolate bar or making a jar of instant lemonade takes far less time and effort than preparing a complete meal. The advantages of ritual may not hold up while slaving over a hot stove.
And oh look, it’s lunchtime. Time for some first-hand research.
Vohs KD, Wang Y, Gino F, & Norton MI (2013). Rituals enhance consumption. Psychological Science PMID: 23863754