VAR SUPPLEMENT: Jinghong Zhang on Tasting Tea and Filming Tea
Jinghong Zhang’s article “Tasting Tea and Filming Tea: The Filmmaker’s Engaged Sensory Experience” (VAR 33-2, Fall 2017) explores the difficulty with describing, memorizing and representing the sense of taste. It argues that film can go beyond the limit of describing taste with words to represent and evoke the sense of taste, specifically through the filmmaker’s embodied experience.
Classroom Activities and Discussion Questions
Activity 1 Select one type of food or drink you are familiar with.
Step (1) Describe the smell and taste of this food/drink relying on your memory, and write down your notes. Describe this food/drink again while you are having it. Question: Does your description this time differ from that of last time? Why?
Step (2) Work with another two friends. Let them do the same activities as above, on the same type of food/drink. How much do you three agree or disagree with each other?
Step (3) When your group discussion finishes, have this food/drink once again. Do you tend to more agree or disagree with your friends now? What has essentially shaped your taste sensations and descriptions along the three steps of activities?
Activity 2 Now select one type of food/drink that you and your friends are less familiar with or have never had before.
Step (1) Work with the same two friends. You use a camera to record how they eat the food or have the drink. You describe your evoked sense of taste based upon filming, if there are any. How much does you description share similarities with or differ from that by the two friends?
Step (2) You continue filming with one hand, and join in eating/drinking a little bit with another hand. Keep on communicating with your friends. Upon finishing, could you reflect on which aspect you have had a better focus, eating/drinking or filming? Why?
Step (3) Change positions. Now ask one friend (friend A) to use the camera. You and the other friend (friend B) have the food/drink and are filmed. Compare the taste and smell sensations in three different situations: when one does filming without any tasting experience of the food/drink (you, in step 1 and 2); when one does filming with some tasting experiences (friend A); when one is being filmed while tasting (the three of you).
Questions: How does the use of camera influence your taste sensation? How much is it possible to work on filming and tasting simultaneously? What is a more efficient way for the filmmaker to record a tasting activity while not losing his or her sense of taste?
Watch the footage you and your friends just shot. Watch it four times. Each time focus on only one aspect: 1) vision; 2) sound; 3) touch; 4) taste and smell. Compare your different sensations in different watching. What particular feelings or impressions do you get from the film each time?
Other suggested films for the same activity:
SOMM (directed by Jason Wise 2012)
One short film by Jinghong Zhang, “Tasting Ancient and Modern,” 6 minutes.