Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Garden of Eating

There are three supreme deities in the garden of eating: taste (which combines flavor and aroma), inspiration, and aesthetic appeal. There are food theorists who contend that all three elements are essential, but most of us would agree that taste is the supreme element. 

Artistic presentations seduce the eye, transforming each bite from one of mere nourishment into a deeper sensual engagement. The pleasures of the palate naturally seek the glory of the bounty, heightening our path toward satiety, evoking a fervent if the not secretive relationship between us and the food we eat; the sensations of which reverberate through our being as we take everything in, engulfed in a moment of pure delight. 

The mere contemplation of food puts us in a heightened sensual state. Here, we are able to lose ourselves in an ethereal moment of culinary bliss as our senses are overcome with anticipation, which heightens our arousal before comes the sweet reward of complete gratification. 

While this culinary experience may sound very much like the phases of another sensual interlude, the experience is one of beauty and a reflection of our inner state, though we may not be consciously aware of it. 

The beauty of enjoying food is that it brings us to a state of internal peace where we are able to focus on beauty for its own sake, and the pleasure it brings to us. We see glory in a sprig of mint, and a twinkle coming from the edge where an icy cool scoop of sorbet meets with the warm, moist air of a summer's day. The purest of spirits flow through us and without restraint we allow for the full experience of them. 

Eating well makes life sweeter, freeing us to soar along with the succulent linings of savory-sweet bliss. By virtue of human necessity, before all other knowledge, our first impression of the world is purely sensual. Our surroundings are interpreted by a series of impressions recorded by our lips, fingers, ears, eyes, and noses. Our first nourishment brings a sense of comfort. When we are not yet in possession of formal language skills, pleasure is how we communicate with ourselves and how we know that which comforts. 

Just seeing food titillates. The delicate hardness of a soft chewy caramel is sublime as we reach out and bring a little morsel toward our mouths. Our tongue naturally gravitates toward the bliss we imagine. Slowly we envelop the salty-sweet as our lips close the deal. What we do with the caramel from this point onward is an entirely private affair. 

We cannot discount the pleasures found in such moments. So long as the state of arousal is not the end instead of a means to the end, so long as the high visceral stimulation does not replace the profound depth of pleasure food brings, we can continue to savor the sensual satietious ecstasy food brings to our palates. 

The journey of senses that brings pleasure is found when one is fully engaged in the act of preparing food. Each meticulous step of the planning, hand-selecting of each ingredient, the careful choosing of a menu, combines into an act of love. Each step nourishes the next. Preparation and anticipation gradually increase our desire towards nature's most intimate crescendo. Sharing this experience with another, cooking for another, are one long dance, each bite a note that arouses, satiates, and repeats again until there is but one bite left before the final sound of profound satisfaction. 


Our meal comes to a sweet or savory end. As you have no doubt deduced, preparing food is a delicate balancing act, comprised of choosing each ingredient to create an original essence. No two tomatoes are alike. Inspiration is endless thus. 

Cooking seduces to our minds to the art, science, and craft involved in bringing ingredients together. Each dish ignites our imagination for endless modifications. A pinch of salt extra here, a red potato instead of cream there, and truffle ice cream to settle the dispute. 

Good taste is the atmosphere in which we satisfy this edible exchange. Ideas bounce around in our minds like plump juicy tomatoes. The ones we choose, the ones we give away, all hand-picked. Only the best may reserve a seat as a garnish next to our delicate coconut consommés. Each ingredient enters into a relationship with the other, new flavors are the fruit of this union. 

In a Pinterest culture, we expect not high-quality ingredients but rather the sanitized modern, glossy food pictures depicting the perfect ganache filled macaron, which encourages unrealistic expectations of beauty. Like high fine art, these creations shield us from small imperfections, but they also convey in the process that the greatest flavors are only found in the aesthetically pleasing.  

Anyone who has enjoyed tartiflette at the marche Champs Elysées knows that some of the most comforting foods are not always the most aesthetically pleasing. 

It is the technique of food production that transforms peasantry inspired creations, those culturally recognized dishes of distinction each country holds dear, into something different and equally delicious. While impromptu creations can easily turn into some of the best things to emerge from our kitchen, convenience foods and imitation anything are where we must draw the line.

This line of demarcation separates taste from hunger. A solitary piece of fruit can bring about the same sensations as a carefully crafted gourmet meal. Quickly thrown together creations speak to our desire to devour, they are Ayn Rand's radiant greed as one's entire self is engaged in that moment of pleasure.

Those who wish to only consume ecstasy miss out on the dance of the senses, where heightened states of arousal are our aphrodisiacs. Foods claiming to be such are nothing but placebos, well-articulated food descriptors that rely solely upon our inner mechanism's natural ability to reach such heights. 

Our senses only become acute after we first allow them to stop mid-step to admire the crisp air and soft hues of the morning's sunrise. It is the inner poet we unleash, eager to see even more beauty in our surroundings. Pleasure caresses us in gentle ways, enabling us to sustain the heights of culinary arousal we might not have thought possible outside the realm of fantasy. 

To arrive at a heightened satietious state of awareness one must first be eager to embark upon a journey of discovery. Starting with what triggers sensual response, what makes our inner engines hum louder and faster and stronger than before. As we ponder those questions for ourselves, we recognize that what brings one person true happiness is not always the same as what brings true happiness to another. Knowing what brings us pleasure is the first step in defining our journey with food. 

As we get to know ourselves better, as we openly embark upon those curious experiences that unveil our relationship with food, we develop an intimate familiarity with the earth's bounty, a metaphor for all the fruits, grains, nuts, and berries the planet provides for our nourishment and co-existence. The delicious four-course meals we create with this bounty recuperate our senses, sustaining our existence, feeding our essence. 

Returning to the Garden of Eating is a return to self. As we take our time discovering our senses, they begin to heighten, enticing us deeper within the Edenic experience, which we meet with an endless state of inherent curiosity. Each bite culminates into a holistic view of that which we consume, awakening our primitive senses, elevating us to our highest truths accessible only through the evolvement of sensuality.  

Encountering novelty stirs our emotions. Encountering flavors that combine and penetrate our palates ignite a formidable response: pleasure. Pleasure is a surprisingly delicate theoretical consideration. 

Philosophical discussions on the nature of sense and the pleasure it affords have gone on for centuries and are key to our collective mindsets on that which we define practical, as opposed to that which we define pleasurable. 

Society moderates pleasures. Some are considered "lower" than others. In a communal mindset "higher" pleasures must involve solidarity, actions rather than reactions, intent upon uniting our acceptance or rejection of pleasure. That which nourishes is now the "highest" cuisine, while that which satisfies is not. Food has become a heavily functional topic in modern society, with those foods low in calorie, high in nutrition held in the highest esteem. 

With so many differing opinions in how we consume and what we consume, how do we experience the fullness cuisine has to offer us without feeling guilty or gaining unwanted weight? When the act of preparation is considered an art form or a dance rather than as the work associated with dining, we spend more effort doing than enjoying

Enjoyment is found in moderation, in the careful, meticulous choosing of an ingredient, which feeds our intellect's desire for pleasure. When a meal satisfies our intellectual pleasures, the blossoming desire inclines us toward nourishment. Together, intellectual and sensual pleasures direct our attention toward that which is already cognitively rich in indulgence. Resting one's appetite after such an experience allows for a respite between meals. In this sense, one does not overindulge or become gluttonous, which leads to a degeneration of the tastebuds. 

The complicated philosophical history of pleasure tempts us to argue on behalf of the aesthetic dimension of taste and for the comparability of food with works of art. Pleasures of touch, smell and taste direct our attention inward to the state of our own bodies. These senses are forever in pursuit of pleasure. 

We admire fine cuisine as it brings us subtle pleasures. The artistry of food and the delicacies of taste memorialized by writers of gastronome who advocate for a discriminating palate, which is the result of sophisticated learning and experience. The artistry of a great chef or vintner yields subtle qualities in their products that are entirely difficult to discern if heightened sensibilities are absent or wanting. 

Since classical antiquity, philosophical tradition has elevated two senses above all others: sight and hearing. Sight is the means by which we make visual discoveries about the world which lead to us toward knowledge and later, once integrated, insight. Hearing is sight's companion, together they rule the bodily senses: touch, taste, and smell. 

The western tradition of mind over the body draws a distinction between the higher and lower senses, both of which are necessary to elevate the consumption of food into a sensual experience. Enjoyment directs the eye, and the mind follows. Food that resembles works of art is the food we want to taste, the art we wish to savor for the subtle pleasures it delivers. Our pleasure response to taste is a complex cognitive reaction that involves highly compressed symbolic recognitions. The very concept of pleasure itself is considered with every bite. 

No sensation is unaware of its object. That is, there is no coherent sensation without cognition. Different interpretations of taste or smell yield different sense experiences. For some, a plate of escargot causes a mouth-watering experience, for others repulsion. 

Sensation is thus interpreted and then categorized. Itself it is inchoate and without distinction. Only meaning distinguishes. Beautiful images, strong smells, and tastes may provoke physical responses, but the pleasure or displeasure that arises is entirely supported by a matter of opinion. 

For example, the chocolately allure of certain souffles can drive the senses wild with desire and longing, while the same souffle can be met with indifference, intolerance, or displeasure by someone unresponsive to chocolate's allure. 

The Dutch artist Tjalf Sparnaay presents food as a philosophical consideration of aesthetic pleasure. The concept of pleasure itself: the sense of pleasure. Seeing food as an art form frees our awareness of it as nothing other than an object limited by our sensory perceptions and interpretations. Seeing food as art elevates our awareness of its innate elements, which we contemplate as we gaze upon tender, juicy, tasty morsels of goodness.  

Foods and their tastes stimulate distinctive responses to our aesthetic preferences and fashion as we ruminate upon the meanings they imply. From the whimsical to the profound, from tart to bland, oily to spicy, our sensibilities challenge our sense of pleasure, and our relationship to delicacies. 

At first repellent tastes such as parsnips or cod liver oil infused into ice cream delight our sense of repulsion. The once disgusting idea too alien for our consideration now titillates. We feel more alive as we resist its consideration. Eating it we feel nervous and awakened and anticipatory. Whether we disgust or delight is secondary. The experience regardless of our ultimate response is what gets us going, so to speak; what compels us onward toward new flavorful sensations and creations limited only by our mind's capacity for imaginative thought. 

While disgusting is not what we seek when satiating ourselves, it does bring with it discovery and possibility of where certain flavors might be better suited. Coming up with new ideas is a delicious habit, the deliberate cultivation of taste as we internalize quite literally our experience of eating. 

Unique among aesthetic pleasures is food. Profoundly beautiful bountiful food. The paradoxes of aversion and attraction are those innate cognitive reactions we bring to the experience. 

Since ancient times we have concerned ourselves with enjoyment. Aristotle discussed enjoyment in poetry, where the evocation of the painfully tragic emotions of pity and terror is the foundation for both catharsis and the aesthetic understanding he ascribes as pleasure in learning. 

Learning about those foods that please us, that delight us, that bring us aesthetic sensory pleasure and bliss is a returning to the garden of eating, where fruit grows in wild abundance, where we are utterly free to partake of its every delight.

Eating is a sublime experience in learning, converting fear into a thrilling delight. Encounters with concepts like yummy and tasty incline us toward new experiences from which we formulate our own theories of sensory pleasure. Enjoying these moments trigger our awareness in a healthy and enlivening way.

The ultimate object of our contemplation can be found in our mental devouring of painted fruit parfait; the ultimate sensation found in our devouring the real thing for ourselves.

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