The Ritual of Eating
Food & the Pleasure Principle
As a child, I ate for pleasure, and I saw adults do the same. Occasionally, someone withheld from certain dietary pleasures, and the adults reacted in shock.
They recoiled and they complained - How could he deprive himself of such a thing?
Sometimes, the adults withheld for religious reasons. That didn't stop them from turning their pity and complaint towards themselves.
During Ramadan, we all found a common enemy in the daily fast. As soon as the sun set, we gorged on a buffet of sugary, fried treats. We woke up the next morning woozy from the feast, and we repeated the cycle.
A soccer coach once saw me struggling in the late summer heat while I fasted. He jogged over to me as I bent over at my knees in despair. He silently stood by my side, and after a moment, he said,
"Fasting isn't so hard. Just learn how to wait."
I resented him for saying that. But he was right.
Food is an idea about what sustains us. Eating is the act of consuming what we believe sustains us. But what sustains us, and what is merely distraction?
I've been experimenting with this for a while. My analysis begins with the act of eating.
Eating as a Sensation
I sit crosslegged on my couch.
A dull blue bowl sits before me, filled with a bed of riced cauliflower and topped with a garlic-tomato sauce over chunks of roasted sweet potato and chicken.
I take a spoonful to my mouth. As I chew, the distinct items dissolve into one undifferentiated mash. The sensations of chewing arrive as the solids lose their recognizable form.
There's a slippery, tangy release to the ginger kernels of cauliflower. The rougher, savory gnashing reduces the chicken down to a thick paste. The soft sweetness of the potato wedges spill in and around the growing bolus.
The more carefully I chew, the more I notice "Chewing".
My nasal pathways clear; my eyes develop a watery sheen; my breath deepens. "Chewing" prepares for sustenance.
I swallow, and the mass travels down my throat to my stomach, which churns it for nutrients.
Food produces sensations, some more subtle than others. Ice cream yells, chicken grunts, broccoli yelps, spinach soothes, and water hums. I am what I eat and how I eat it.
As I meditate on my food, the pleasure of eating changes its logic. Certain types of food begin to disgust me. And it is usually what I once craved that I now come to view in disgust.
Eating as a Compulsion
My growing disgust leads me to my next experiment. For the past three months, I have withheld from eating outside of a 2-4 hour window.
Nutritionists calls this Intermittent Fasting. I call it Satiety. You eat when you are hungry, and what we typically consider Hunger is merely Craving.
In 2013, I removed sugars and grains for my diet after a bout of bloody shits.
During my first week, my mood soured and my smell yearned for any trace of grease, bread, cheese, or sugar.
By day seven, I broke out in a cold sweat. I dry-heaved over a toilet. I craved sugar. Hunger does not behave this way. Addiction to pleasure does.
Five years later, as I revisited this experiment, I made note of my sensations as they appeared.
7am: I wake up.
I consider eating out of habit, but I'm not hungry. I drink a glass of water and head to the gym.
10am: My hands begin to sweat a little, and my stomach growls.
However, these sensations are compulsions, like a small child throwing a tantrum.
12pm: My focus deepens.
I can think more clearly, and my perceptions feel more continuous rather than discrete, disjointed, and scattered. The body operates differently when it isn't busy digesting food.
3pm: I feel Hunger.
It is not desperate like Craving.
Craving is like a monster at your door. You notice that it is there, and you may choose to ignore it or you may choose to feed it so it goes away. But it will always return until you make peace with it.
Hunger feels like a wise old owl in comparison. It whispers as a suggestion that maybe it is time to eat. So I eat a bowl of the familiar cauliflower, sweet potato, and chicken. Later, I eat some yogurt and make myself a spinach smoothie.
7pm: The fast begins.
I am content. I am satiated.
10pm: My body prepares for sleep.
I crave chocolate. I drink mint tea instead. I am satiated.
"I can think. I can wait. I can fast."
- Herman Hesse, "Siddhartha"
I am continuing this experiment, as it is a window into my compulsions.
What are all the other cravings that I have categorized as necessities?
If I remove the music from my commute, or the phone from the awkward elevator ride, or the breaking news from my morning routine, do I die?
If I remove thoughts altogether, what is left of me? What fuels my need to remain distracted by the ever-mounting list of pleasures I cannot live without?
Survival is a tricky affair. Not all is as it seems, it seems.