Food Critic by Subhadra Jayaraman

There was Plato, considered the founder of Western political philosophy, who affirmed the existence of abstract objects different from external senses and internal consciousness and developed derivations and theories for the physical world. And then there was Epicurus – who believed that good food and a simple life were the foundation for happiness and tranquility. He invited everyone (slaves and women too, for a philosophical gathering in those times was a sausage fest) to live through their senses, attain pleasure, reject pain, and hence pave the path to a fulfilling life. In a world teeming with Platonism, Epicurus emerged from the swirls of geometry, vernacular, and rhetoric to say that honesty, courtesy, and kindness are the ways to live.

There are many theories on how this divergence in thought was born and how Epicurus could have developed such out-of-the-Platonic-box philosophies. And here is my thought – anyone who thought that life ought to be lived using one’s senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, sound), possibly knew that taste was 20% of life. And no geometry can explain the feeling you get when you taste a juicy piece of baklava; no abstract theory can make your hunger pangs go away like a plate of French fries does; no ethereal being can bring you the happiness that comes from good food!

In my hedonistic moments I have often thought how someone can consume food that tastes bland, or worse, not have an opinion on what they eat, because they are weight watching or too busy to care. What are we left with if we can’t satisfy our most basic sensory perceptions? Would we prefer to stay cold for hours? Or willfully be at a noisy construction site all day? Or set up camp beside a dumpster? Would we close our eyes and watch TV? Then why do we choose to eat kale frequently? Or worse, cabbage!?

Our taste buds need as much love as our eyes, or our skin gets. What a good meal does to us is similar to what a good movie or a dip in a heated pool does. In fact, it’s better. Temporary abstinence can be beneficial, but disinterest is what I am incapable of comprehending. Even a wild hare will choose the juiciest batch of leaves to chew on. Even single celled bacteria in the lab will drift towards higher glucose environments. Then I wonder at what time we industrialized humans decided that we don’t care. Ironically, we work to earn, we earn to eat, and we end up disregarding the very food we work for in order to work.

There may be some merits to not being particular about food. For the cook. They can burn it or undercook it or oversalt it and it will still be heartily (or at least apathetically) received by the said category of unconcerned people. I remember my mother being far more relaxed while cooking for my dad and us, than when she cooked for her brothers and sisters – because we were blasé, and her siblings were raging critics, some even complaining about the water she served.  On the other hand, may the law forbid a nonchalant eater cook something for others.

But I digress. I believe that Epicurus said “simple meals” only because he lived in Greece in the 4th century B.C. and had barley and olives to eat. If he lived now, I could only imagine how glamorous his philosophy would be. We are all Epicurean at some level. Most of our primary goals are to live a contented life with a comfortable bed and good, warm food (unless its ice cream). Somewhere along the way, we lose track of what we are working towards, and sacrifice our senses to an endless rut which we tell ourselves is going to give us a good life. Your life is good now. Stop eating boiled cabbage and grab that slice of pizza.

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