13 January 2010
On the Act of Eating
Have you ever watched someone eat and contemplated what was happening? It is incredibly entertaining. I encourage you to try it. You can observe anyone: small kids, your friends, people at the bar. My all time favorite people to watch are teenage boys- especially when they are eating together- especially when they are hungry. It is fascinating. Their chomps per minute ratio is unusually high- although sometimes it is slow simply because the amount of food forced into their mouths is so excessively large that it takes extra time and energy to close down on it. Regardless of who you watch, it's also spectacular to see how much food disappears in a single bite. It's more than you might think. Plates that were once piled high with food become emptier and emptier with every passing moment.
Of course, eating is all too commonplace; we live with it every day, we see people do it all the time. Internally we understand eating in terms of how hungry or full we are and we simply go until our body tells us to stop. But think about it objectively, as if you were an alien who had no concept of the sensations or purpose behind eating. If you watch from the outside, where our body's signals don't exist, where there is no brain chemistry saying 'mmmm', or 'more', or 'no more', it becomes a different experience. Initially the experience is the same; the sight of food is exciting. But then, as you watch the food go into someone’s mouth, disappears, and become part of the unchanged human being, never to be seen the way it once was -ever- again, it takes on a different hue. It almost seems like magic.
Now, once you've wrapped your mind around that, take it a step further and observe the extent to which people are enjoying themselves. You will notice that enjoyment varies dramatically- the extent to which is never fully apparent from the observer’s perspective. Still, there are some tell tale signs. For example, when people chew food in the front of their mouths they usually don't like what they are eating. They have to force themselves to eventually swallow, and all the while are wishing they could spit it out. On the other hand, when people (say an 18 year old guy who hasn't eaten in 4 hours, or me in the picture above) open their mouths as wide as it will stretch and push the food back into their nasal cavity, reluctantly allowing some of it to spill out as they use their fingers to stuff the central item in quickly before their lips form a seal around it, that means they really like it. Needless to say, watching people eat is not only amusing, it's also a reminder that we are slaves to the act, we require it to survive, and everybody has their own unique way of satiating the craving.
If it weren't for the fact that watching someone eat could easily be interpreted as staring, I would do it all the time. For now, if you have a bored moment at a restaurant or happen to find yourself amongst a pack of college football players, after practice, eating dinner, sneak a peak. It is a bizarre and curious exercise in appreciating and understanding food.
Posted by Julia