Food – the universal pleasure

Regular readers may be surprised by this title – I normally opine on the pleasures of wine. However, the depths of my vinous obsession are not widely shared whereas food is a basic biological necessity that, for those not afflicted with weirdly twisted convictions, can provide an inestimable range and depth of gratifying experiences.

[image image_id=”5732″ size=”large” align=”center”]

Pleasure, of course, is a singularly good thing. As humans we are not completely bound by the demands of our genes and have the capability to do a few more things with our lives than simply drop sprogs. Prime amongst these is ability to make ourselves happy. I am aware that there exist some people who reject pleasure and see no value in being happy; they are abnormal and warped, presumably having been appallingly damaged by some frightful trauma in their early lives.

[image image_id=”5734″ align=”left” size=”medium”]

I’ve made similar points before, but much the same goes for vegetarians, vegans and people with entirely arbitrary food perversions unrelated to physiological requirements. Anthony Bourdain observed when meeting a bunch of vegetarians who wished show him value in their neuroses that they all became vegetarians after some intense and difficult upheaval in their lives. I would suggest it is more basic than that for the picky eaters: their freakish attitude to the basic requirement for a range of diverse foods is a symptom of some form of child abuse.

Enough of those who don’t enjoy, let us examine the pleasure of food. Food is a fundamental requirement for life and so gives pleasure at that primal level; we are content when a yawningly aching stomach is filled with the comestibles that will give us energy to continue existing. It may not be a terribly sophisticated feeling but, unless we push the engorgement to extremes and feel unwell, eating a healthily-sized meal brings visceral satisfaction.

However, for most of us this does not mean we will mindlessly seek to fill our faces with any old rubbish – greater pleasures lie in stimulating more subtle senses. The first smell of a favourite food reaching readiness when cooking can make us quite literally drool with anticipation – we are enthused by even the promise of preferred flavours yet to come. Then when we begin to eat our synapses ignite: “This is a really good steak, yum!”.

[image image_id=”5736″ align=”right” size=”medium”]

The pleasure given by flavour preference is such a basic trait it cannot be denied. By way of example I mention my lovely cat Kisu, shown in the attached picture demonstrating the evils of drink. He eats the dried, hard cat food that is his normal staple quite readily, but when I shout “Kisu, lick of cream!” and present my finger with a smear of whipped on the end there is much yowling as he runs to find me followed by purring and evident enthusiasm when diligently licking every speck from my digit. I offer another finger.

The other day I was comparing a few Cheddars and I put morsels of three different ones in front of Kisu. He sniffed them several times before settling on a single lump to sniff repeatedly then lapping it up with much purring. A good dose of lip-licking occurred then he stopped purring, quickly wolfed down the other two crumbs and prowled out of the kitchen with equanimous poise. So even my cat has a favourite flavour of Cheddar and eating it gives him the cat-equivalent of happiness. He is only a cat, albeit a moderately sophisticated one: it would be hard to dispute that your favourite tastes can gladden.

[image image_id=”5738″ align=”left” size=”medium”]

We do not just have favourite tastes, we have a vast range of flavours to explore. There is not just The Sausage to eat, there are a myriad of varieties and styles to immerse yourself in. Don’t eat Heston’s lamb and coriander sausages from Waitrose, though; I had some the other day and found them to loathsome perversions of the sausage genre. I detested them with furious intensity.

A new twist on a familiar food engages the senses and enlivens the mind: we have to assess the novelty and determine whether it stimulates our aesthetic sensibilities. An unfamiliar dish appurtenant to our preferences not only gives pleasure due to its congruence with predilections but also because we can dissect and scrutinise its unaccustomed qualities. We humans are inherently an inquisitive lot and little piques our delectation more than new tastes.

Yet more than the diversion of different flavours exists, we get a bang out of the different styles of food. When choosing your lunch you might have a simple omelette or a banh mi sandwich of involute construction (more on banh mi will appear here in days – I have recently been fortunate to try the three most stunningly brilliant sandwiches of my life). How can we ever find eating prosaic with such an abounding array of foods to nosh on?

The variety of food is augmented by the fact that we often eat meals. These constructions of multiple types of food compounded into different dishes and courses provide such various interests as unfamiliarity, sophistication, a opportunity for conviviality and, as I initially mentioned, the gratification of feeling engorged.

[image image_id=”5740″ align=”right” size=”medium”]

This brings me to a very important point. Humans are social animals and there can be enormous pleasure in dining with our chums. The satisfaction is only compounded if our companions share tastes in common and by revelling in those collective passions we can bond and strengthen the social attachments to our comrades.

On the subject of meals I mention in passing the obvious pleasure that exists in cooking. Some may like the technical skill required to prepare food, but that is not what makes it a noble activity. When you cook something ultimately someone (or you) will get to eat it and, as is clear, eating makes us happy. By cooking you are pleasuring one or more people – spreading happiness and contentment is manifestly meritorious.

[image image_id=”5742″ align=”left” size=”medium”]

The pleasures of food are so clear you do not even have to dare to enjoy it; just chowing down and feeling happier is the natural state for all but the damaged and deviant. We certainly eat to live, but as people who can immerse ourselves in so many affairs the leap to also living to eat is minuscule enough to be traversed by all but the terminally dismal. All those food scare stories are drivelly tosh, grab some good grub and let the gratification grow.