‘Tain’t What You Do
(It’s the Way That You Do It)
sung here by Ella Fitzgerald (1939)
Of course the taste of our food is critically important to our enjoyment of it, but, as we all know, so is the texture; and it’s not only the texture, but the way we eat the food, and even the way we prepare to eat it, that makes all the difference.
Take bananas, for instance. There’s a scene in the documentary film, Babies (2010), in which a nearly-one-year-old baby takes great pride in peeling her first banana entirely on her own. What struck me as I watched it was the way that, after peeling back the skin strip by strip, she took hold of one of the stringy bits that run up and down the length of the banana (phloem bundles) and fastidiously picked that off as well. Mastery!
I had a similar thrill when I found out that a banana naturally splits in thirds lengthwise and learned how to do it. Preparing it this way changed my whole experience of eating it.
There are dozens of instructions and videos on the Internet describing and demonstrating different ways to peel a banana. Here’s one, and here’s another. Each of these is someone’s preferred method and gives that person his or her particular pleasure in the eating.
Just as the way that a person prepares to eat a particular food is unique, so is the way in which she eats it. It’s also a pleasure that is best experienced alone. When I eat a nearly-overripe mango by, first, rolling it around in my hands to pulp the flesh inside, then, making a hole at the top and, finally, squeezing and sucking out the sweet pulp, I don’t want anyone watching me while I commune with the essence of mango.
The last time I was in our family hometown of Ratnagiri with my son, he filmed our visit to the fish market. Later, when I watched the footage, I found that, while I had been watching my cousin bargaining with the canny fishwives, he had been filming a toothless old woman sucking the pulp out of a mango. She was thoroughly and unself-consciously enjoying the experience until she started to have a funny feeling that she was being watched. She kept pausing to look around suspiciously, then returning to her deliciously messy work, mango juice dribbling down her chin and an expression of bliss on her face. This part of the video became the most popular entertainment in the neighborhood for a couple of days, as all the children in the compound kept coming and asking to see it. I must say that I felt a little guilty at the pleasure that we all took from voyeuristically intruding on an experience that really ought to have been had completely alone, but told myself that it was a home video that would never be shown publicly.
In his youth my husband used to scoff at foodies (not that that term was yet in circulation), maintaining that he didn’t live to eat, but merely ate to live. However, the delight that he took in the art of opening a pomegranate belied his words.
We human beings are a ritualistic lot, however we may seek to deny it. A large part of our pleasure derives, not just from what we do, but the way that we do it.