Eating was the original science, the original study of the environment. Kids, just like primordial life-forms, learn about reality by putting it in their mouths. This mouth knowledge knows no abstracts. The world is either sweet or bitter, smooth or prickly, pleasant or unpleasant. Mouth knowledge comes with gut-level certainty. So to eat is literally to know.
But to know what?
It is to know self from nonself. Mouth knowledge taught us the boundaries of our bodies. When, as babies, we sucked an object, such as a pacifier, we felt it only from one side, from the side of the mouth. When we sucked our thumbs, we felt them from the outside, through the mouth, and from the inside, through the feeling of the thumb being sucked on. This mouth knowledge—unlike later school knowledge—gave us a glimpse of our paradoxical nature: that somehow we are both the subject and the object of our own experience.
We gave our species the name Homo sapiens. That name makes good sense. The word sapiens is Latin for both “to know” and “to taste.” Yes, we are knowing animals.
But do you know what it means to know? To know is to distinguish any given “this” from any given “that.” Thus, to know is always dualistic. To know is to sort the one and only reality into “this” and “that.” Our most fundamental duality is that of self and other, or ego and eco.
As anthropologist Weston La Barre wrote, “An organism’s ‘knowledge’ is its environment” (1954, 3).
So to taste is to know.
But to taste is also to touch. Touch was the very first evolutionary sense. Living beings knew reality by touching it, that is, by tasting it. We knew self from nonself through eating. So ponder this sapience, this wisdom, this knowledge of eating: to eat is to learn.
[excerpt from Reinventing the Meal, New Harbinger, Sept 2012]