The Oral Truth – An Exercise on Dwelling

To Believe and the Truth -

Two roles are given to a mouth – to take in and to give out. It is the main form of supplying the organism with the necessary nutrients, as well as being vehicle to the need for mental utterance. A mouth has the abilities of assimilation and of expression. Only a proper assimilation provides a sound expression, thus is assimilation primordial.

Coffee, Cardamom and Cinnamon in a Mortar. Strong Inspirations to a Nose as well as to a Palate.

Right above the mouth is the nose. Its role, ability and position are to give us a belief, based on which we accept or reject the object about to come in contact with our mouth and subsequently with the mucous membrane. The olfactory perception is unquestionably a precious universe in itself and believing in what is to come may release experiences that are essential for the mental and physical energies. There is power and beauty in believing. The billions following Mohamed, Jesus or Dalai, along with those still awaiting a Messiah to follow, could all attest to this, but in the end the necessity to believe is not based on truth, but on trust. We need to believe in the variety of information and warnings given by the nose, suggesting what might be succulent for the palate, or ruined, rotten and even tragically dangerous to us. The mouth – on the other hand – That is the truth! Call it an individual one, but it is truth to the individual and is the concrete presence in your organism, taking physical activity onto your body. Some cheeses – or even coffee – will lead the nose through an imagination path that at times strongly differs from or contradicts the taste assimilated by tongue and palate seconds later.

Mouth, Tongue and Saliva -

The mouth is a small chamber, but the perfect cathedral. It is truly architecture. Allows passive and active acoustics. It is whole and holy, home to gold and rubbish just the same. The sad difference is, we dwell much longer in cathedrals than we allow dwelling in the mouth. In psychology the importance of oral dwelling is even viewed as a limited period in the live span of the individual. Sigmund Freud refers to the first eighteen months in the development of a child as the oral stage, during which the center of pleasures is the mouth.

Eighteen months for the mouth as the pleasure center?!

I do understand that other body parts develop soon enough, to the extent that the center of a child’s joy, development and intellectual assimilation will no longer be his buccal cavity alone. However, I consider any reduction in its importance, or any shift away from the center, to be crucial and dangerous for those who ought to continue growing way beyond traditional rules and limitations set by societies as valid systems. This is precisely the reason and inspiration for me writing on this topic: we dwell not, we mostly pass or rush by. And most of all, we swallow much too early.

There are many individuals tasting diligently in various fields who are sometimes looked at strangely due to their funny mouth movements and sounds. Our aim is to taste. Some do it to the point that tasting becomes their profession. They taste foods or whiskey, wine, tea or coffee. Interestingly enough, by the tasting of drinks, the process of oral and mental dwelling is much longer than by food tasting. A further reason for my need to touch meticulously on the importance of the mouth.

Digestion is a highly important mechanical and chemical process in the human body that has as its main purpose the reduction of all ingested products in such a way that they become easier to be absorbed into the bloodstream, supplying the complete organism with the necessary nutrients. We know that the digestion starts not in the stomach, but in the mouth. The very first bite begins the mastication process and thus, the digestion. Mastication consists of breaking the food with the teeth, moving and transporting it with the tongue and lubricating it with saliva. Hence is the mouth not just an indispensable kingdom for pleasures, but a center of operation for nutritional purposes. Our health is strongly dictated by the quality of our daily digestion.

It is fair to say that humans have sufficient teeth to destroy most food to the point of it being a completely unrecognizable mash. However, many seem to opt for one single tongue function instead and let it transport the food in express fashion from the lips directly to the esophagus. Perhaps most important in the digestive system, next to the teamwork of tongue, teeth and saliva, is the time factor. Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, does not only speak about the necessity of being more conscientious about our consumption habits, but calls us to consider what the word actually implies. To consume is, to do away with completely. The function of the mouth is not to do away with, but to achieve the best assimilation possible by chewing the food extensively.

The varied perception sections of the tongue are a good reason for the many faces some individuals make when investigating the whole spectrum in the taste of a drink. The tip of the tongue is especially sensitive to the sweetness of things. The sides of the frontal half react to saltiness, while the sides in the back are responsible for things that are sour, leaving the back half for tasting bitterness.

Enlarged papillae and taste buds on the tongue.
(Reproduction of a lithograph from Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body from 1918, thus not copyrightable, therefore lawfully belonging to the public domain.)

The tongue is a muscle and an organ as well, covered by a mucus membrane, muscle tissue, papillae and taste buds. It is responsible for keeping food between the teeth that these could be as effective as possible with each movement of the jaw. Thanks to four intrinsic muscles changing the positions of the tongue and four extrinsic ones attached to the bone, altering the positions, while allowing retraction, protrusion (outward push) and side-to-side movements, the tongue is able to transport the food to the esophagus and simultaneously help blocking any food from slipping into the respiratory canal. Furthermore, it maintains the mouth clean and functions as a thermometer to protect the sensitive mouth ceiling from extreme temperatures.

A habit in many cultures I had the opportunity to come in contact with use water and other liquids to literally “wash” the food down their throat. If they only knew that this is neither healthy, nor necessary. Washing the food down by drinking liquids allows neither the food to reach its needed consistency before reaching the stomach, nor the required moistening process and chemical transformation through the saliva. It is not only that the lack of dwelling time in the mouth diminishes immensely how effectively we will obtain the nutrition the food could provide, but also that even the tasting for our senses comes too short – if it comes at all. The chemicals in foods dissolve or become released when they come in contact with the saliva and proceed then to seep into the taste buds, triggering receptors that send the given information to the brain. We then, relatively, ‘understand’ taste.

Dwelling through chewing is obviously essential. The mastication triggers the saliva glands into producing saliva, of which 2% consists of antibacterial compounds, as well as enzymes that help in preparing the food for its second processing phase in the stomach, after it passes the esophagus. The stomach REQUIRES this help. These enzymes work in the reduction of starches and fats. These enzymes also break down food particles left within dental crevices which protect the teeth from bacterial decay.

Furthermore, after emphasizing that the digesting process starts before the stomach, it is necessary to point out as well, it is not completed until food passes colon, rectum and anus. Digestion ends not before excretion takes place. Interestingly enough, coffee is often used for colonic cleansing.

Nutritional Pleasure -

Man lives not from vitamins and water alone, health is not only obtained through solids and liquids. There is life beyond matter.

Amongst the best stimuli known to humans are sex, music, cocaine and food.  All these trigger the organic chemical dopamine that works as neurotransmitter and connects with the perception of pleasure in the brain, as well as with physical and emotional reactions. In the brain five dopamine receptors are found. Scientific studies connect it further with our level of attention, motivation, our mood and memory. Dopamine deficiency could be linked with  the tendency in some individuals to be addictive, with depression, detachment and poor concentration.

Many will argue that what divides us humans from other animals is a more advanced and complex ability to think on the part of humans. If I wish to acknowledge differences, a relevant one would be our pleasure in the food ingestion. Animals feed, while humans feast. It appears to be a biologically human necessity to spend often more time preparing food than it is needed to ingested. At times we spend days and months to achieve taste. Nevertheless, although we invest time, energy and complexities, not for nutrition’s sake, but for taste, pleasure is a topic which in our societies is all too often linked to uselessness, amorality and abuse. Aiming at pleasure does not get the level of importance, context to spirituality and depth that Aristippos of Cyrene put into it while thinking hedonistic and transcendentally philosophizing.

If the caffeine in chocolate is indeed the substance contributing to happiness amongst those eating chocolate, we need no further logic or proof that pleasure, coffee, digestion and life – and for some chocolate – belong together.

I repeatedly remember many years ago, as Boris Becker made the banana on tennis courts famous. Undoubtedly he was not in the position to lie back, relax and chew each bite over 30 times in order to masticate properly. And even then, I felt he was not feeding, he was eating his banana. Many times I have sat in restaurants and observed people eat, not because that was my reason for being there, but because their way of eating was special, peculiar or poor, that I had to observe closely.

Enjoy a Banana

There are three ways to ingest – for instance – a banana:

  • feeding
  • eating
  • enjoying

Peach, apple and kiwi are tastes I clearly perceive in the taste we call banana. If chewing attentively while enjoying it, you might notice its seeds with the tongue. This is easy to do when the tongue is used to gently break the banana vertically, after the horizontal break by the teeth. It is soft enough that the teeth do not even need to work. The consistency is well-balanced – not hard, but well contained. You could be very perceptive when eating an everyday food, and this one may never be the same as of then.

Beyond the Mouth -

After arriving in London in 2010 I stayed at a guesthouse that serves as residence to several religious men. They shared with me through their hospitality, through our several conversations and discussions, as well as through our meals together. I was also there when they prayed together and attended their church two times. One evening the owner of the house revealed to me that he cannot wait to go to heaven. I understand indeed and can empathize with the desire to arrive at any given place or occasion. We cannot wait for spring, some for summer, cannot wait for Friday, cannot wait for our child or loved one to get home. But, following most beliefs, we are here on earth for a reason, be it for a period of 35, 75 or 105 years, and according to most beliefs the length is subject to the will of God. This tells me that wishing impatiently to leave is neither the healthy nor spiritual dwelling as God would want it. If you are here, be here. Precisely THAT is our existential responsibility.

What does all this have to do with coffee?
Everything.

Here, out of billions of possibilities, just an example of complexities with significance:
No plant develops as coffee does – grows a few years before it blossoms, gives green berries, lets them ripe and become sweet, concentrates so much complexity in its seed and produces caffeine to protect itself – just to get roasted in the end. All this, merely to be a stimulant alkaloid in the end? Just to be a drug?

Coffee should be there merely for its caffeine, just as belief is us given, simply to survive the years spent between birth and death. Coffee should be there merely for its caffeine, just as the single role of a kitchen is to provide a proper place for a toaster, just as our only purpose for having feet is to help the shoe industry have a sense of purpose.

If the holistic approach to things had no meaning, if the complexity of our material and mental worlds had no importance and provided no advantage, no extra quality to life, we would need no more than intravenous supplies. We would need no preparation, no culture, no aesthetics, no education – just injections. But life with liveliness and depth could only be holism. Only as such could it be a fruitful one, an inspiring one, worth being thankful for.

In the sum of sums (summa summarum) -

The fountain of youth is not in upstate New York, not in Scotland, not in Ecuadorian Vilcabamba, where many centenarians live. The fountain is you in YOUR decision and attitude in life. Whenever you are in the privilege of having a coffee in front of you which has been prepared with undivided attention and respect, believe on it first with your nose. Have faith. Then proceed to let tongue and palate know the truth and anything within and beyond the truth.

May the dwelling enlighten you.

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for further reading:

Philosophy of Eating – at Old and Sold

Eating the World: The Philosophy of Food / Open Democracy

The Complexity of Coffee: Aroma Profiling Isn’t Just for Wine / Coffee Review

Blackwell on Health: Study reveals brain chemistry behind musical pleasure – at National Post

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