Take My Advice - The Wisdom of Taste, the Taste of Wisdom

Taste as Experience: The Philosophy and Aesthetics of Food (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) - Nicola Perullo 2016

Take My Advice
The Wisdom of Taste, the Taste of Wisdom

The wisdom of taste suggests an attitude, it “advises” certain behavior and, true to its nature, does not produce strict enunciations. At the end of this essay, it might therefore be useful to outline what has been gained on a theoretical level and summarize it in a final list of practical information according to the model of phronesis—knowledge that is both know-how and knowing how to relate to the “world.” These guidelines follow directly from the domain we have discussed, that of taste as an aesthetic relationship and as experience, but they are so general that they can be applied to other kinds of “everyday diplomacy” with the environment and people. The indications, however (and this is my last specification), are just a road map: not precepts, and definitely not dogma. Please take them as gentle suggestions.

— Only talk about the things you know or experiences you have actually had: the food and drink you have actually eaten, the cuisines you have tried. Do not indulge in compulsive chatter and superficial assertions. Do not be quick with an opinion. It is not always necessary to have one or to make judgments. Take time to think things over long and hard, and if you have doubts, keep them until they dissolve on their own. And if they don’t dissolve, learn to live with them. However, if you would like to become an “expert,” strengthen your ability to have gustatory empathy before making “negative” and derogatory judgments, and look for all the extenuating circumstances in someone else’s choices. Weigh your words well: they are always important. Don’t fall back on “hearsay.”

— When approaching a planned aesthetic experience, lower your horizons of expectation, practice detachment and relaxation. An aesthetic experience is not a competition between the users and the makers. Drinking a special bottle of wine or eating dishes prepared by a famous chef are not actions that lead to hand-to-hand combat with these objects and their creators, but actions that try to effect agreement, making it possible to enjoy them in the best possible manner. The aesthetic experience arises from a successful relationship, from an achieved negotiation. To succeed, a relationship requires availability and openness. Nothing is more wrong, therefore, than approaching a situation with preventive suspicion, or with the idea that one is about to be tricked. In the case of repeat experiences, try forgetting the prior ones, if possible. This is not to call for a cancelation of critical sense; on the contrary, critical sense (in Greek krinein means to distinguish, to weigh) arises when perception is extended and includes, not when it wears thin and smugly endorses established patterns and comfortable codes.

— Keep a balance between tension and relaxation, between attention and disinterest. Develop massive doses of irony and self-irony. Irony is the key to wisdom: do not take yourself too seriously, but live the present experience to its fullest and believe in what you do. Be passionate and ironic, and therefore also autoironic. This twofold state is difficult to achieve, but very rewarding and functional; it pertains to both the mind and the body. Consequently, don’t fret about the details. First, try to feel the whole and then maybe the details, not the other way around. The experience of food is a complex and synthetic experience, not a discrete and analytical one that comes later and for specific purposes.

— Be passionate and not just emotional; cultivate passion. Integrate reminiscences with memory, and practice it. Passion lasts longer, rises vertically, recalls buried blazes of memory and traces of childhood. Emotion is fleeting and flows evenly: it “surfs,” as one would say today. It mainly stirs memories, it is typical of adolescents and adults, and it expresses the illusory belief that one can buy everything, as in a supermarket. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with immediate emotions and memories, but food also requires depth, pauses, repetitions, lengths of time, whereby rich identities and close relations develop. So, dear gastronomes, do not exaggerate with photos and videos: you risk really not perceiving the food and drink that you have before you, and that is waiting to be received by you. Allow the experience to pass through your attention into memory, which will select what is really important.

— Do not have absolute preferences and inclinations. It is preferable to think that the best wine or the best dish is the last one you had, or the one you will enjoy the next day. And this is not in contrast with the praise of the aforementioned passion: a passion for food is not fetishism for its objects, for food and drink. The passion for food is a passion for the experience of food as a passion for life and living itself, for the pleasure of the relationship and the conflict of incorporation. Eating and drinking are the most common and exemplary actions of our relationship with the outside—with what we receive, assimilate, and understand, which nonetheless remains other than us and which, as such, must be respected. So, lithely pass from top to bottom with pleasure, from the most polished and sophisticated to the involuntarily vulgar. But scorn arrogant and deliberate presumptuousness and vulgarity. That is all.