Sunday, April 4, 2010

But I didn't inhale!

I was sitting on the train reading The Improper Bostonian and I came across an article about a new product invented by a Harvard biomedical engineering professor, that is essentially a cylinder of inhalable chocolate. It is portable, easily thrown in a purse, and can be ‘smoked’ much like a cigarette. The purpose of Le Whif, as it is called, is to provide chocolate without the calories and, I suppose, without the terrible inconvenience of simply eating it. Apparently it also provides it without the pleasure. The article describes it as chalky and as cough inducing as a true cigarette. But don’t be deterred, Le Whif’s creators say they are working on new flavors and that in the future it will be possible to ingest any food this way- in the form of a calorie free vapor.

Ah yes, all those darn calories, plaguing our lives out, making us fat, forcing us to have self control . Apparently the only reason that people go through the trouble of consuming chocolate in the first place is that thus far, it has been the only reliable method to get at those sneaky pleasure inducing chemicals it contains. Forget about taste, texture, or sensual pleasure all together, lets just get right to the drugs. Its not like we have time for anything else these days anyway. Thank god the latest scientific discoveries are always ready to relieve us of the burden of being human.

The article on Le Whif made me think of a memorable scene from Dodie Smith’s classic novel I Capture the Castle, in which the family is sitting down to dinner and begins discussing the likelihood that future man will dispense with food in its original form all together

“When this house was built, people used daggers and their fingers” he said. “And it’ll probably last until the days when men dine off of capsules.”
“Fancy asking friends to come over for capsules,” I said.
“Oh, the capsules will be taken in private,” said father. “By that time, eating will have become unmentionable. Pictures of food will be considered rare and curious, and only collected by rude old gentlemen.”

This idea has never failed to amuse me, especially since it makes sense on some level. Eating is the only basic function that we still engage in in public. It is a very intimate, very visceral act that we perform in full sight of others, though we recoil in horror from the thought of elimination or sexual intercourse being treated in like fashion. One can imagine that as we continue to strive to outdistance our bestial ancestry, we might begin to find eating obscene as well: the indecent play of tongue and lips, the lubricious noises, the unfortunate associations with both the bedroom and the bloody battles of the savannah. Whew, sounds like something that belongs behind closed doors, I don’t think I want my kids around that! Indeed, a friend I once had (who shall remain anonymous) would definitely sympathize. She was literally disgusted by eating, even in private. Her refrigerator was a wasteland, as clean as an operating room and just as devoid of color. She ingested only enough as was necessary to keep body and soul together , cringing in horror all the while I imagine. She probably took long showers afterwards and cried. Needless to say, she was thin as a rail and cranky as hell.

The western world’s well known obsession with extreme thinness ties into this very nicely. Its as if by abstaining from the fleshly pleasures of eating (something apparently associated with animals, the morbidly obese, and profligates, if the messages the media pushes are to be believed) one can be elevated to some new level of purity and refinement. Consider the recent craze over the air diet (Im still waiting to hear that this has turned out to be a practical joke), where you go through all the motions of preparing and serving actual meals, but then only ‘pretend’ to eat. And wouldn’t you know it, the pounds just melt away! Call it what you will, I was brought up to know anorexia when I see it. I suppose the idea is that you abstain from calories while still receiving the vicarious pleasure of food by smelling it and interacting with it. Sounds like puritanical masochism of the worst kind to me, but hey, at least these dieters are still enjoying the food in some fashion, unlike users of Le Whif, who are only in it for the chemicals.

In the realm of food, modern society is always diligently working away at distancing us from our animal nature as much as possible. I guess those bodily functions that we just cant seem to evolve beyond are a constant embarrassment to your average civilized person. Our meat comes in innocent nondescript lumps wrapped in plastic, to spare us any hints of the killing floor, our carrots come pre-peeled and shaved down to tiny nubs, and microwave ovens and frozen dinners ensure that we never have to do anything so degrading, messy, and time sucking as cook. And now, we can get our chocolate without eating it, and survive on air alone! At this rate we must be close to angelic by now (or at least semi-transparent from lack of nourishment). Sorry folks, I hate to break it to you, but we have to eat, we cant just stand outside and blamelessly absorb nutrients from the sun. We also have to make love and visit the toilet. Its inconvenient, its exactly what dogs do, and you aren’t special because of it. But its damn wonderful, and if I have to give up the endorphin inducing zing of hot wings because they leave sauce on my face, or the mellow richness of chocolate because it prevents me from fitting into the skeletal clothing on sale at the local boutique, then forget it, I’d rather be considered unevolved and obscene. Just watch out though, I may keep the curtains open next time I sit down to dinner. Oh what will the neighbors say then!

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