Monday, December 24, 2007

Eat, Drink & be Merry

As a Chinese, I often wonder why we Chinese place so much emphasis on food and soup. Often we hear Chinese people says, we live to eat, and not the natural of which we eat to live.

Whenever we celebrate birthdays or festivals, we arrange dinner settings, with plenty of food and drinks.

Lin YuTang posed: "What is the use of saying, “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace below the diaphragm? This applies to nations as well as individuals. Empires have collapsed and the most powerful regimes and reigns of terror have broken down when the people were hungry.

Why does a husband work and sweat in the office the whole day, except the prospect of a good meal at home? Hence the proverb that, “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” When his flesh is satisfied, his spirit is calmer and more at ease, and he becomes more amorous and appreciative.

Wives had complained that husband don’t notice their new dresses, new shoes or new eyebrows. But have wives ever complained that husbands don’t notice a good meal?

In his book, The Importance of Living, Lin YuTang cited a passage from the prefatory note of a book on the General Art of Living by a Chinese epicure Li LiWeng, and I surely find joy in reading it. Li LiWeng wrote a complaint about our having this bottomless pit called the stomach:

I see that the organs of the human body, the ear, the eye, the nose, the tongue, the hands, the feet, and the body, have all a necessary function, but the two organs which are totally unnecessary but with which we are nevertheless endowed are the mouth and the stomach, which caused all the worry and trouble of mankind throughout the ages. With this mouth and this stomach, the matter of getting a living becomes complicated, and when the matter of getting a living becomes complicated, we have cunning and falsehood and dishonesty in human affairs. With the coming of cunning and falsehood and dishonesty in human affairs, comes the criminal law, so that the king is not able to protect with his mercy, the parents are not able to gratify their love, and even the kind Creator is forced to go against His will. All this comes of a little lack of forethought in His design for the human body at the time of the creation, and is the consequence of our having these two organs.

He has given us not only these two organs, but has also endowed us with manifold appetites or desires, besides making the pit bottomless, so that it is like a valley or a sea that can never be filled. The consequence is that we labor in our life with all the energy of the other organs, in order to supply inadequately the needs of these two. I have thought over and over again, and cannot help blaming the Creator for it. I know, of course, that He must have repented of His mistake also, but simple feels that nothing can be done about it now, since the design or pattern is already fixed.

How important it is for man to be very careful at the time of the conception of a law or an institution!

Chapter 3: Animal Heritage
The Importance of Living

There is certainly nothing to be done about it, now that we have got this bottomless pit to fill. Confucius reduced the great desires of human beings to two: alimentation and reproduction, or in simple term, food and drinks, and woman.

Many men had circumvented sex, but no saint had yet to circumvented food and drinks. The most constant refrain of our thought occurring unfailingly every few hours is, “when do I eat?” This occurs at least 3 times a day. And stomach-gifted that we all are, the best arrangement we can think of when we gather to render public homage to a grandfather is to give him a birthday feast.

There is a reason for it. Friends that meet at meals meet at peace. Put two of the best friends together when they are hungry, and they will invariably end up in a quarrel. It is for this reason that, with the Chinese deep insight into human nature, all quarrels and disputes are settled at dinner tables instead of the court of justice. The pattern of Chinese life is such that we not only settle disputes at dinner, after they have arisen, but also forestall the rising of disputes by the same means. We bribe our way into the good will of everybody by frequent dinners. It is, in fact, the only safe guide to success in politics. Should someone take the trouble to compile statistical figures, he would be able to find an absolute correlation between the number of dinners a man gives to his friends and the rate or speed of his official promotion or approvals.

With this philosophy, therefore, the Chinese have no prudery about food, or about eating it with gusto. When a Chinese drinks a mouthful of good soup, he gives a hearty smack; that would be bad table manners in the West. Western table manners compelled us to sip our soup noiselessly and eat our food quietly with the least expression of enjoyment, which they call, the art of cuisine. Most Americans haven’t got the good sense to take a chicken drumstick in their hand and chew it clean, but continued to pretend to play at it with a knife and fork, feeling utterly miserable and afraid to say a thing about it. This is criminal when the chicken is really good.

Such is the human psychology that if we don’t express our joy, we soon cease to feel it even, and then follow dyspepsia, melancholia, neurasthenia and all the mental ailments peculiar to the adult life.

In fact, I believe the reason why the Chinese failed to develop botany and zoology is that the Chinese scholar cannot stare coldly and unemotionally at a fish without immediately thinking of how it tastes in the mouth. The reason I can’t trust Chinese surgeons is that I am afraid that when a Chinese surgeon cuts up my liver in search of a gall-stone, he may forget about the stone and put my liver in a frying pan. For I see a Chinese cannot look at a porcupine without immediately thinking of ways and means of cooking it without being poisoned, and so was with all the other animals and plants.

By nature, men are not carnivorous animal although they enjoy a good steak. The difference between the cannibals and civilized men is that the cannibals kill their enemies and eat them, while civilized men kill their foes and bury them, put a cross over their bodies and offer up prayers for their souls.

Half of the world spends their time doing things, and half the other half spends its time making others do things for them.

Food, then, is the very few solid joys of human life. There is no question of morality that arises in connection with food. Once food gets inside the lips, there is comparatively little side-tracking. It is readily admitted that everybody must have food, which is not the case with the sexual instinct. At the worst, some people eat their way into dyspepsia or an ulcered stomach or a hardened liver, and a few dig their graves with their own teeth. For the same reason, fewer social crimes arise from food than from sex. The criminal code has comparatively little to do with the sins of illegal, immoral and faithless eating, while it has a large section on adultery, divorce, and assault on women. At the worst, husband may ransack the icebox, but we seldom hang a man for spiking a fridge. Should such a case be brought to court, the judge will be full of compassion. Our hearts go out to people in famine, but not to the cloistered nun.

There is little public ignorance about the subject of food, as compared with public ignorance on the subject of sex. The subject of food enjoys the sunshine of knowledge, but sex is still surrounded with fairy tales, myths and superstitions. There is a closer relation between food and temperament. All herbivorous animals are peaceful by nature: the lamb, the horse, the cow, the elephant, the sparrow, etc; all carnivorous animals are fighters: the wolf, the lion, the tiger, the hawk, etc. nature does not produce a pugnacious temperament where no fighting is needed. Cocks still fight with each other, but they fight not about food, but about women.

In food and at death, we feel the essential brotherhood of mankind. When the stomach is right, everything is right. A well-filled stomach is indeed a great thing; all else is luxury.

Women, wine, and beautiful songs; that's men's life!

1 comment:

Lapa said...

Be my guest!