Our virtual table: An online discussion for Companions of Flavor Play

Welcome to our virtual table, the online discussion group for companions of Flavor Play

This is the place to get an online taste of what other companions are doing with the flavor play practice. You are invited to post your experiences and reflections, as well as articles or links that seem redolent to the practice of flavor play, including your comments on the links you or others share with us. 

One thought on “Our virtual table: An online discussion for Companions of Flavor Play

  1. introducing flavor play to licensed dieticians in San Francisco
    posted Dec 3, 2012, 5:01 PM by thomas marconi phd
    I was invited to give a presentation of my style of Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and to facilitate a short introduction to the practices of flavor play with a dietician’s continuing education event series “for dietitians that are interested in learning about different cultural cuisines as well as the nutritional highlights of the cuisine.” The two other presentations were by a mushroom forager and a woman who shared a taste of her Malaysian cuisine as well as the integral role food plays in the relationships between the people in this culture.

    First, I would like to share some reflections upon these other presentations, and then I will say something about the flavor play practice we shared.

    I only began to forage mushrooms a few years ago. I literally stumbled upon a bright golden chanterelle as I was hiking near my friend’s home in Napa county. I called and visited a few people in attempt to unquestionably validate that this was indeed a chanterelle. It took a couple days to get up the nerve to cook and try a little. . . .

    So, I am still here, despite many pleas to NOT eat these foraged delights. What is most pleasing to me, besides the luscious flavor of chanterelles with quail (my Thanksgiving favorite) or a dairy-free pureed chanterelle soup, is the actual ways you stumble around looking for them. All of the prescriptions of learned foragers are helpful, but it is beyond any set of instructions. Very much alike that seemingly simple last instruction to every recipe—season to taste. I find foraging for mushrooms requires a sensibility that is precise and nuanced, demanding an attentiveness to subtleties. It reminds me of a style of visual perception that the ecologist and visual scientist Laura Sewell calls “the skill of ecological perception.” Sewell suggests that the style of seeing or looking in an urban environment—a style that most of us unconsciously rely upon for the most part—is very different than the style of seeing inherent in ecological perception. You can find her essay on this in the book “Ecopsychology” published by Sierra club books, and her own book Sight and Sensibility : The Ecopsychology of Perception.

    What I found wonderful in the Malaysian woman’s presentation is the role of food as media for a shared life. At a young age, a person is given or chooses their “personal” spice. At once, this is a non-objective flavoring of both their self-awareness and the flavor that others have of them. This latter notion is redolent of the phrase my teacher Julie Henderson uses for our sense of a person. She says” bring to mind the flavor of Jane”. . .

    Another beautiful aspect of Malaysian culture is that people greet each other not with “how are you,” but with “are you hungry?”—The latter an invitation to engage each other with a shared meal. This invites us to consider how a meal is media, but in a very different way than newspapers, television, or social media applications on the internet. the meal is an intimate, not a mass media, even if you are at a Malaysian wedding, that our friend said could often have over one thousand guests.

    Now, some reflections on the flavor play practice.

    We had sliced baguette and rice crackers with a plain young goat cheese and a cow’s milk ricotta, parsley, cilantro (coriander leaf), tarragon, ground corrainder and cumin, slices of lemon for a squeeze of juice and a sherry vinegar. These ingredients are my three pillars of a simple mediterranean-inspired cuisine, namely herbs, spices, and acid. Our companions were invited to put some cheese on the bread or cracker and then add whatever they choose, eventually comparing flavors and juxtapositions of the various flavors.

    It always takes a little time for people to get used to the practice. I guide them with suggestions such as “if a word arises to name what you are experiencing, put aside the word and experience beyond the word.” I also invite them to “notice what you didn’t yet notice in the last bite.” I am guiding people through the practice of “phenomenological reduction,” a practice of liberating the speaking human being from what has been described by the literary theorist Frederic Jameson as “the prison house of language.” Experience often ends when one names the experience, as is we satisfied the need to experience more. Or, perhaps, it is simply a perceptual-cognitive habit, for better or worse.

    After almost ten minutes, I invited the people to notice others with whom they are practicing the exercise. Something delightful happened for me when they did this. The room lit up with a feeling. The unnaturalness of the practice seemingly drew everyone into their own little worlds, not unlike the experiences that happen when one begins a practice of meditation with a group.

    Soon, I invited the companions to share their experiences, that is, to slowly come to speak. A characteristic description that was invoked by nearly a handful of people is being “surprised” about some aspect of the practice, and also how they have never done anything quite like this.

    It is always humorous to watch a group of people begin the practice within the parameter of not saying words. It takes a little while even to get there. While I request that no one speaks, I also invite them to interact with each other consciously, looking at each other, even to express themselves with inflections of the voice such as “mmmmm” or “ooohhhhh,” laughter, and all of those ways of communicating without words. While this didn’t happen as much with this group, it is often the case that people naturally make exaggerated facial and vocal expressions, not unlike the way we interact with infants. Lest we forget, the etymology of infant is the Latin “unable to speak.” The beautiful thing about saying something about your experiences of flavor or aromas is that we are nearly infants, literally, when it comes to the capacity to speak about our experiences of flavor. Perhaps it is only more evident when speaking about flavors because our usual capacity of words rolling off our tongue is tripped up, our capacity to speak is more alike stumbling when speaking of flavor. Yet, if we consider a comment from the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the greater part of communication is mis-communication—we only believe that what we say is understood, or what we understand is what someone meant to say. This is why I believe the speaking that happens within the practice of flavor play instills within us a greater, yet humble capacity to communicate.

    This leads me to suggest that like learning to cook or learning to walk or talk, the practice of flavor play is indeed a practice, and the fruit of practice, if we follow the agricultural analogy, takes at least a couple seasons of practice to gain. Practice can be understood as the sunlight and water that we give to the fertile earth of the wisdom of being alive. And while being alive can mean living life in your head, that isn’t as alive and juicy as we are capable by living more fully in all of the ways the human organism can engage the world and others.

    I invite your comments.

    thomas marconi phd

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