Every Taco is an Ensō: The Philosophy of the Taco

Every Taco is an Ensō: The Philosophy of the Taco

Let me be hon­est with you, one rea­son I have decid­ed to live in Mex­i­co is pure­ly and sim­ply for the taco. In my mind, the taco is as close to per­fec­tion as a culi­nary treat can get, and this is why every taco is an ensō. The ensō is a cal­li­graph­ic stroke in Zen Bud­dhism which takes the form of an open or closed cir­cle. The­se cir­cles are drawn by prac­ti­tion­ers in one con­tin­u­ous and med­i­ta­tive stroke. The ensō might be left open, as an incom­plete cir­cle, to allow for one’s essence to flow in and out of it. It may be left open to express the work of per­fec­tion as an infinite nev­er end­ing process (acknowl­edg­ing that absolute per­fec­tion is a myth; instead, per­fec­tion is the process of real­iz­ing max­i­mum poten­tial). Con­verse­ly, the cir­cle may close in on itself. This closed ensō rep­re­sents the empti­ness of being and pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty for our med­i­ta­tion of the void or noth­ing­ness. In Zen Bud­dhism, any med­i­ta­tion of empti­ness is also fun­da­men­tal­ly a med­i­ta­tion of full­ness. When we speak of empti­ness or noth­ing­ness it is in rela­tion to our own-being-in-this world. Empti­ness is an expres­sion of the aware­ness that no phe­nom­e­non we expe­ri­ence has a nature of its own. This means that the­se phe­nom­e­na are void of a sep­a­rate being, that they just are in the con­text of our being-in-this-world.

The taco fol­lows this log­ic of noth­ing­ness. It is emp­ty if not for our expe­ri­ence of it. The taco is an ensō, not only in shape but in essence. The mak­ing of the tor­tilla is a med­i­ta­tive expe­ri­ence, just as the Zen mas­ter approach­es per­fec­tion with their cal­li­graph­ic stroke, the taquero/a approach­es per­fec­tion with their mak­ing and rolling of the masa (dough) and the final press­ing of it. The result is less a tor­tilla than an emp­ty can­vas, a latent space wait­ing to be adorned with a fes­ti­val of ingre­di­ents.

There is a cer­tain ephemer­al­i­ty of tacos, and food in gen­er­al, that I feel is more indica­tive of Zen and Bud­dhist the­o­ry than the ensō alone. This ephemer­al­i­ty is rep­re­sent­ed as a digestible food stuff. Some­thing that we eat, digest and shit. The cir­cu­lar nature of our diges­tive sys­tem, of return­ing some­thing to this earth, might best describe our infinite-nature. Let it be a reminder and med­i­ta­tion on the fact that one day we too shall return to the dirt and water from which we arose. A great taco should be a reminder of our mor­tal­i­ty and a test of its strength. In a taco, we should face the absolute-nature of the void and return enlight­ened. In a great taco we find God, we find the Zeit­geist.


Ordi­nary food is con­sumed and becomes that which con­sumes it. In the Eucharist, we con­sume God and become that which we con­sume.

Dom Eugene Boy­lan


When we con­sume food, we con­sume with it every­thing, we con­sumer God. There is no bet­ter exam­ple of this than in the sto­ry of the Last Sup­per. Bread, in this sto­ry, is to become the body of Christ and wine becomes his blood. This tran­sub­stan­ti­a­tion is evi­dence of how impor­tant our intel­lec­tu­al, spir­i­tu­al, and reli­gious con­nec­tion to bread and wine is. But what if we didn’t have bread as we know it in our cul­ture? The tor­tilla is to Lat­in Amer­i­ca what leav­ened bread is to to the rest of the world. The use of Maize for unleav­ened bread in Lat­in Amer­i­ca far pre­dates the arrival of wheat and oth­er such cere­al grains, found in leav­ened bread with the Euro­pean colo­nial­ists. The tor­tilla is a sta­ple here in Mex­i­co and it is deep-root­ed with­in the cul­ture, psy­che, and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of the peo­ple. In fact, the Mayan cre­ation sto­ry tells us that humankind and all of our ances­tors came from masa. The Aztecs wor­shiped the god­dess of corn and sus­te­nance Chicome­coatl. The Mix­tecs and Zapotecs of Oax­a­ca, one of the most corn-rich and diverse regions in Mex­i­co, wor­shiped the god­dess Pitao Cozo­bi whose fields were watered with the blood of her priests. The ear­ly mis­sion­ary Catholics under­stood the impor­tance of and spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion to the tor­tilla amongst indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties and actu­al­ly sub­sti­tut­ed bread for it in their adap­ta­tion of the sacra­ment of the Eucharist. In their adap­ta­tion, the body of Christ was the tor­tilla and his blood remained wine.


By bread and salt we are unit­ed.

A Mor­ro­can proverb


For all cul­tures, bread is life-giv­ing and life-affirm­ing and is as impor­tant as water.  For instance, the word “Aish” in Ara­bic means both “life” and “bread.” Bread is not just about sus­te­nance, it has become our spir­i­tu­al and cul­tur­al bind. We can under­stand how impor­tant bread is to human­i­ty sim­ply by read­ing the his­to­ry books. Count­less rev­o­lu­tions and moments of polit­i­cal strife have been born in the name of bread. Bread is life, and if it is bread that gives the rest of the world life, it is the tor­tilla that gives Lat­in Amer­i­cans theirs. The sacra­ment is a sto­ry which unites all in the feast­ing of Christ’s flesh. To feed on his flesh is to feed on the infinite-nature of the uni­verse. In the tor­tilla, we find the flesh of each oth­er and the flesh of our uni­verse. We find in it a phi­los­o­phy of human­i­ty and the phi­los­o­phy of our rela­tion­ship to noth­ing­ness and every­thing­ness.


Phi­los­o­phy intro­duces us into spir­i­tu­al life. And at the same time, it shows us the rela­tion of the life of spir­it to the life of the body.

Hen­ri Bergson


Yes, it is the phi­los­o­phy of the taco which intro­duces us into spir­i­tu­al life, and with one bite it shows us the rela­tion of the life of the spir­it to the life of the body. It is that which con­nects us. It is that which shows us how to love.


Every­body loves some­thing, even if it’s only tor­tillas.

Trung­pa Rin­poche


Just think about it a moment … we haven’t even added ingre­di­ents to our tor­tilla to trans­form its already splen­did nature into taco-nature. The tor­tilla is empti­ness. That is, it is a latent poten­tial. The taco so pure­ly rep­re­sents the void in the absence of the tor­tilla that with­out the tor­tilla there is absolute noth­ing­ness. One must ask, what is the ontol­ogy of the taco? What is its essence? What is taco-nature?

While the ety­mo­log­i­cal orig­in of the word “taco” is unknown, the most like­ly the­o­ry is that the word came from the   Nahu­atl word “tlah­co”, which means rough­ly “half” or to be “in the mid­dle;” fur­ther­more, the Nahu­atl word “tlax­cal­li” describes the corn tor­tilla used to nest food in. The taco is a Mesoamer­i­can inven­tion, but it is unclear as to why it came to be referred to as a “taco” in Span­ish. Per­haps it was the evo­lu­tion of word bor­row­ing? The term “taco” is of Mex­i­can Span­ish orig­in; oth­er dialects have used the word to mean “wedge” or “short;” it might be relat­ed to the Eng­lish word “tack;” “cleats” are also referred to as “tacos” for use in foot­ball. What­ev­er the vari­ety of uses, it is sure­ly the word’s rela­tion to food that is most wide­ly known and under­stood. With­out a com­plete ety­mo­log­i­cal his­to­ry, we need to ask our­selves what does the taco mean to us now?

Let us return to the begin­ning. What makes a taco? What is taconess? A taco wouldn’t be any­thing with­out the tor­tilla. The mak­ing of a tor­tilla is the begin­ning of a long med­i­ta­tive process. The rins­ing, soak­ing, and boil­ing the corn with slaked lime; the dry­ing and grind­ing of  the corn on a metate stone slab, and; the mix­ing of water to the corn mix­ture and balling of the masa into small round balls of dough. It is said that one of the spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tions to their Mesoamer­i­can her­itage is found in the process of mak­ing a tor­tilla. It relates to a med­i­ta­tive spir­i­tu­al prac­tice found in the mak­ing of the masa and the prepa­ra­tion of the tor­tilla in which the slap­ping of the masa (dough) between the hands is a call­ing, it is like a prayer. But, again, what makes a taco?

The taco becomes a taco only when the fill­ing is spooned, placed, or tossed upon the tor­tilla which becomes its tem­po­rary home. The tor­tilla and the fill­ing become one. They become taco. The taco is a meta­phys­i­cal exten­sion of the tor­tilla. It is only there because of the tor­tilla; there­fore, the taco is noth­ing with­out the tor­tilla. Of course, the taco isn’t real­ly any­thing with­out our con­sump­tion of it; there­fore, the taco is noth­ing­ness until it is real­ized by our feast­ing of it. The whole process of its becom­ing is, in fact, just deter­ri­to­ri­al­ized diges­tion. Diges­tion out­side of the body, but not with­out it. The process of cook­ing is the first step in the tech­nol­o­gy of our diges­tive sys­tem. For those who cook, it is a tem­po­rary fast before we con­sume and thus it is a spir­i­tu­al or reli­gious expe­ri­ence which fur­ther con­nects us to our food.


Undoubt­ed­ly, one can write while eat­ing more eas­i­ly than one can speak while eat­ing, but writ­ing goes fur­ther in trans­form­ing words into things capa­ble of com­pet­ing with food. Dis­junc­tion between con­tent and expres­sion. To speak, and above all to write, is to fast … and the sci­ence of food can only devel­op through fast­ing.

Delueze and Guat­tari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Lit­er­a­ture


Writ­ing this arti­cle is a form of fast­ing, a sort of absti­nence. But much like sex, a lit­tle absti­nence can make the next encoun­ter all the more plea­sur­able. How­ev­er, it isn’t mere­ly plea­sure that I am after when I eat a taco, I am look­ing for enlight­en­ment. I am search­ing for a raw spir­i­tu­al and reli­gious con­nec­tion with my food. I want to be next to my food, become my food and for it to become me. This is taco-nature: to feast on the divine body of the uni­ver­sal. To become uni­ver­sal.


This — what you eat and drink — is the body and blood of the word.

Here — where you buy it — lies the grave of bread and wine, body and blood, dead and resus­ci­tat­ed as mes­sages.

Michel Ser­res, The Five Sens­es: Min­gled Bod­ies


We are not dif­fer­ent from the ani­mals that were eat­ing us, the small ani­mals that were killing us. We eat our­selves; we kill each oth­er.

Michel Ser­res, The Par­a­site


We feast and we are taco-nature, we become the par­a­site just as the tor­tilla is a par­a­site. The tor­tilla absorbs the nature of the fill­ing, but also becomes the method in which the nutri­ent-rich ingre­di­ents are trans­ferred from hand to mouth. Taco-nature is tool nature. The tor­tilla becomes an exten­sion of our hand, and; there­fore, we con­sume our­selves. We con­sume our own nature.


To par­a­site means to eat next to.

Michel Ser­res, The Par­a­site


Gift­ed in some fash­ion, the one eat­ing next to, soon eat­ing at the expense of, always eats the same thing, the host, and this eter­nal host gives over and over, con­stant­ly, till he breaks, even till death, drugged, enchant­ed, fas­ci­nat­ed. The host is not a prey, for he offers and con­tin­ues to give. Not a prey, but the host. The oth­er one is not a preda­tor but a par­a­site. Would you say that mother’s breast is the child’s prey? It is more or less the child’s home. But this rela­tion is of the sim­plest sort; there is none sim­pler or eas­ier: it always goes in the same direc­tion. The same one is the host; the same one takes and eats; there is no change of direc­tion. This is true of all beings. Of lice and men.

Michel Ser­res, The Par­a­site


We adorn our­selves just as we adorn our tor­tilla with an assort­ment of meats and veg­eta­bles. We wear them to become them. We try to return to the spir­i­tu­al birth-giv­ing body ripped from the husk, boiled, dried and ground into masa. Just as we feel the earth rest­ing on the bot­tom of our feet, we taste the soil that sup­ports us. It invig­o­rates our spir­it. We par­a­sit­i­cal­ly crown the tor­tilla with our endeav­ors (as an assort­ment of del­i­cate and delec­table top­pings) to enrich the flesh of the earth. It is impor­tant to note that, like the tor­tilla, what we wear on the inside, what we con­sume, we soon wear on the out­side as our leath­ery flesh.


Our rela­tion to ani­mals is more inter­est­ing-I mean to the ani­mals we eat. We adore eat­ing veal, lamb, beef, antelope, pheas­ant, or grouse, but we don’t throw away their “left­overs.” We dress in leather and adorn our­selves with feath­ers. Like the Chi­ne­se, we devour duck with­out wast­ing a bit; we eat the whole pig, from head to tail; but we get under the­se imals’ skins as well, in their plumage or in their hide. Men in cloth­ing live with­in the ani­mals they devoured. And the same thing for plants. We eat rice, wheat, apples, the divine egg­plant, the ten­der dan­de­lion; but we also weave silk, linen, cot­ton; we live with­in the flo­ra as much as we live with­in the fau­na. We are par­a­sites; thus we clothe our­selves. Thus we live with­in tents of skins like the gods with­in their taber­na­cles. Look at him well-dressed and adorned, mag­nif­i­cent; he shows-he showed-the clean car­cass of his host. Of the soft par­a­site you can see only the clean-shaven face and the hands, some­times with­ou t their kid gloves.

Michel Ser­res, The Parisite


We eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ to become him. We eat the taco to become the uni­verse, to become God. Taco-nature is infinite-nature. Taco-nature is our nature.




Charles Bukowski, The Artist


We have no real need for fine art; we crave the art of mod­esty. An art which broach­es upon some sort of Wabi-Sabi aes­thet­ic and under­stand­ing of the world. The taco is a mod­est art, but when that reach­es per­fec­tion. There is some­thing both pri­mal and sat­is­fy­ing about the taco. The expul­sion of priv­i­leged eti­quet­te to reclaim the sen­so­ri­al plea­sure of eat­ing with one’s hands. The taco is anti-colo­nial. It is an insur­gent food on the hori­zon of an ever grow­ing world of fine art and fine din­ing. It infil­trates the stuffy space of high-taste and dis­rupts the sta­tus quo of the ever so mun­dane bour­geoise land­scape. The taco, more than any oth­er food (even piz­za), is the people’s food. In its stub­born mod­esty, the taco implores its con­sumer to seek out the spir­i­tu­al con­nect that they have between them­selves and food. Between the art and poet­ry of its cre­ation and the art and poet­ry of its con­sump­tion. The taco is a rit­u­al of artis­tic integri­ty and the process of reach­ing for per­fec­tion.


Art is what reveals to us the state of per­fec­tion.



Per­fec­tion is a state, and as we know states are tem­po­ral. States are ephemer­al in that they age and decay. But they are also reborn and res­ur­rect­ed, but will nev­er be the same. States evolve. Per­fec­tion evolves. The taco evolves. Tacos like med­i­ta­tion are an art­form. It is the art of the nev­er-end­ing process of striv­ing for divine per­fec­tion. The art of reach­ing enlight­en­ment. A great taco should thrust us into obliv­ion; into noth­ing­ness; into empti­ness. What I mean is, a great taco should cre­ate for us a pure moment in which we come as close to per­fec­tion as pos­si­ble. A taco in which we might reach Taco Nir­vana. A place where we reflect the uni­verse and become one with it.

More than any oth­er food that could be con­sid­ered the food of the peo­ple, even more so than bread, the taco should be seen as a source of pure rev­e­la­tion: the rev­e­la­tion of the self. This is fur­ther than Epi­cure­an phi­los­o­phy can take us. The taco isn’t just about mod­est plea­sure; nor is it about attain­ing some state of tran­quil­i­ty free of anx­i­ety and fear, no; the taco is about accept­ing our anx­i­eties in the shroud of doubt that is empti­ness and noth­ing­ness. In our doubt, we move toward per­fec­tion. Like any good food of the peo­ple, with the taco we become God, we become the uni­verse. After gorg­ing on tacos any­one can feel like a king or a queen, and so we are. We become taco-nature: uni­ver­sal beings-toward-per­fec­tion.