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.
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.
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.
GRATE ART IS
HORSESHIT, BUY TACOS.
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.