Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Food is one of my favorite things. In fact, it may even be an addiction to me. If I don’t eat for a week or two, I feel like I could just die. Okay, little pun aside, food is a necessity to life. Even life that doesn’t eat other living things need to eat, they just produce their own food through photosynthesis, but food is our energy.
Interestingly, there was a thermodynamicist who suggested that eating food wasn’t so much for energy as it is for entropy. The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy of a system cannot decrease unless the entropy of the surroundings increases at least an equal amount and except in ideal situations (which don’t exist) always more. So, if we think about ourselves as the “system”, then the surroundings are everything other than our own bodies. We, you and I, as an evolved species depend on having a great deal of order, or, in thermodynamics jargon, low entropy. But how do we maintain low entropy? Our body is constantly working to maintain and minimize disorder, which is necessary for all of our systems and biochemical reactions to work together. When something is out of control, it usually results in some form of a disease or condition and is quite dangerous, like tumors which are essentially chaotic and uncontrolled growth. Because they do not follow the prescribed order and grow randomly, they are often very dangerous.
Downstairs, I have my bachelor Mexican casserole. I put a layer of canned refried beans on the bottom, then a layer of shredded cheese, and hot sauce, then canned enchiladas with sauce, a layer of cheese and hot sauce, and finally a layer of canned chili with no beans on top, a final layer of cheese, and more hot sauce (baking actually tends to cool the hot sauce so I use a lot). Once constructed, I make the casserole acceptable to the church by baking the hell out of it. (Sorry, bad joke.) In the end, I will have a well-ordered, beautiful and quick meal that will last for at least three days since in the end it makes a great chip dip once the enchiladas are gone. This is a highly ordered, and therefore low entropy meal.
But, what happens when I eat it? I masticate. For those who don’t know, that means I chew it. It goes through my digestive track and becomes increasingly chaotic, as my body, having consumed the food, continues to grow and increase in order. Ultimately, my food increases in entropy as I consume it, but my body entropy decreases.
Whether for energy or entropy, the truth is that eating is a necessary activity for life, and yet, we as human beings have turned this necessary activity into a social event. I’ve often found this a fascinating reality, and not one that we do routinely. I guess there are actually few necessary activities for life, but after we eat, we do have to relieve ourselves, and yet this is not a social activity unless you have relatively uncommon but not unknown fetishes.
Eating and drinking, both necessary activities, have become two of our major social activities. Here in the holiday season, people will gather, and most often to share a meal. Admittedly, when people meet to drink it’s usually to consume beverages that are actually antithetical to survival, and yet, drinking is another of those necessary activities turned social.
Recently I met a friend to try out a new restaurant near me. It was surprising, as in its name it mentions Cajun style, and yet it didn’t have gumbo or jambalaya, much to my disappointment, but it wasn’t bad either. As strange as it sounds, I had Pho, a Vietnamese type of soup which somehow doesn’t seem very Cajun to me.
I know so many people who are stuck on the same type of food. I have friends who are strictly “meat and potato”, which I cannot understand. The variety of very delicious and low entropy foods out there are almost a miracle, and I enjoy sampling various foods of the world. In fact, had I not made my Mexican casserole (yesterday, actually, so second serving leftovers today) I am kind of craving good old-fashioned Irish Fish ‘n’ Chips with malt vinegar. There’s a little place just a few miles from here that I’ve yet to try that apparently serves them. Maybe, towards the end of the week, I’ll feed my entropic tendency with this meal.