Monday, 3 December 2012

On the implications of trying to assess quality in sandwiches

Manducare ergo sum? 

On the curious philosophical implications of trying to categorize quality in a sandwich; it is quite evident that to a large degree, quality as commonly understood in terms of a sandwich is something that is inherent in the sandwich itself. To elaborate, the sandwich is made of (in general) two pieces of bread and a set of fillings. The bread can be of varying type and obviously the fillings can vary. Within this quite simple set of rules there is obviously a huge potential for variation. The bread can be of many different types, some better than others and some unsuited to the fillings with which, they are to be matched. When considering fillings we can contend with quality of base ingredients, skill in preparation of said ingredients, and then, somewhat harder to quantify, the degree to which the ingredients work together. All of the above is pretty standard within the field of sandwich appreciation and discussion, however I’m going to contend that it is merely one of the two pillars which underlie the actual sensation of sandwich enjoyment, which; is ultimately that which is desirable in the act of sandwich consumption.

For a sandwich to be appreciated, it must be consumed, and for consumption to happen we must have an eater, therefor, for any meaningful conclusions to be drawn we must consider the state of the eater.

I would like to posit a theoretical eater, one that is unaffected by emotions and previous sandwich eating experiences, I will call this theoretical gourmet, tabula rasa palatum (TRP). TRP is capable of assessing every sandwich with complete clarity, and cast judgment upon the merits of said sandwich with no bias. However TRP sadly does not and, one hopes, will never exist, as surely the most meaningful joys of sandwich appreciation is the wondrous contemplation that it elicits as the eater drifts into reverie, each bite drawing favourable (or unfavourable) comparisons with sandwiches of the past.

Once we accept that the state of the eater is of prime importance in the judgment of quality in a sandwich, we can ask deeper questions. Firstly we ought look at the meta construct that is actually enjoyment. Obviously enjoyment is something that is experienced by the eater in response to the act of consumption of the sandwich. Therefor I believe it is entirely reasonable to prioritise the favourability of the eaters state towards enjoyment prior to the consumption of the sandwich. I feel it is as much of an imperative as the quality of the sandwich itself.

By way of example, please consider the example of a Beigel Bake salt beef beigel at 2am in the morning following an evening of libatory indulgence. I contend that there can be no finer example of the joy possible in the eating of a sandwich. However there are those who would argue that there are finer examples available of the salt beef beigel, though I would counter that in the absence of their availability they cease to exist as a potential sandwich. This doesn’t mean that they cannot affect the actuality of the sandwich being consumed. This takes place by means of what I have termed the imagination effect and or the knowledge effect.

The knowledge effect is one that our TRP can never know, this is the knowledge that there are finer examples of the sandwich being consumed’s genre, that the consumer has previously experienced. This often leads to a whistful somewhat melancholy consummation, the sandwich, while possibly very good, will never live up to the remembered experience of the Ur-wich*. The imagination effect is closely linked to the knowledge effect, in that the sandwich consumed can never live up to the imagined Ur-wich. This is particularly prevalent in trans national sandwiches, for example that domestic London burger consumer may well imagine that there is a burger or family of burgers far beyond anything he/she has ever consumed domestically that resides in, say, New York or California. This may well lead to a deferential hat doffing in the presence of the originals. I speculate that it is partially due to the imagination paradox that In and Out burgers are so fetishized by London burger consumers.

Finally, I would like to tackle the issue of immediacy of desire fulfillment with regards to sandwich consumption. This is what I will, as per Oisin of the Ship, term the Fridge buffet phenomenon, a sandwich which is available and satisfying at, or almost exactly at the genesis of the desire for it will be immensely more satisfying to the consumer than one that has been long in the making. This is, I believe, due to the essentially transitory nature of the sandwich. That it is something to be consumed in passing, while gambling, travelling or indeed engaging in philosophical discourse.

So, to recap, when considering the meta construct that is sandwich enjoyment it is essential that one considers both the current mental state of the consumer (such as happiness, hunger, inebriation etc), and the bias’ that the consumer may hold as relevant to either knowledge or imagination paradoxes in as high a regard as the actuality of the sandwich itself, mediated obviously by the immediacy of the sandwich delivery post realization of the consumers desire for said sandwich.

* Ur-wich; the essential pattern or identity of a sandwich type. Ur- bears the connotation of primordial, basic, elemental, archetypal; as such the elemental sandwich of it’s kind, that by which all others are defined, and ultimately judged. 

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