Tongue’s New Diet


By   Yemi Sanusi

This is purely a work of fiction, a result of the writer’s imagination. Any similarity to any individual or individuals is not intended.

Tonga, the head cell for the tongue, was getting very worried about this new hype for vegetarian foods and he didn’t like it. Afterall, he was of African descent and he was very proud of the African dishes – bolus foods he relished with their big cuts of meat and the ever delicious often oily soup. Occasionally, he might enjoy a dash of those new foreign things they called ‘fast food’ – a bit of doughnut, delightful meat-pie, some cake and the irresistible deep fried potato chips with crispy chicken and a splash of ketchup. But he basically had enjoyed a lot of the African foods growing up and had no intention of letting his over 3,000 taste buds agonise over the body’s latest culinary experiment.

Perhaps it was time to go and speak with Caeca, commander of the digestive system, in order to stop that annoying trend of eating more vegetables, fruits and fish; and less pounded yam with egusi soup and plenty of goat meat. Tonga missed the delicious taste of fried beef and ‘roundabout’ that went with several wraps of amala or akpu, dancing in draw soup as they glided down towards the throat. On other occasions, the cakes with icing, chocolates that sent delightful tingles down the tongue as well as the unforgettable frothy ice-cream brought some nostalgia. He missed the fast rush of the carbonated drinks, the sizzle, the sweetness and the refreshing slide of the fluid past his often excited team members and slowly down the waiting gullet to quench the motions of an often hungry stomach. Tonga wanted those things back, and not the tasteless, colourless, very uninspiring flow of bland water; that new found love the body had suddenly rediscovered and kept torturing tongue cells with first thing in the morning in a bid to promote a healthier body. ‘’Take a bath inside before taking a bath outside’’, Tonga had overheard a new diet advocate tell one of his cells.

Tonga almost hissed. He would talk to Caeca. This had definitely got to stop! The tongue cells wanted their normal diet, the African diet, back and if the rest of the body did not comply, they would have no other choice but to all go on strike; and then they would see whose opinion was more important.

Tonga was really determined as he took the private elevator to Caeca’s office to speed things up. There was no going back. He had called her earlier and told her he was coming to see her. He had no doubt that she would be in her office waiting for him.

And he was quite right. Sitting at her desk, sipping a few molecules of water, the plain looking cell switched her attention from the computer monitor in front of her to welcome him graciously. Caeca liked the tongue a lot and was always willing to speak to the head of the muscular reddish-pink unit. Always the special taster and unofficial body chef, she knew she could depend on his judgement and that of his many cells to carry out the very important functions of tasting, chewing and swallowing. Besides, the tongue was the gateway to her department even though it had ample nerve connections to the brain. Hence, it mattered very much what the cells there thought. For Caeca, the sense of taste was vital for survival because it was the only way to tell the difference between good and poisonous or even bad food. So, once tongue cells accepted anything as okay and it got past that boneless but highly efficient structure, it was considered safe except signals from the brain indicated otherwise and authorised a rejection. Sometimes, that meant that the stomach would have to get rid of the substance by vomiting; a dangerous thing for the lungs if it went the wrong way, and the gullet if it happened too frequently while also being a highly unhealthy process for the body in the long run.

So, in the light of this, Caeca knew better than to make members of the tongue unit upset. It could spell a lot of trouble, Caeca mused, pondering the fact that the tongue’s functions were numerous… and vital, she had to admit. Apart from tasting, chewing and swallowing, the tongue was also necessary for talking, keeping the teeth company and shielding the salivary glands from too much exposure. The tongue was really good with its protruding feature of licking (Caeca quickly tried to take her mind off fast melting ice-cream), and on some occasions the tongue could show signs of problems relating to the whole body when some internal organs were having trouble.

But as Caeca contemplated what the reason for Tonga’s visit was, something instinctively told her it had to do with the new diet and its not yet familiar taste. Having been too involved in health discussions with Bain and other members of the body’s executive council, she had failed to communicate properly with the heads of the units in her department, sending out memos instead of having face-to-face discussions; an error she knew could cause some degree of rancour if she didn’t handle the situation properly. Making a mental note to communicate better subsequently, Caeca watched the body’s head taster as he rolled his rotund body into the chair opposite her.

Tonga would protest the new foods, no doubt, and she was going to have to make him see reason, to understand that the father-body just got diagnosed with diabetes and there had to be a diet change. Tonga would have to see it in the same light as when he had so often resisted the bitter unpalatable drugs that were meant to fight the body’s dreaded enemies. Those drugs, after gaining access, saved the body even when Tonga’s cells had strongly rejected them, simply on the basis of taste. Never judge a book by its cover was the lesson, or in this case, never judge food by its taste!

Caeca knew she would have to make him see that to be successful at anything, least of all maintaining a healthy human body, there would surely be challenges; there would be temptations, but eventually, there would be an overcoming. These were the points Caeca was going to stand by even if she also initially didn’t like the directives from the commander of the brain and other members of the body’s executive council who supported the low fat, low carbohydrate, high vegetable and high fruit diet.  They had argued that more vitamins and minerals were needed in the diet. The heart commander had complained about cholesterol, the commander of the kidneys said they didn’t get enough water to clear out waste; something the skin commander also complained about and blamed for the body’s very unattractive external appearance. It got worse when Bain, the brain commander had said the change in diet would help the brain function a lot better before reading out the eyes’ requests for more water and vitamin A.  They also stressed the fact that the new diet would preserve a good chunk of the pancreas’ supply of insulin till old age, preventing diabetes as seen in the father-body while helping keep the body focused on its ultimate mission. By the end of the meeting, Caeca’s arguments had weakened. She had been out-voted, partially disgraced and her pride had been shattered. The long term survival of the insulin producing cells in the pancreas was as important as the tongue cells’ discomfort but ultimately, survival rather than savour carried a much greater weight.

She knew she would have to follow the directive or lose her position. She had to keep sentiments aside. She wanted to retain her position, to keep her cells on track in achieving the vision of a healthy body and accomplishing the overall mission even if it meant making them uncomfortable for a few weeks with a new unfamiliar diet. Tonga would soon see the sense in it and after a period of time would put his cells on auto-run with such foods. Afterall, it was only expected that there would be resistance to a new wave of change.

So, when Tonga sat down and started speaking, Caeca was amply prepared. And when the plump reddish-pink cell presented his complaints, the commander of the digestive system was quick to soothe him. The foods didn’t taste bitter or corrosive, were Caeca’s take; they were just not as appetizing as what they were accustomed to, was Tonga’s response. Perhaps, Caeca reasoned, it was time for the cells on the tongue’s other sections to become more adventurous considering there were 4 specialised but identical areas for tasting different kinds of food on the very busy muscle – the salt detecting taste buds located on the tip of the tongue, the sweet tasting buds also present on the tip, sour taste checkers present on the sides of the tongue as well as the bitterness spotting region at the back (that area the tongue cells jokingly called ‘the checkpoint’) and which probably explained the vehemence with which the tongue rejected certain foods and drugs that did not seem palatable to the mouth.

But Tonga did not like that suggestion as he grumbled and mumbled in front of his department head, wondering why the top cell commanders always had to find ways of making life uneasy by passing a law that was bent on making him and other members of his team unhappy.

The discussion went back and forth, with Caeca seeing Tonga’s point of view but also seeing a much larger vision than the few minutes of relishing a lovely but not-so-healthy meal. And that was when it fully dawned on her. Tonga’s grouse was about the present, the immediate but Bain’s overall objective was for the future, the time when the body would need all the energy it could possess, the time when the basic infrastructure within the body would require maintenance and not fresh growth or total overhaul. Now was the time to build and develop the right structures and encourage the right habits and attitudes. It would be a case of ‘suffer now and enjoy later’ rather than ‘enjoy now and then pay a lot more later’ when other members of the family would then be included in the worry map. Mother-body was already involved in father-body’s worry map because of poor dietary culture, hence the need to change diets. It seemed better to prevent that for other generations.

And it brought to mind the cliché ‘Prevention is better than cure’, a statement that Caeca had since become bored with.  But it was one phrase she could barely avoid this time because it was just so true. Undoubtedly, Tonga needed to understand it too; at least for the body’s long term health plan and ultimate survival strategy. It would indeed be a pleasure if Tonga could comply, without being so grumpy. It took a while – a long discussion with charts, statistics, pictures and data; similar ones presented to her at the executive council meeting – but finally, Tonga agreed to conform. However, he added that it would be a lot easier if the taste center in the brain which was already on auto-run for the regular bolus foods got a memo on mind-change as well.

Caeca understood what Tonga meant. A lot of what really happened in the body depended to a large extent on what went on in the brain and invariably, the mind. However, she reassured Tonga that if he kept up his own end of the bargain, the brain would in no time act accordingly and stop craving for some of the foods of the past. Eyes and nose would have to be curtailed too, Tonga insisted. Caeca smiled. That too would depend on the brain. Bain would see to it that a good number of the organs were put on discipline-mode, one of the toughest feats for a body used to working a lot on auto-run. Anyway, it was the commander of the human brain who gave the directive. He would find a way to walk the talk. But it would also be very nice if the tongue could win the ‘battle of the urges’ first; it would reflect a lot of discipline for the department.

Tonga, seemingly satisfied but slightly ruffled, prepared to go back to his unit and inform his cells about the new change in policy. It would be a tough change but they would pull through, afterall, it was basically a thing of the mind; the tongue cells were specialists in tasting and accepting certain new items albeit with some resistance. And with Caeca’s watchful eyes, they were bound to succeed, especially if it meant beating the brain cells to it.


Yemi Sanusi is a medical doctor with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Lagos Business School. She loves writing and hopes to make positive changes through her works. She is the author of ‘Heads and Tales’, a medical fiction.