食 does not mean "to eat". As a Japanese word, 食 means "food", "meal", "appetite" or "eclipse".
The word "to eat" in Japanese would be "食べる".
食 is only the first character of the word 食べる. べ is the second character and so on...
食べます is a more polite form of 食べる.
In Chinese, however, 食 by itself means "to eat". Is this the reason why you are confused?
Edit: Oh, wait... There is a further function of べ in the verb 食べる. By adding べ (or any hiragana of the i-row or e-row) before る, it indicates that the verb is a 一段動詞.
Welcome to the WR fora and the enigmas of Japanese writing system.
You may have difficulties understanding 食べます but I also have difficulties understanding and explaining it. First we have to separate how Japanese changes verb forms from how a given form is written out with Chinese characters. This means I will use only hiragana until verb forms are explained.
As explained in previous posts, たべます is one of the forms of a verb that means EAT (from now on I use capitals for the meaning of words). If you want to look this verb in a dictionary, the basic form is たべる. The past form is たべた and the imperative form is たべよ. As you can see, all forms listed above contain a common part; たべ.
Now, there are things called Chinese characters across a puddle from Japan Isles and they have been used in written Japanese for more than ten centuries. Words such as nouns are very easy as they don't change forms. Once the Japanese learnt that 山 means MOUNTAIN in Chinese, they started using it to represent yama, their own word for MOUNTAIN. The Chinese 山 was imported into Japanese twice: first as a symbol to represent the idea of MOUNTAIN; and second as a symbol to represent the Chinese word for MOUNTAIN. It is not without difficulty to know what the Chinese word was, so let us just say that the word was imported into Japanese as san and sen, which are in fact the on-yomi of 山.
Applying Chinese characters for Japanese verbs posed more difficulty than with the nouns because the Japanese verbs change forms while the Chinese ones don't. The rule is to use Chinese characters to represent the immutable part of a verb and use hiragana for the rest. For instance, the Japanese verb for READ is よむ. The Chinese one is 読. As some of the forms of よむ show (よみます, よんだ, よめ), the immutable part for the verb is よ. When 読 is applied for the verb, the correct written forms are, therefore, 読む, 読みます, 読んだ and 読め.
If the immutable part for たべる is たべ, can we say the correct applications of 食 to the Japanese verb EAT are 食る, 食た and so on? It would have been so if we speakers of Modern Japanese had been in charge. But no, when Chinese characters were being introduced, the verb had a more complicated way to change forms.
Old forms include: たぶ, たべつ, たぶる, たべよ
The immutable part was た and having た as 食 (食ぶ etc.) has been established as the writing convention. Since then, the verb has undergone a lot of changes but the convention just stuck on.