There’s a reason that food and sex are intertwined in many aspects of our popular culture. There have been recent studies that suggest that food, cooking, and dining become sort of a proxy for the sex that gradually disappears from life as we age. The new, sleek, soft-focus, high-production value programming on The Food Network and its spin-offs reinforce this correlation. Is this a product of greater affluence and ennui? As food becomes “in” and “sexy” and therefore reaches a wider audience, is it imperative that the brainy food-nerd cooking shows and books of the past, when such programming was relegated to weekend mornings on PBS and a tiny corner of the bookstore, be replaced by the immediate gratification of Rachel Ray’s apple bottom and Sandra Lee and Giada DeLaurentiis’ respective racks? Not to mention Paula Deen’s cockslaps of butter and Tyler Florence’s panty-dropping chin dimple, all greeting us from the entire cooking wing at Barnes and Noble.
Let’s look at this further.
Eating and fucking are, on a good day, total mind-body experiences that transcend their respective immediate physical gratifications. And while we’re often able to fulfill our gustatory and sexual needs by ourselves to great effect (dinner for one and self-love being two of life’s greatest pleasures) the addition of others can often increase the enjoyment–and in many instances make things more complicated and awkward.
And of course with all things sexual and gustatory, even numbers are better.
But perhaps the most distinctive similarity between eating and sex is how we take the activities out of the privacy of our homes and into the public world–that we’re willing to utilize the services of professionals to meet the needs that we’re fully capable of fulfilling on our own.
(As a side note, we use the word “fulfill” in describing our food and sexual needs I think because of its prominent compounding of “full” and “fill,” two words eminently appropriate for both eating and fucking.)
For the purpose of this writing, the “sex trade” is a fairly broad term not limited to strippers, porno, dildos, and whores. I’m talking about sex-positive sex shops, mens’ and womens’ magazines of all kinds, sex advice columns and columnists, lingerie, swimwear, boxer briefs, plastic surgery, Abercrombie & Fitch (we sell abs!)–any business that capitalizes in whole or part upon the human preoccupation with increasing the pleasure and frequency of sexual activity. Because let’s face it, we can talk all we want about these commodities increasing our self-esteem, but that increase in self-esteem ultimately comes entirely from being viewed as a more sexually attractive animal. It’s cool. Roll with it.
Let’s examine why we (often eagerly) seek out to exchange our hard-earned symbolic representations of our assets for food and tail.
1. It’s more convenient. An acquaintance of mine is a dominatrix. She once had a client pay her to put her foot into his butt. Her entire be-latexed foot into his prepared bottom. Let’s say you’re an otherwise normal, healthy individual with a stable home life and good job, but every now and then you need a foot in your butt. What’s easier, trying to explain to your partner your desire to have a foot in your butt, or going out a few times a year, shelling out some money and discretely indulging in your secret pleasure?
I love good sauces, like a good mole or slow-simmered Indian entree, but when I feel like indulging in one of these dishes it’s easier to shell out the money at a good Mexican or Indian restaurant then attempt to seek out the dozens of spices and slow-cook my food for twelve hours.
While it might be rewarding to learn to cook chana masala on your own and it might be rewarding to share your foot-in-butt fetish with your committed partner, unless your cravings for either occur on a daily basis it’s probably simpler and more comfortable to leave it in the hands of professionals. Enjoy those simple, comfortable workhorse dishes at home with loved ones. And hell, definitely be adventurous with your non-remunerated partners–try out that rare artisan ingredient or exciting new bundt pan with the same titillating eagerness as a new vibrator or kama sutra position. But if you find yourself deviating into the aforementioned foot-in-butt and beyond, probably best to take that to the dungeon.
A corollary: unless you’re a drug-addled rock star you probably don’t want to be married to a coked-up stripper but unless you live in a Mormon cave (and even then….) you’ve probably enjoyed a lap dance from one. It’s easy, refreshing, and probably won’t result in having your bank account cleaned out and your kids grow up to be junior development executives for basic cable, things that would no doubt happen were you to marry the stripper.
Lastly–just throwing this out there–you don’t pay a prostitute for sex, you pay for him or her to leave afterward. See? Convenience!
2. It’s cleaner. Building on that previous idea, it could be said that we don’t go out to eat for the food, we go out to eat to have somebody else clean up afterward. This is why rich people have man-servants. Rich people are inherently more noble and shouldn’t have to get their hands dirty.
Do you really want to clean that out of your jacuzzi or wipe that off of your foot? Professionals of all kinds have the experience, tools, cleaning products, brass polish, insurance policies, and changes of clothes to deal with the gustatory and excretory problems that may arise from their lines of work. Because even if you’re cooking the simplest pasta dish, you’re still going to have some dirty dishes afterward and it’s just so much more relaxing to not have to deal with that.
And it’s also cleaner for a variety of socio-emotional reasons touched on in the previous entry and that I’ll touch on in the following entry.
3. It eliminates personal responsibility. I would argue this is the most significant reason for the seemingly growing popularity of dining and sexing-up outside the home. If we cook food in our own home and it sucks, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. When I talk to people about why they don’t cook, fear of failure underlies any reason that they give. And as with anything, if we don’t keep reading, studying, learning, and experimenting, we’ll never get better. I don’t mean the quick-fix open a can and heat “cooking” that you get from Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee, but actual intuitive from-scratch cooking.
If we go out to eat and we don’t like the food, we can call it somebody else’s fault. If we turn ourselves over to the vicissitudes of dining trends and prepackaged commodities, we eliminate the vitality that personal opinion, culture, region, and taste plays in how we enjoy food. Fear of sexual inadequacy underlies almost every human insecurity so no wonder we like to trust “experts” and “techniques” instead of “our bodies” when it comes to sex and relationships, because then it’s the technique’s fault and we don’t have to actually do anything ourselves.
But If we turn our sex lives over to guidebooks, videos, Carrie Bradshaw, and “hot tips” from Cosmo, we eliminate the personal responsibility of being in tune with our own bodies, tastes, and pleasures. Not to mention it creates the presumption that all men like some degree of anal stimulation, a gross exaggeration perpetrated by womens’ magazines. Food magazines also seem to suggest that we as a people are way into tiny “slider”-type sandwiches. This is (or at least should be) a similarly gross exaggeration. That’s right loyal readers, gourmet sliders equals a finger on the prostate.
Moving responsibility for sexual fulfillment over to movies, clothing, advertisements, jewelry, and (oh what’s this?) food allows us to sidestep the actual problems. We’re too fat. We’re no longer attractive to or attracted by our partner. We’re not good at sex. We come too soon. We’re just not sexually compatible with our current partner. We can’t cook chicken without it drying out. We don’t know how to clean mushrooms. We don’t even know where to begin to make a pie crust. So let’s go buy a new car. Or a diamond necklace. Or have a couple children. And let’s go to Zuni. Or the truffle dinner at Oliveto. Or finally eat at the French Laundry (sort of the dining equivalent of two $10,000 Vegas call girls and a kilo of coke).
But you might find, just maybe, that learning how to cook really well and learning how to fuck really well will enrich your life in ways that can’t be made proxy. We’re talking about a critical learning experience here though. It takes effort. You need to learn how to do the things you aren’t good at, not find versions of things to do that fit better with what you’re already able to do. Try. Error. Learn. Get better. What’s great about both cooking and fucking is that the processes are a hell of a lot of fun and worth doing a lot.
4. It’s fun. And this is what it all comes down to, doesn’t it? There are plenty of people who can cook really well and fuck like champs who still love the French Laundry and a good coke orgy.
Plenty of happily married people still love flirting, strip clubs, and pornography because, hell, it’s just a lot of fun. They fulfill (there’s the word again) needs that, without placing judgment, cannot be met by a home-cooked meal or a home-fucked partner, no matter how good the respective meal or partner. To the same tune, a loving stable partner and a fabulous home-cooked meal fill voids that no Perfect 10 model or twelve-course tasting menu can.
But going out to eat and being treated well in a beautiful space with the added reward of a spectacular meal is a blast. Going to a tastefully appointed gentleman’s club to enjoy a beverage and discuss the issues of the day, while beautiful scantily-clad women with daddy issues dance to earn money to open their tanning salon is a lot of fun. They’re also our Allah-given rights as Americans.
So I’m saying it’s not all doom and gloom. Four star restaurants and hookers are not telltale signs of a collapsing civilization, even if they might be better indicators than gay marriage and teen pregnancy. In fact, I’d argue that going out to eat and the sex industry are not just parts of, but essential to a functional modern democracy–there’s a reason that market regulation and liberalization of the sex trade is a hallmark of virtually every developed country in the world and there are very few Michelin-starred restaurants in countries’ whose GDP per capita is less then dinner for four at the Ritz-Carlton (cf. sarcasm). They’re market-driven animals that fill gaping voids in our aimless, postmodern societies. Of course they also filled gaping voids in our aimless, god-fearing societies of yesteryear too.
Pulitzer Prize nominating committee, this has been humbly submitted for your approval.