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Food and Sex

3 Mins read

Now seems like a good time to mention that I also love sociology. I read an interesting essay the other day about how attitudes toward food and sex have reversed in the last 50 years. It was called “Is Food the New Sex?” by Mary Eberstadt.

Chocolate soufflé from the Four Seasons in Buenos Aires

Anyone who reads food blogs can understand the connection between food and sex. Both desires are so strong they make us do things we wouldn’t otherwise do (like lick the rim of an almost empty jar of dulce de leche). Both can have harmful consequences if we don’t restrain ourselves sometimes.

Because of technology and secularization, Eberstadt argues, we more or less have unlimited access to both food and sex. She says it would be reasonable to expect our attitudes toward both to be similar, considering the other similarities. But in the West, she finds, it’s the opposite.

We’re in a state of “mindful eating and mindless sex.”

It hasn’t been this way for long. Eberstadt offers two hypothetical characters: Betty, a 30-year-old housewife in 1958, and Jennifer, her granddaughter 30 years old in the present day.

For Betty, “Much of what she makes comes from jars and cans. Much of it is also heavy on substances that people of our time are told to minimize — dairy products, red meat, refined sugars and flours […] If there is anything “fresh” on the plate, it is likely a potato. Interestingly, and rudimentary to our contemporary eyes though it may be, Betty’s food is served with what for us would appear to be high ceremony, i.e., at a set table with family members present.”

On the other hand, “Jennifer pays far more attention to food, and feels far more strongly in her convictions about it, than anyone she knows from Betty’s time. Wavering in and out of vegetarianism, Jennifer is adamantly opposed to eating red meat or endangered fish. She is also opposed to industrialized breeding, genetically enhanced fruits and vegetables, and to pesticides and other artificial agents. She tries to minimize her dairy intake, and cooks tofu as much as possible. She also buys “organic” in the belief that it is better both for her and for the animals raised in that way, even though the products are markedly more expensive than those from the local grocery store.”

The most interesting difference is their opposite moral convictions. While Jennifer feels strongly about the food she consumes and wishes others made the same choices, she is far more accepting of sexual “deviance” as Betty considers it. Betty believes just about every exercise of sex outside marriage is wrong, but could care less what other people have for dinner.

Eberstadt writes, “In fact, just observing the world as it is, one is tempted to say that the more vehement people are about the morality of their food choices, the more hands-off they believe the rest of the world should be about sex.”

This was incredibly interesting, and does seem to be a developing trend among some. I will point out that this was a hypothetical, and Eberstadt didn’t have any research or statistics on the matter. But it seems a reasonable hypothesis worthy of more examination.

These days we want more regulation over how our food is produced and whether it meets certain standards. At the same time, we’re calling for the end of sexual discrimination, loosening restrictions on what can be shown on TV and offering condoms in school dormitories.

Eberstadt asks, under what circumstances have you last heard or used the word guilt? Was it in regard to a traditional sin, one that might require confession or repentance? Or did it have to do with eating something full of calories or not going to the gym?

Chocolate Ecstasy Cake Mix


comes to the conclusion: “…people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone — and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.”

I’m not sure that’s the case, especially since it seems those who are uncomfortable with the sexual revolution are the ones who still don’t pay much mind to the morality of eating. What might it be then?

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