Believe it or not, Cabbages and Condoms is the name of a chain of thirteen not-for-profit restaurants, twelve in Thailand and one in Japan. The restaurants have innovatively combined food and (talking about) sex to raise awareness about HIV and family planning. All profits from the restaurants go to the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) in Thailand.
I actually discovered the restaurants in the Journal of Food and Culture. An article called “The Contraceptive Café” by Dawn Starin (Spring 2009) featured the most popular Cabbages and Condoms restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand.
The idea for the restaurant came from Mechai Viravaidya, chairman of PDA. His nickname is “Condom King” and has received the Gates Award for Global Health and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. His view is that in order to get people to use save sexual practices, they have to be able to talk about sex, and one of the best ways to do that is to make sex humorous. In addition to the restaurant, he’s thrown condom-blowing competitions in Thailand’s schools and streets and vasectomy festivals. According to Starin,“He is often said to be personally responsible for lowering the country’s rate of HIV infection.” According to the PDA’s website, since its founding in 1974, the PDA has decreased Thailand’s annual population growth rate from 3.3% in the mid-1970s to 0.6% in 2005. In other words, the average number of children per family fell from seven to two.
If only there were more people with such chic and creative ideas for teaching about such difficult subjects as HIV and family planning. I wonder if Americans would go for such a ‘racy’ restaurant in the US. I’m sure there would be huge religious movements to outlaw such a restaurant if it ever formed here. Not only does the restaurant raise money for the Population and Community Development Association, it also makes talking about condoms fun and exciting, while being educational. The restaurant is adorned with artwork made from condoms and birth control pills, sexual education posters line the room, and there are even dishes named for condoms. Moreover, the majority of the people who work in the restaurants have HIV. The restaurants have become safe-havens for people who are otherwise ostracized.
According to Thongleum Damviengkum, the creator of the innovative condom artwork, “This is a sanctuary, a haven. There are people working here who have aids. Everyone knows it, and it creates no problems. Outside, however, there is much prejudice and stigma. Maybe my work will help get rid of the stigma. Maybe my work will make people think seriously about using condoms. Maybe my work will let people laugh. I think Mr. Mechai is right. It is best to use good food and nice surroundings and laughter and fun and daring games to get important messages across. And this is one of the most important messages to spread around the world.” Thong practices what he preaches. He said that his five-year-old daughter sometimes helps him create his artwork and, “Yes, she knows about sex, aids condoms.” The condom artwork also serves as a good reminder as to why you should never reuse a condom. None of the artwork lasts long – It deteriorates from Thailand’s intense heat and humidity.
I want to take a moment to talk about the food in the restaurant. According to multiple sources I looked into, the food is delicious. It’s Thai, but often with an innovatively fresh and artistic twist. The food is also often described as somewhat erotic. For example, Starin described the restaurant’s “Khao Niew Ma Muang” dessert (a dish made with mangoes, coconut milk, sugar, and sticky rice) as “both exotically and somehow erotically charged, the perfect ending to any meal.” A salad called “Yam, Cabbages, and Condoms” is a spicy concoction of hot and sour that is sure to tantalize any tongue.