women, food, and sex in books and movies

When I began this blog, I assumed that there must be books centered on women, food, and sex, but I never guessed that we would read one for our class. I was therefore really excited to read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquirel and to read all of the steamy food scenes. In the book, food and sex are linked in multiple ways. The most obvious way is in how the main character, Tita’s, cooking acts as an aphrodisiac, but food is also associated with sex in that it is a way of transmitting or displaying passion. Additionally, Esquirel shows that food itself can even be sexy.

The quail in rose petal sauce Tita makes from the roses her lover, Pedro, gives her have a huge effect on everyone who made it. Tita’s sister, Gertruda, is especially affected. She becomes so hot with desire that when she tries to cool herself in the shower, it catches fire. Her naked self runs from the flaming shower into the field where a general on horseback senses her passion and comes to her, sweeps her off her feet, and they have sex while riding the horse – all from Gertruda eating Tita’s quail in rose petal sauce.

I looked into whether rose petals are actually considered a food and they are! Apparently they can have a range of flavors – from sweet to tart to spicy! The recipes I found from ehow.com (http://www.ehow.com/how_2297120_eat-rose-petals.html) had recipes for making rose petal cubes, rose petal salad, whipped cream with rose petals, rose petal salad dressing, and, what sounded most delicious to me, rose petal butter.

Rose petal jam

Another website I found (http://suzette.typepad.com/the_joy_of_soup/2003/05/rose_petal_reci.html) had more complicated recipes:
Rose Petal Sandwiches
Rose Petal Drop Scones
Rose Petal Cookies
Rose Petal Tea
Rose Petal Jelly
Chilled Pear and Rose Petal Soup
Linguine and Rose Petal Pesto
Grilled Chicken with Rose Petal Mango Sauce
Rose Petal Jam Tarts
Green Tea and Rose Petal Popsicles
Rose Petal Ice Cream
Rose Petal Wine

Rose petal doughnut

They sound very romantic. I wonder how amorous they make their eaters. The websites don’t mention anything about that, though they did suggest it makes whoever cooks them feel ‘girlie.’ I did find out that it is important not to use store-bought roses. You should grow your own or buy them at farmer’s markets where no pesticides are used.

In Like Water for Chocolate, Esquirel also showed that cooking food, in addition to being an aphrodisiac, can also be a way of expressing sexual desire . While Tita’s passion for Pedro is physically played out with Gertruda and the general, it is shown to Pedro through the food. She cooks with him in mind every night and lives for the complements he gives her food. Their love, for a while, is exclusively shared through the exchange of food.

Finally, some of the lines in the book describing food are very sensual. In describing the last lonely chili and walnut sauce left on a platter, Esquirel writes, “… which contains every imaginable flavor; sweet as candied citron, juicy as a pomegranate, with the bite of pepper and the subtlety of walnuts, that marvelous chili in walnut sauce. Within it lies the secret of love, but it will never be penetrated, and all because it wouldn’t be proper” (p 58). This could almost be the description of a woman rather than a chili. It “wouldn’t be proper” because it’s impolite, even in our lives, to eat the last piece of food on a plate. The metaphor here is that Tita is the last lonely chili pepper that Pedro will not penetrate and find the secrets of love because it wouldn’t be proper.
Esquiel even made the act of nursing sexy. Tita, who was not allowed to have a child of her own, miraculously developed the ability to nurse her nephew when his mother was unable. When Pedro, the baby’s father sees Tita nursing her child, he and Tita have a very sensual moment.

There are other books and films that also connect food to sex. I recently watched the movie, Today’s Special, about an Indian sous-chef in a French restaurant named Samir who hates Indian food and quits his job when he doesn’t get a promotion, but then is made to give up his career and run his father’s Indian restaurant. He originally didn’t get the promotion of head chef at the new restaurant his boss was opening because, as his boss, the head chef, explains, the guy who did get the job (someone much less experienced than the Samir) gives him a boner when he watches him cook. He asks Samir, where is my boner? But Samir eventually turns the restaurant into a delicious hit with the help of a knowledgeable taxi driver who tells him her cannot just cook from his mind. He has to cook from his stomach, heart, and penis as well. He has to feel passion for the food – it’s like being in love, the taxi driver explains. In addition to making the restaurant famous, Samir also falls in love with a beautiful line cook who helps him out with his Indian restaurant, all in the midst of cooking together.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris is a famous story (a book then a movie) of food as aphrodisiacs. Interestingly, as with Like Water for Chocolate, it too utilizes magical realism. Vianne opens a chocolate shop in the reserved French village she moves to and the chocolate begins to change the villager’s lives, enhancing their passion and joy of life. The things that happens to the villagers from the chocolate are somewhat exaggerated, which makes it magical realism. Vianne eventually falls in love, through the exchange of chocolate, with a river gypsy (played by Johnny Depp).

The book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (now also a movie) has three sections. The first section, the one to which “Eat” refers, takes place in Italy. Gilbert travels throughout Italy eating her way out of her confused and trapped state of mind after she realizing she does not want to have children or be with her husband anymore. The exquisite food helps her gain her confidence, sense of joy, and her sense of sexiness back. Her time in Italy concludes with her buying a bunch of expensive lingerie in a boutique shop, knowing that the only person she is buying it for was herself.


Discussions of sex and love in a Peruvian kitchen

Whether it is considered a woman’s place, a women’s space, or a completely oppressive location, the kitchen often serves a center of conversation for women. I’ve found this in my own household, even though the men in my family all cook as well. This especially happens when we hold parties and all the women gather in the kitchen while the men stay in the living room or by the grill.

My host sister, Gladis, cooking almuerzo (lunch). She's wearing an apron that a previous volunteer gave her. It says, in English, "I'm not easy, but I can be tricked."

I also found this in my semester in Peru. I lived with a host family and everyone would come home for siesta around 1 in the afternoon. My host mom and sister would always be in the kitchen when I came home, with lunch almost ready. They would always be leaning over boiling potatoes and corn, rice, and some form of soup. There was always soup. I would always ask if I could help with anything and they, as always, asked me to set the table and then wouldn’t let me do anything else.

My host dad and brothers would arrive soon after and they would sit down at the table and wait. Then my host mom and sister would serve me and the men. My host dad and I almost always sat at opposite heads of the table. Sometimes the women would sit down with us as well, but often there wasn’t enough room for them to sit so they ate in a second shift. I always stuck around for them to eat as well.

From left to right: My host brother, me, my host sister, and host mother on my birthday

All of the talking between my host family and me happened in the kitchen. We never ever went into the living room and I always felt strange going into their rooms where they watched TV. Between my Spanish, my Americaness, and my newness, it took a while for me to be able to have conversations with my family, and for these conversations to turn into meaningful, personal conversations. When it did, I felt so proud of my Spanish and so close and trusted by my family.

Late in my Peruvian semester, I was hanging around after lunch and just my host mom was around. We were sharing some tea and bread, the thing we ate every day after our stuffing lunches mostly consisting of heaps of rice. I don’t remember how it came up – I think we were talking about my boyfriend – but she started complaining about her husband. It was clear this was not a typical thing for her to talk about. Her eyes were wide and they seemed to dart around in nervousness. I had a feeling what we were discussing was a pretty taboo subject – to complain about one’s husband.
She explained how they don’t get along well anymore. He’s a ‘silly’ man and only cares about his chickens and his school. She confessed how she doesn’t feel anything for him anymore. She doesn’t love him and she isn’t attracted to him. She hasn’t had sex with him in years. In fact, she let him keep the master bedroom with the large bed, and she sleeps in a second bed in her eleven-year-old son’s room. It doesn’t help that he snores. Meanwhile, her daughter shares her own small room with her fiancé and their two-year-old son. The three of them sleep in the same twin bed. I asked why my host dad couldn’t give his daughter and her family the bigger room and bed and my host mom said he simply refused.

I asked my host mom if she is sad that the relationship turned out this way. She said she’s not surprised. She’s pretty happy with her life. She doesn’t need him. She has her beautiful sons, daughter, and grandson. But she’s sad constantly missing her oldest son who lives in Lima. She hadn’t seen him in over a year.
What I learned a different time while sitting in the all-women kitchen was that there was an affair that complicated the entire dilemma. When my host mom was younger she became involved with a man and had a child (her oldest son) with him. Soon after that, she married my host dad and they took care of her son, Eric, together. But apparently the ‘illegitimate’ son was always a contentious issue between her and my host dad.

From left, my host mom, host brother, host dad, and host nephew eating the soup we always ate before the main meal of lunch

It’s funny how all of the important conversations seem to happen in the kitchen over food. That’s how it was in Peru, my family, the co-op, and even the times I spent around round tables with my friends in my underclassmen years. There’s something about food that seems to open people up to the idea about talking about typically taboo subjects.

the lingerie party

A couple weeks ago my friends hosted a lingerie party in their Babbit suite. It was a ladies-only birthday party for my friend Glenn and we were all supposed to wear our sexiest underwear and enjoy an evening of dinner and wine together. When I arrived, everyone was wearing lacy or silk underwear and bras and, for most, these were the only pieces of clothing with the exception of heels. I slid off the satin purple robe that I had worn over and wore my black lace bikini underwear with a purple lace bra that matched my purple heels I bought at Salvo for $1.50. Other girls looked more scandalous wearing thongs and having more to be exposed on top. Everyone looked great. It’s amazing how freeing wearing so little can be. How often do women flaunt their sexiness without the intention of pleasing a man? This was the first time any of us had done anything like this before. In fact, though I often hang out in my room alone naked, I almost never wear my sexy clothes alone.

The remains of a burrito, with a bit of hot sauce

The eleven of us sat down to the table with our lacy breasts hovering over the top of the table. The dinner theme was phallic foods. The main course was soft tacos rolled up with vegetables, chicken, salsa, and sour cream. It was a messy, hands-on affair. You had to tilt your head back to prevent the taco from spilling out when you took a bite. There were no napkins or forks – we all used and licked our hands. In many ways it was very sophisticated feeling and in others it seemed completely barbaric.

Next came the dessert: whole bananas dipped in chocolate. This, too, was messy and all of our faces ended up with chocolate smeared over them.

Yep, that's me eating a chocolate covered banana (for this I used a fork)

The stereotype is typically that men enjoy watching women eat phallic foods. But here, we were women enjoying eating these foods, and definitely getting into the fact that they were phallic, in front of women. I definitely was not a man-hating atmosphere but it also wasn’t a “oh, wouldn’t this please a man” affair. It pleased us to eat these foods while looking sexy. The feeling, I guess, was about being strong beautiful women and the eating the delicious food was a symbol of taking the initiative and, for some, enjoying dominating the penis during sex. From among the pile of unworn clothing someone produced a black dildo. Everyone had a good time with that, putting it on their groin area and wiggling it around, wondering what having that attached to her legs would be like. The dildo eventually ended up being suctioned to the large dark-side windows so it stared right at us.

We felt freer than we have at most other clothed parties. Many pictures were taken – pictures that will never go on Facebook but that we will all treasure. Everyone looked awesome. We washed the dishes, singing and moving our hips to the music. Then we danced a lot. We danced on the couch, the table, and the bar. As time went on we all began to feel more and more free: happy with our bodies, happy with how sexy we felt, happy to feel sexy for the sake of feeling sexy. I now believe that everyone should do this with the women the feel most comfortable. It’s invigorating.

When 9pm approached and we knew that other guests were going to arrive, we all changed into actual clothes. Everyone was sad. We felt suddenly restrained. No short, low cut dress could make anyone feel the way they had felt in the lingerie. But all was not lost. Our confidence had grown. Those of us who are usually hesitant to attempt to look and act sexy were not that night. Everyone felt better about life after the phallic foods and lingerie party.

Ode to the Aphrodisiac

A video called “Feed Your Libido
is about the Aphrodisiac Café at the Museum of Sex in New York City.

It is truly amazing how much we do not understand about how food affects our bodies, health, and mood. Scientists have just scratched the surface of the different components of food, but only have a mild idea about what each of these components does for us, let alone how multiple components interact with each other when we eat a complex meal.

One of the ways that food is famously charged with changing our moods is to increase sex drive. Different foods have been highlighted in different areas of the world at different times in history. Some claim to work on women, some on men, and some on both. Interestingly the primary hormone that controls sexual excitement is testosterone, and this goes for both men and women. When the balance of hormones is correct, according to howstuffworks.com, neurons fire causing rapid heart rates and erections in the penis or clitoris. Additionally, norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters, are released giving us the sense of pleasure and excitement.

Scientists haven’t actually proven that any food is actually an aphrodisiac. For one thing, this is difficult to prove since libido a difficult thing to quantify. Of course, the placebo effect certainly works on almost everyone. If you eat a strawberry thinking it does increase sexual desire, it problem will. Still, scientists have found that some foods do stimulate the production of testosterone or other chemicals that affect libido. They just don’t know whether the quantities of chemicals these foods contain are enough to actually increase sexual desire. The FDA has claimed that aphrodisiacs are a myth, but millions of people throughout the world believe otherwise.
Here are some of my favorite aphrodisiacs that howstuffworks.com described:

The avocado tree was called a “testicle tree” by the Aztecs because its fruit hangs in pairs on the tree, resembling the male testicles. Its aphrodisiac value is based on this resemblance.
Basil (sweet basil)
For centuries, people said that basil stimulated the sex drive and boosted fertility as well as producing a general sense of well-being. The scent of basil was said to drive men wild — so much so that women would dust their breasts with dried and powdered basil. Basil is one of the many reported aphrodisiacs that may have the property of promoting circulation

Chocolate has forever been associated with love and romance. It was originally found in the South American rainforests. The Mayan civilizations worshipped the Cacao tree and called it “food of the gods.” Rumor has it that the Aztec ruler Montezuma drank 50 goblets of chocolate each day to enhance his sexual abilities.
Researchers have studied chocolate and found it to contain phenylethylamine and serotonin, which are both “feel good” chemicals. They occur naturally in our bodies and are released by our brains when we are happy or feeling loving or passionate. It produces a euphoric feeling, like when you’re in love.
In addition to those two chemicals, researchers at the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California, say that chocolate may also contain substances that have the same effect on the brain as marijuana. The substance is a neurotransmitter called anandamide. The amount of anandamide in chocolate is not enough to get a person “high” like marijuana, but it could be enough to contribute to the good feelings that serotonin and phenylethylamine produce. Does that mean it increases sexual desire? Probably not — but if it makes you feel good, it might lower your inhibitions so that you’re more receptive to suggestion.

Aside from its phallic shape, the scent of cucumbers is believed to stimulate women by increasing blood flow to the vagina.

Long ago, Tibetan monks were not allowed to enter the monastery if they had been eating garlic because of its reputation for stirring up passions. Garlic increases circulation.

In medieval times, people drank mead, a fermented drink made from honey, to promote sexual desire. In ancient Persia, couples drank mead every day for a month (known as the “honey month” — a.k.a. “honeymoon”) after they married in order to get in the right frame of mind for a successful marriage. Honey is rich in B vitamins (needed for testosterone production) as well as boron (helps the body metabolize and use estrogen). Some studies have suggested that it may also enhance blood levels of testosterone.

In ancient China, people used licorice to enhance love and lust. The smell appears to be particularly stimulating. Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, conducted a study that looked at how different smells stimulated sexual arousal. He found that the smell of black licorice increased the blood flow to the penis by 13 percent. When combined with the smell of doughnuts, that percentage jumped to 32.

In ancient China, women prized nutmeg an aphrodisiac, and researchers have found it to increase mating behaviors in mice. There is no evidence to prove the same happens in humans. In quantity, nutmeg can produce a hallucinogenic effect.

Welcome to the food brothel…

I live in a food brothel. The Hamilton College Woollcott Cooperative, known as the “co-op” houses 20 students, 16 of them female and only four of them male. The college typically does not approve of such unbalanced gender ratios. The rumor we heard during the housing lottery was that, legally, they could not allow more than two thirds of the inhabitants to be female or else the dorm would be considered a brothel. In the end, however, they had no choice. They could not convince men to move into the co-op and therefore the remaining spaces, typically reserved for men, were given to women.

We have embraced our offbeat ratio and thrived as a co-op. Our trade, however, is not sex, as with the typical brothels, but food. Co-opers shop for and cook our own breakfasts and dinners, only frequenting the dining halls for lunch. The house is a haven of cooking, but to outsiders it is better known as a haven of eating. Men and women come regularly to share in the succulent pleasures of warm bread, steamy tea, and sensual dinners. Everyone knows that if they show up to the co-op, their most bodily desires, sometimes hunger but, more often, cravings for something to just tantalize their tongues, will be gratified.

The sheer amount of food contained and created in the co-op is so plentiful that it is almost always given out willingly, similar to how sex is perceived to be in a brothel. Likewise, the varieties of tastes that can be fulfilled by different combinations of hundreds of different ingredients housed in the co-op also mirrors the choices typically housed in a brothel.

I have since looked into New York State brothel laws and it seems as though the rumor that a dorm is considered a brothel after a certain ratio is a myth. It, however, is a very common myth, almost ubiquitous among college students across the country.  The supposed law is why my friend at the University of Rochester thinks sorority houses are not allowed on campus even though fraternity houses are.

In any case, from this space, my home – the co-op food brothel, I will blog about the multifaceted relationships between gender, sex, and food.