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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Let's Talk About Sex (and Food), Baby!

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Thu, May 21, 2009 at 3:31 PM

79a4/1242944251-sexy-food.jpg

Say hello to the limbic system, the seat of all your weepy post break-up binges; the place where all your lusts are born; the dark country from whence crawls both the desire for cupcakes and copulation. Located below the rational portion of your brain (the cerebral cortex) the limbic system is set up, in part, to regulate emotions such as fear, anger, and love. It contains structures that store and retrieve memory, and it is the base of a reward system that drives behaviors meant to help us maintain the survival of our species: eating and fucking.

Every time we eat, or have sex, our brain is flooded with the neurotransmitter dopamine. When our limbic system is hit with dopamine, it sends out the pleasure signals that let us know we are, in fact, having a good time. Meanwhile, your cortex is being all rational, processing the consequences of your hook-up, or your calorie laden bacon fiesta.

Still, the limbic system doesn’t care what prompts the dopamine flood, just that it’s there. So we crave. We desire. We want.

Is it any wonder then that food and sex should get tangled up in that ancient structure deep in our brain? We react to good food much in the same way we react during orgasm. Our eyes dilate. We become flush. We let loose the occasional subconscious moan. Likewise, the human animal bonds through food. We go to dinners. Cooking becomes foreplay. Eating grounds us into a sense of home and place.

I’m not sure when I was inculcated into the ways of food and sex. Maybe it was a too young viewing of 9 1/2 Weeks. Maybe it was attempting to recreate the movies famous moody, fridge-lit erotic smorgasbord with various lovers, only to be doomed to nights of crawling around half-naked with a bottle of 409 and a damp cloth, trying to clean up the sticky, un-sexy mess.

How does this relate to a "days old" Internet meme involving Quizno's and 2 Girls 1 Cup? Find out after the jump!

Whatever the reason, the sex/food link has become particularly pronounced for me. This isn’t necessarily a boon when it comes to being a food writer. I’ve been asked, several times, to change a phrase because it was “too porny.” In one memorable instance, I toned down a lead paragraph because it described, in great detail, my wife’s reaction to a particularly marvelous curry-laden Indian dish: the curry causing skin below her eyes to glisten silver with sweat, the plaintive little yummy noises, her shallow breath and flushed cheeks. I suppose it would have been too graphic for some squeamish readers. But I still assert that watching someone attractive eat a delicious gosht vindaloo is one of the more pleasurable dining experiences available.

Of course Madison Avenue types figured all this out a while ago. It’s clear that sex sells food. And these days, it's impossible to pry food away from the healthy, over-sexed bodies used to promote it. We are subsumed in a media environment that has created a universe of food porn that affectively mimics the universe of actual porn. There’s the soft core (I only watch Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef for the recipes); the hard core (did you see the way Anthony Bourdain sucked down that pork belly? He go to that like a duck to watah! How how how!); and the downright obscene:

Granted, this promotion dreamed up by Quiznos with the help of Playboy (?) goes way beyond simply connecting the pleasures of food with sex. In fact, it’s connecting food with sex… and fecalphelia. I’ve never seen 2 girls 1 cup (honestly I’ve subjected my brain to enough depraved bullshit to last a lifetime), so I relied on our intrepid editor to tell me how close this video comes to the one it parodies. After informing me that this meme was already days old, he shrugged his shoulders and said something like “Well, I guess it has two ladies. And the production values are much higher.” Alright, then.

I can’t really believe that marketing types would be misguided enough to link Quizno's sandwiches with a video that has been known to make people physically ill. It’s incredibly brash. And yet it’s worked. They put it out there. We become enraged, write blogs, etc. etc. But this “commercial” is actually much more about sex than a disgusting Internet meme. And in terms of marketing, food and sex will always go hand in hand. All you need to do is look at certain European ice cream ads to understand that Americans have miles to go in the realms of sex and food marketing. These Russian milk ads are also a good example.

I know that this video won’t be hitting the US networks anytime in the near future, but I wonder when this kind of thing is actually going to become acceptable in this country. Because, you know it’s going to become acceptable. At some point the pretense will fall away and food marketing will become a Bill Hicks wet dream.

But does it sully the beautiful relationship that food enjoys with sex? I don’t think so. Like most pornography, it may be nice to watch every once in awhile, to curb certain appetites, or whet others. But food porn, whether “tastefully” displayed on the Food network, laid out in the pages of Bon Appetite, or on spurt unceremoniously onto the electric trash heap of the Internet, will never make up for actually eating something you enjoy with someone you love.

And so we return to the limbic system. Along with deep emotions, including love, the limbic system is also tied up with memory. So how much stronger does your bond with another person become as you build memories with that include both food and intimacy. Suddenly you have a history of meals and sex to draw on, years of memories that prove comfort and safety and pleasure. I firmly believe that enjoying food with a partner can only strengthen a relationship. That includes shopping, preparation, and ingestion. If there's a little foreplay involved, so much the better.

Those healthy bodies may prompt you to buy the ice cream, the fast food, the soda, the yogurt, or (god forbid) the sub. But think how cheap those meals will seem compared with the one you actually make for, or with, someone you care about. Is eating a Quiznos sub after watching the 2 girls 1 sub commercial some kind of gastronomical masturbation? Yes. I think it is. It will do in a pinch, but give me my wife and an oven for some real satisfaction.

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