Is Food the New Sex?

Here is an interesting article by the very impressive Mary Eberrstadt on Food and Sex.  She argues that food has become what sex was a generation ago.  Food is now charged with moral significance (framed in particular in terms of Kant’s universal law CI), while sex really isn’t.  

Whatever one thinks of the article, one has to praise any paper that has a section subtitle called: ‘Broccoli, Pornography, and Kant’.

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

14 thoughts on “Is Food the New Sex?”

  1. Clever, but to my mind not very compelling. Yes, some people used to be weirdly rigid about sex, and some people are now weirdly rigid about food. What I would find interesting is an examination of the role of power in food and sex: how each are used as an expression of power, and to what extent appetite for power makes each attractive.


  2. Let’s set aside for the moment Huenemann’s apparent claim here that those that think sexual activity properly belongs to marital relationships are ‘weirdly rigid’.

    I think the article is better than Huenemann gives it credit for being. It is not just that ‘some people’ used to be ‘weirdly rigid’ about sexuality, she is pointing to what I see as a genuine cultural shift. The culture was ‘weirdly rigid’ about sexuality until very recently. And the culture is now ‘weirdly rigid’ about food. How many people do you know with special dietary needs? I know dozens. How many of these people did my grandma know when she was my age? I am guessing zero. And what about sex? To return to the first point, the notion that sexuality should be restricted is now seen as so odd that it is ‘weirdly rigid’!! But grandma would not have found it ‘weirdly rigid’ at all to think that sex belongs to marriage.

    But you are right, she did not take up the question of power – of course the guy reading too much Nz of late would point to that!!
    I do have one comment to make on that: traditional sexual morality (still expressed in recent works like JPII’s Theology of the Body) sees sexuality as being imbued with political significance. But these days almost no one thinks that; sexuality is now thought to be a purely private affair with no public significance. Food, on the other hand, used to be considered a private affair (a matter of, at most, likes and dislikes). But now, for many, food is seen as having profound political significance.


  3. It could be that what Charlie means by “weirdly rigid” isn’t at all a claim about “sexual activity properly belong[ing] to marital relationships”. He might instead be thinking more along the lines of how people wouldn’t even openly communicate about sex say 60 or so years ago. That’s something even (some) conservative Christians have realized is a bane at this point.

    Anyhow, apart from Kleiner’s apparent inability to read charitably there’s the question of food and power which makes me think we need an experiment with those-


    There have to be some extra brownies floating about that can be used.


  4. Apparently I deserved the ‘reading charity’ remark since I have been pretty frustrated on this blog of late. Please note that I did not call anyone ‘deluded, insane, or on drugs’.

    Huenemann will have to clarify, but re-reading his post with Mike’s version of ‘weirdly rigid’ does not seem to fit. If we reread him, he would then be saying ‘… some people used to be [uncomfortable openly communicating / weirdly rigid] about sex, and some people are now [uncomfortable openly communicating / weirdly rigid] about food.’ But that seems to miss the point on both counts. No one is uncomfortable talking about food (in fact, most moral eaters will proselytize if given the chance). And the sexual revolution was not about talking more openly about sex, it was about a deconstruction of traditional moral norms concerning sexual behavior (sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, pornography, etc etc).

    I do think the questions of power and food are interesting and it would be worth someone taking those up.


  5. By “weirdly rigid” I mean: anything outside a narrow band of normalcy is considered too shockingly disgusting to even be discussed. I think the American culture of the 50s was rather like this, with regard to sex. And some small pockets of well-to-do, urban America are like this today, with regard to food. Yawn.


  6. My point wasn’t to exactly find and replace what Charlie fully meant but rather to open the way to a charitable reading by introducing an alternative possibility. I was attempting to begin a process that might disclose more than it covered over (my attempt was a massive failure, obviously).

    Anyhow we’re boring Charlie and I don’t mean to make the blog more frustrating for Kleiner just trying to help avoid the problem of reading too much into things (which generally leads to an argument that is more an argument with yourself than with anyone else). I’m as guilty as Kleiner of this at times.


  7. Yes, it returns us to my long ago post about the pointlessness of ‘blogologuing’. (This is Huenemann’s recap of the point from his blog, I could not find my original post on this from a year or so ago):

    A philosophical discussion requires (1) a large overlap of agreement, (2) a focus on a particular unresolved question, with that agreement in the background, and (3) time and patience to hear out the arguments and respond intelligently. But blogs usually fail at all three. People from all perspectives often dive in, challenging the background assumptions, softening the focus, and responding quickly with their first thoughts. Hence, though “blogologues” might be good at stirring up initial interest, they really are no substitute for a genuine philosophical dialogue.

    It may be that I get in the way of conversation on this blog more often than I help it. The interests of most regular posters are much different (and often outright hostile) to my interests, and I have taken very little joy in recent conversations. I might retreat.


  8. If it makes you feel any better, I’m a monogamist and generally promote monogamy.

    I’m more interested in Heidegger now than I’ve ever been before. If someone would write everything he wrote in some way that was more respectful to the reader I’d love to read it. His critique of Nietzsche is interesting too even though I don’t agree with it entirely (N might be aware of what he’s doing on the metaphysical front). I’ve been reading stuff that shows how Nietzsche relates to Buddhism (especially Mahayana) and Heidegger’s take on Nietzsche is helpful in that regard. It seems like Nz uses Buddhism as more of a whipping boy than delving into all aspects (my guess is a lot of what we have just wasn’t available to him).


  9. The interests of most regular posters are much different (and often outright hostile) to my interests

    I remain surprised that more theists don’t interact. They have to be the majority at USU. Maybe just not in phil or they just don’t want to interact? (or they don’t want to enter the hostile environment).


  10. Perhaps I read more left wing stuff than Huenemann, but I think there is little question that moral eating is a full-blown cultural phenomenon. I was first exposed to it when I read ‘Diet for a New America’ back in college. I was vegetarian for 10 years, and saw first hand during that time the explosion of availability and awareness in vegetarian, vegan, and organic foods. I am still a part of a CSA cooperative. The majority of my friends in college and graduate school thought far more about the morality of their eating than the morality of their sexual behavior. A majority of my Dead-head / Phish-head friends in college were far more morally vexed over animal cruelty and meat-eating than they were about poverty (much less abortion). My experience teaching Social Ethics here at USU suggests that this has not changed all that much (students get most activated over the animal rights chapters). So the article definitely struck a chord with me.
    Incidentally, I just got this in my email, a new documentary:

    Mike – I don’t know why more theists don’t participate here. I think it is a mix of things. Most USU theists (mormons) are not particularly philosophical in inclination. And both this blog and the american academy in general are extremely hostile environments for theists. I have pretty thick skin, but at some point I am going to have to decide it just is not worth beating my head against the wall anymore.

    So I don’t blame theists for not participating more. Why should they, so they can be dismissed as ‘deluded’? What I find most frustrating is the use of Nz as a tool – a weapon actually – against others. What is left unsaid as people trot out the Nz weapon is that Nz himself proposes one of the most disgusting and inhumane projects imaginable. I am pretty sympathetic to Nz’s critique, as far as things go (I once remarked here that I don’t trust religious people that are not religious on the hither side of Nz). But I am nowhere near taking Nz’s critique as some kind of last word about religion. Many atheists (some on this blog) have done just that. Huenemann will have to help me with the citation, but someone once remarked in response to Nz, ‘So the problem with western man is that he has had too much pity?’ Really, Nz, that is the problem?


  11. Atheists have to read philosophy to answer the big questions because religion cannot do it for them. I believe this is the reason why the atheist to theist ratio is how it is.

    SIDE NOTE: Can we get a search field set up on this blog?


  12. I am somewhat interested in the food/animal-cruelty issue. Sarah’s mostly a vegetarian and volunteers at a farm on the weekends but when I explain that to my family I make sure to add that she’s not a vegetarian because she loves animals but because she hates plants. She works with plants all week long but the only time she can really get her revenge is during meals.

    In general I think our society’s obsession with “health factors” is fairly unhealthy and that they should be looking to value quality of life over quantity of life or as Thomas A Kempis puts it “It is vanity to desire a long life, and to have little care for a good life.” I have a friend who brings up every new thing that might cause cancer to me all the time (something that I recognize as a valid topic on occasion) and I just think, “really? this is what we’re going to talk and think about?”

    It seems to me that sex, food and smoking bans get plenty of attention. I do think poverty (and alleviating suffering generally) is a greater issue to focus on (though the current approach to Africa may need some re-thinking).

    someone once remarked in response to Nz, ‘So the problem with western man is that he has had too much pity?’ Really, Nz, that is the problem?

    Funny and a valid criticism in some ways. Probably also good to note that trying to buttress some of our natural drives can have fairly negative psychological consequences– e.g. giving out of a more natural drive (healthy generosity of spirit) might be better overall than giving out of pity. The question Charlie brought up of whether his philosophy has space for genuine love also seems legitimate.

    Probably a lot of us are simply on “the hither side of Nietzsche” and not fully Nietzschean (or perhaps not being fully Nietzschean is what makes us Nietzschean). I’m mostly addicted to his methodological insights which I think are especially helpful in the pursuit of honesty but I also think a thorough understanding of Nietzsche and especially a better ability to world-travel (argonauts of the ideal) can develop a greater capacity for love (if one has the will for it).


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