Are we talking about food?

“Girl, you’re thicker than a bowl of oatmeal.” One might ask; ‘How is a thick of bowl of oatmeal a compliment?’ or ‘What has oatmeal got to do with the female body?’. Well, the answers to those questions may be in this post.

The association of food to sex has always been discussed throughout history. From the biblical symbolism of the “Forbidden Fruit” to the use of food metaphors to discuss sex, the two topics often interact with each other due to their similar natures. Naturally, language plays a huge role in facilitating these discussions. Since the talk of sex and sexuality was such a taboo, there is great significance the discourse regarding sexuality through food talk. (Cameron & Kulick, 2003)

The use of food talk to facilitate sexual discussions could be due to its readiness in availability. The shared food lexicon allows for easy understanding of food talk. In the case of two strangers, there is a lack of common topics for sexual topics. However, there must be a shared vocabulary of food lexicon. The understanding of the physical qualities of the food is a pre-requisite for a sexual food metaphor to work. The salient features of the sexualized form or act are usually embedded in the attributes of the said food. (Crumpacker, 2006) As seen above, the thick attribute of oatmeal may refer to the thickness of the woman’s thighs or butt. For those who have never experienced oatmeal, they may never understand or see the link. In this way, the use of food talk as sex metaphors is easily accessible to everyone since food talk taps on the readily available inventory of food lexicon which makes its use a preferred and easy choice.

It is useful to note that both consuming food and digesting food makes use of the same organs. It is this similarity that bridges food and sex together. For instance, the mouth is used to talk, eat, or/and engage in sex.

However, for those who do not partake in oral sex, the mouth may not be as active during sexual intercourse. As such, these people may not be able to relate or appreciate the food metaphors linked to those sexual activities since how we use our organs to engage in sex shows reveals the sexual norms we identify with. (Abrahams, 1984) However, the understanding of these food metaphors to imply sexual meanings do not just play on the similarity of the action but also on the level of desire. (Walker, 2002) In his 2002’s book, “The Meal: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery”, Harlan Walker highlights that there are two kinds of human desires: for food and for sex. As such, the use of these metaphors play on the idea of desires and can overlap seamlessly due to the nature of both desires for food and the oral and sexual desire. The importance of desire in the interplay of food and sex is key to understanding food talk in relation to sexuality and sex. As such, the term ‘eating out’ or the notion of eating could connote a sexual nature, due to the easy transition between concepts.

An example that we often overlook online is the many instances of food porn. Although not literally, the combination of food and pornography is not a new concept. In as early as 1977, a similar term, ‘gastro-porn’, was coined by Alexander Cockburn in the New York Review of Books. (anne e. mcbride, 2010) In the case of food porn, the imagined food itself is the object of desire. (Lavis, 2017) The performative aspect of the imagined food makes the viewers crave it. It is the desire for this imagined food in food porn that is likened to sexual desire. When the chefs or hosts of cooking shows, especially women, describe what they are doing using sensual terms, they play on the visceral elements of the performative dimension of these shows.

This is clearly seen in the discourse of Nigella Lawson. (Lavis, 2017) Similarly, when the captions of pictures of food porn or in descriptions in menus contain more emotionally charged words like ‘dirty’, they tend to be viewed by people as higher in quality and value compared to words that are more traditional. (Blackburn, Yilmaz, & Boyd, 2018) This is because the effect of such a language used is more evaluative and evokes the deep feelings of readers, which affects the perception of the food. As such, when the same concept is subverted to implicate human bodies, it has the same alluring effect that plays on humans’ sexual desire.

However, the use of these food talk often reinforces the objectification of the sexualized being. The use of food talk reduces the being to an inanimate object, easily consumed by others. It becomes especially offensive when the use of food metaphors can only be employed to females. In such cases, the food metaphors can only be employed in cross-gendered conversations, and usually from male to female. This not only highlights an interesting power dynamics but also perpetuates heteronormativity. Today, there is a rampage of men employing this literary device onto passing women on the streets. Not only does this exhibit a male dominance, we do not see the similar use of said metaphors onto gay men or by women to passing men. This implies that its use is only for a certain group of people and therefore, highlighting that the food talk is only frequently used by straight males or lesbian females.

Even so, the use of food talk provides a platform to discuss sex implicitly. Like the convict who was arrested for harassment for employing food talk to hit up a girl along the streets, the ethical aspect of its use depends on the situation in which it is employed. Admittedly, there is no denying that food talk has made it easier to speak of sex in a public domain. However, these metaphors can only be utilized onto people who can understand or appreciate them. As such, with the use of food talk to refer to sex through the many literary devices such as metaphors or euphemisms, we can see how these overlapping ideas can manifest to discuss sex.

So, a tip from me would be: before you use food talk to discuss sex, try to remember what it is that you are actually trying to imply.


Abrahams, R. (1984). Equal opportunity eating: a structural excursus on things of the mouth. Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity, 19-36.

anne e. mcbride, a. (2010). Food Porn. Gastronomica(1), 38. doi:10.1525/gfc.2010.10.1.38

Blackburn, K. G., Yilmaz, G., & Boyd, R. L. (2018). Food for thought: Exploring how people think and talk about food online. Appetite, 123, 390-401. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.01.022

Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and sexuality: Cambridge University Press.

Crumpacker, B. (2006). The sex life of food: when body and soul meet to eat: Macmillan.

Lavis, A. (2017). Food porn, pro-anorexia and the viscerality of virtual affect: Exploring eating in cyberspace. Geoforum, 84, 198-205. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2015.05.014

Walker, H. (2002). The meal : proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery, 2001: Devon, England : Prospect Books, c2002.

One comment on “Are we talking about food?


    I agree that food has been sexualized on so many levels. Gone were the days when buns referred to literal flour-bread things or cream as an equivalent to whipped cream (oh wait, whipped cream?…) It is also interesting how in the past, food-talk was utilized to convey sexual messages as a form of ‘alternative’ to the taboo topic of sex but now times have changed! The rise of media such as in lyrics of songs has an essential part in normalizing this food-sex relation. Nowadays, both food and sex are mashed up together to directly send out a sexually charged notion. Take for example the beautiful jhene aiko who told a dude to eat her booty like groceries. I don’t see any form of implicitness no more!


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