Peach Please!

Discuss some aspect(s) of the nexus of language, sex, and food (or food talk).

Language, sex and food function as a system of communication, with issues in food and sex inextricably encoded in the negotiation of identity as mediated by language. Some aspects of the nexus of language, sex and food to be discussed include food replacing sex as an identity marker – as an index of power and solidarity, the use of euphemisms in constructing identity through absences, as well as a brief exploration of the effects of such language use on society, as well as the reciprocal effects of social context on language use. Sex in this context should be interpreted broadly, referring to fantasies, fears, repressions or desire (Cameron & Kulick, 2003), wherein sexual identity is discussed under constructed identities, alongside ‘food identities’, such as being vegan or pescetarian.


As a product of linguistic and various semiotic practices, identities can be relationally constructed through several, often overlapping aspects of the relationship between self and other (Bucholtz & Hall, 2005). Language is a resource through which users construct their identity. In The History of Sexuality (1990), Foucault claims that our identity is produced in relation to our sexuality, or in essence, our sexual desires, and this understanding runs parallel with the association of meat and masculinity in Adams’ book, The Sexual Politics of Meat: a feminist-vegetarian critical theory (1990). With sex and food being a basic, physiological need (Gravel, 1997), one way to explore this Is through whether and to what extend sexual and food identity are constructed using the same linguistic resources, such semantic commonality of which is created through double entendres and euphemisms, which will be explored later in the text.  The use of such language, however, plays a key role in the negotiation of identity, as the consumption of the eroticization of food takes on the characteristics of a system of communication, whereby its function can no longer be dissociated from the sign of that function (Barthes, 2013). A changeover from food that is simply ‘delicious’ to one that is ‘orgasmic’ corresponds to a change in what is signified – beyond any possible aphrodisiac properties, the positive association of sex with certain foods, such as dessert and sushi, in restaurant reviews is one such exemplification (Jurafsky, 2014). The manifestations of our tendency to sexualize food arise not only in food reviews, but also in our daily interactions, through the development of a language of power, over and above a greater appreciation for what is not being said. In the following sections, I will be discussing the nexus of language, sex and food, through several key constituents of food and sex as a communication system.


Food is quickly replacing sex as an identity marker, with the different levels of vegetarianism almost intersecting with the various types of sexualities. Contra Foucault’s claims that our identity is produced in relation to our sexual desires, many people identify as belonging to various groups – ethnicity, nationality, political alignment etcetera – and not only according to their sexual orientation. A pescetarian might not differ much from a pansexual after all – at least not in the way they express solidarity. Manton (1999) writes, “a cuisine… is a categorization that helps society’s members define themselves…. like language, a cuisine is a medium by which society establishes its special identity.” Similarly, In An Ethos with a Bite: Queer Appetites from Sex to Food (1999), Probyn claims that “bodies that eat connect us more explicitly with limits of class, gender and ethnicity than do the copulating bodies prominently displayed in popular culture.” Taking vegans as a social group that creates and establishes their own speaking codes or norms, language – besides eating with them– is often used as a defining characteristic of veganism in many societies. True definitions of ‘meat’ and what is ‘real’ or ‘fake’ are some lexical items that differentiate food identities. Probyn (2000) takes a harder stance in declaring food as a crucial manner of self-constitution, where our dietary choices are a means of expressing adherence to a social group. However, there is unlikely to be a homogenous ‘food’ subculture, just as there is no homogenous homosexual subculture that shared a common language, as shared by Stanley (1970) in (Placeholder1). The syntactic patterns identified in ‘homosexual slang’ can be contrasted to the lexical items in ‘vegan language’, such as with the true definition of words such as ‘meat’ and ‘vegetables’, alongside what is ‘real’ or ‘fake’.


As Brillat-Savarin said. “tell me what you eat: I will tell you what we are.” Such a statement is not without its implications – if we eat according to what have been brought up to desire, food can be said to have been invested with much symbolism and moral power, with the eroticization and politicization of food bring to it the moral baggage laid on sex.


Adams (1990) explores the line between ‘food identities’ and ‘sexual identities’ in The Sexual Politics of Meat, where meat-eating is often excused by the absence of agency and the emphasis on personal choice, with a person manipulating language to “subjugate animals’ lives to human needs’, through renaming, repositioning the object and re-birth, where the ‘meat gives life’.” Adams then draws similarities to the normalization of the objectification of women through language, manipulating the same aspects of language. As Foucault had already demonstrated, identities are not merely given or discovered, they are created and sustained by social relations of power, theorized by the processes through which power accomplishes this production. As with MacKinnon’s (1989) “man fucks woman; subject verb object”, the repositioning of women from subject to object makes men the subject, needlessly according more power and attention. Similarly, the degradation of women is made a little less tasteless by joking about it – “it’s only a sandwich.” or “it’s only an ass”. In many ways, food presents itself as an alternative, if not more politically correct way of expressing one’s beliefs. Paralinguistic features such as smacking and licking one’s lips while eyeing a literal and metaphorical piece of meat work. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that food is increasingly becoming ‘the new sex’, with a greater focus being placed on what is not being said, rather than what has been said.


Further analysis of Bucholtz & Hall’s (2005) proposal for a framework for the analysis of identity as produced in linguistic interpretation explores how identities may be “linguistically indexed through labels, implicatures, stances, styles or linguistic structures and systems.” Euphemisms and double entendres such as “pop the cherry and “I love sausage” are interesting linguistic devices used to maintain politeness while expressing one’s sexual desires, with food again being the more politically correct option. Similarly, following Lakoff’s (1973) three maxims devised under her ‘Politeness Principle’ – to ‘not impose, give the receiver options, and make the receiver feel good’, this civility easily applies to members in both the food and sex service industry. Jurafsky’s (2014) analysis of online restaurant reviews have also crafted a unique perspective of food and sex through language, bringing up issues with semantic bleaching and negative differentiation, identifying sex as a prominent linguistic structure used in positive reviews of food or wine. Giving greater credence to Probyn’s claims that food is the new sex, metaphors – such as ‘orgasmic’, ‘seductive’ and ‘supple’ – associated with sex have been increasingly linked to expensive foods, with the price of the restaurant increasing with the more mentions of sex in the review. The collective usage of ‘sex metaphors’ in food reviews could reflect a greater identification with oneself, an expressive yet versatile intersection between food and sex domains. The positivity connected to reviews filled with metaphors of sex and food are reflective of linguistic creativity in the manifestation of one’s identity. In such situations, it becomes apparent that identities are constructed not just through acts of representation, as with food replacing sex as an identity marker, but also through absences, where sex is instead used as a tool to express one’s appreciation for food.


In conclusion, the nexus of language, sex and food lies in the intersection between both domains, mediated by language. There is an increased focus on the creation of an identity through food and sex, with both domains functioning as a system of communication, each with its own codes and rules. While food has replaced sex as a more politically correct method of expression, it is worth noting that sex is also used to describe pleasant food experiences (Jurafsky, 2014). Food and sex bind us to generalizable rules as constructed by language in our identities and roles, with the transgression of said rules causing much psychological conflict and guilt, partly due to its association with animalistic behavior (Adams, 1990). Food and sex are also disciplinary acts, in so far as we are trained to consume food and sex in certain ways that are associated with “habitual means of relating to our bodies, emotions and selves” (Barthes, 2013).  Hence it is contingent on further studies to explore the effects of language use within societies exist alongside reciprocal effects of social organization and social contexts, wherein social and linguistic diversity helps us better understand and use language to navigate our personal, cultural and social identities.

Works Cited

  • Adams, C. J. (1990). The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.
  • Barthes, R. (2013). Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption. In C. Counihan , & P. V. Esterik, Food and Culture: a Reader. Routledge.
  • Bucholtz, M., & Hall, K. (2005, October 1). Identity and interaction: a sociocultural linguistic approach . Discourse Studies, 7(4-5), 585-614.
  • Cameron, D., & Kulick, D. (2003). Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality (Vol. 1). New York : Random House, Inc.
  • Gravel, J. E. (1997, November). Herzberg’s theory of motivation and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 5(11).
  • Jurafsky, D. (2014). The Language of Food: a Linguist Reads the Menu. W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Lakoff, R. (1973, April). Language and Woman’s Place. Language in Society , 2(1), 45 – 80.
  • MacKinnon, A. C. (1989). Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Harvard University Press.]
  • Manton, C. (1999). Fed Up: Women and Food in America. Praeger.
  • Probyn, E. (1999). An Ethos with a Bite: Queer Appetites from Sex to Food. Sexualities.

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