Scroll Top

Place your orders

An overhead shot of a set table and people eating. There are white plates with different kinds of food and the individuals are towards the edges.
What’s for dinner?

The answer to that depends on who is asking and who is answering that question. In the age of Candy Crush, not an edible but the game series, we could design a matching game for the Issue in Focus of this In Plainspeak.

Humour us. Play.

What’s For Dinner?

  1. Sandwich
  2. Soya milk and yeast
  3. Fruit-flavoured condoms
  4. Home-made, multi-grain, thali-peeth
  5. Mutton varuval
  6. Zomato zindabad

Who-who! Or Hoo-hoo, if you prefer.

  1. Bachelor Boy
  2. Sally who met Harry
  3. Honeymooners
  4. Me
  5. You
  6. Priya and Prasad’s amma + gay people

(Answers at the end with dessert. Skipping the middle is allowed but we’d really like you to try everything.)

Seriously? Food and Sexuality?

There is a great difficulty in making neat connections here, because it’s a bit like a neural network, so perhaps neat connections are not right in this context. It would be a minimising or a simplifying of just how, and in so many different ways, food and sexuality mirror each other, or interact in our life experiences, identities and understanding and enjoying our rights.

The right to eat, to love, to express our selves and our sexual identities.

Yet, we’ve made these connection before and we’re doing it again and we still find that the responses of many people are somewhere in between: [Blank silence] / What? / Never really thought / Will need to think/ and sex, aphrodisiacs, food and mood.

This time, while In Plainspeak contributors sent in articles on this theme, we found it challenging to get a bird’s eye, integrated, coherent view to present as an Issue in Focus piece, as is our usual style. So we scratched the surface, dug a little, and requested inputs from friends and strangers across informal WhatsApp chats, to help us understand what’s going on with Food and Sexuality in their lives.

In some of those WhatsApp responses we received last week, people spoke of food and connected it to gender – binary, stereotypes and societal expectations, to health, to patriarchal norms that express themselves in who eats what at home, to self-image, to body-image, to discrimination and self-stigmatising, to personality differences between men and women in the binary frame, to sex and sex partners, mood, erotic visualisation, chocolate and Brad Pitt!

Here are some snippets edited from those chats:

  • I have not thought about this connection.
  • I have never thought about food in that context.
  • The study showed women videos of chocolate and Brad Pitt and apparently the women were more turned on by chocolate. I thought that was entirely understandable.
  • I identify women folk more with sour and tangy food, while men with sweets.
  • Cooking and tasting food is a major turn on.
  • With age, seeing resemblances of sex organs in food items like banana and melons or whatever is a major turn off. It might have been funny at a younger age.
  • I am not very comfortable with hogging in public settings if I am with new people.
  • I feel men are more accepting when it comes to any kind of food/ cuisine. They are open to experimenting while women have their favourites and prefer sticking to their preferences.
  • For me food has always been connected to size and weight and pleasure or the lack of it based on that.
  • There is a gender bias and it affects the sexual health of women here. I see the same in traditional families in the cities.
  • Young girls nowadays are starving themselves and eating all the wrong foods.
  • Women keep fasts, they don’t eat nourishing food, they often suffer from anaemia, and girls often get their menses late.
  • I’ve seen both men and women be picky eaters or be shamed for what they eat based on their desire to be a certain size or have a certain body.

We are neither identifying nor entirely quoting anyone, but we invite all readers to expand this conversation – and write in to us.

What is it about food, that draws us into a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social confrontation with the sexual self and sexuality? You are what you eat, may be the answer. Quite literally, we are food, the product of food, alive because of what we ingest, nourish ourselves with. One may hypothesize that food is the closest to body and being than anything else that is outside of the body. This plays out in power dynamics between bodies, in social norms and strictures, in casteist and classist approaches to our relationships, who cooks what for who, who eats what and who, simply, is not allowed to eat.

Not allowed is a familiar state of being using the sexual lens. Most things are not allowed. Are they?
has a permission slip somewhere.

We find that there is this deeply persevering approach that continues to detach the word sex from sexuality, and that is okay except that everything seems to get stuck there and uality flies out of the window. So much so, that the subject that has been and continues in many spaces to be most hush-hush and hard to talk about, sex, remains the first word and subject that is pounced upon when you present the 9-letter word, sexuality. This says something that has many implications. It says that whenever we look at sexuality in connection with anything in life, and sexuality does connect with everything in life, we get stuck at sex.

This simply means that many folks are still not easily able to look beyond sex as an act or activity, to connect the other important aspects of our selves and our life experiences. Be it food, education, entertainment, health, occupation, money, family, marriage, dating, age, you name it. This is why, just as an example, Comprehensive Sexuality Education for many people becomes an uncomfortable personal visual of teaching children about sex, and a powerful political tool in the hands of anyone who would like to exploit ignorance and vulnerability for votes.

How does this work when we’re talking Food?

And finally, the hoo-hoo matching game!
The answer:Who-who!
SandwichSally who met Harry, You, Me, Bachelor boy, everybody
Soya milk and yeastSome girl we don’t know, mentioned in the WhatsApp chats
Fruit-flavoured condomsSome people we don’t know, also mentioned in the WhatsApp chats, but this may not be their dinner! Honeymooners? Fetishists? You? Me?
Home-made, multi-grain, thali-peethMe, it’s brought for me with great love, by a grandmother who was once a construction-site worker. She ate very simply, and spent many years loading bricks on her head with a baby strapped to her back. And who now cleans my house and used to worry about the difference in our caste, social class, and occupation, till she realised I really like food and I really dislike the discrimination she’s grown old getting used to.
Mutton varuvalPriya and Prasad’s amma + gay people (Read the story, it’s called What do gay people eat?)
Zomato zindabadYou, Me, many people!

The answers and the people involved are in a whole lot of different settings, and this changes the meaning of everything.

  • The soya milk and yeast are a reference to dieting fads, body image, particularly in the context of gender stereotype pressures on young people, particularly girls and women, and the consequent health impacts.
  • The condoms are part of a share by a person who essentially spoke of food, mood and sex, both in the context of turn-on/turn-off as well as aging.
  • The multi-grain thaali-peeth, a generally spicy flatbread made of multi-grain flour, brings in experiences of food as it intersects with caste, class, reproductive health and rights, gender, sexuality, justice and equality at multiple levels. Many who read this article will be familiar with the complexities of who cooks and cleans in the home, who can gift food as a gesture of affection to whom, and who will not eat what is cooked by another who. Anyhoo, change is here, catch up with it.
  • Mutton varuval. Oh yes. As part of the desk review for this article, the writer wickedly, and curiously, typed out a google search that said What do gay people eat, and you must try this for the unbelievable fact that apparently there’s been a lot of thought given to this! That’s how we stumbled upon the story of Priya and Prasad’s amma and mutton varuval. Really. What do gay people eat?!
  • Zomato is a humdinger. Who’s cooking that food, who’s bringing that food, who’s ordering, and did anyone ever cancel their order because of the religion or caste of the delivery person? Read this. And this. Also this. The last of these three links is a story about a woman delivery partner who’s working with her baby in a baby sling on her body. You may make what you will of this situation, but it is almost artistic in its depiction of multiple intersections. And it is in some way connected to the thali-peeth grandmother who did the same thing with her baby decades ago. The Zomato delivery partner wears a uniform and earns a little more respect perhaps. Babies have everything to do with sex, sexuality, food and bodies.

And, the sandwich? That’s in the context of a famous movie scene from When Harry met Sally, where she shows him how women fake orgasms, and an older woman at another table says, after the performance, “I’ll have what she’s having!” It has all kinds of comic and educational value; we could not resist including it.

Writing about more recent films, the author of this article refers to a scene from the beautiful film, Call Me by Your Name, where the character Elio masturbates with a peach, and goes on to point out that “… there are many more intricacies to this relationship that don’t necessarily involve the penetration of food.” We agree. Just as sexuality is more intricate and expansive than any one person, or any one aspect we may choose to pay attention to. Stephanie Sarley, an artist who has had her Instagram account blocked for sexually explicit content before backlash from fans had it restored, says in an interview: “There is a series of peaches between my thighs with skirts and dresses that is very significant to me. When it was censored numerous times by Instagram, it became apparent that my work was challenging perceptions of female sexuality. People were trolling me heavily and were very offended by the imagery of a finger and fruit, especially coming from a woman. Simultaneously, there was mass intrigue in the press. My work is about representing raw femininity in the arts. My art is not gendered, though, it’s just more personal in that way and it’s for whoever wants to experience it. These works are not just touching on humour and sexuality but exploring spaces of discomfort and anxiety.”

Food is some sort of extension of our bodies, our identities, and therefore food and sexuality intersect in a myriad ways. Attitudes to both often mirror each other, while engagements and interactions, good and bad, over both food and sexuality, are strangely connected, springing from the same roots. These roots may belong to a tree of great joy and beauty, or they may belong to a poisonous shrub. Or a mix of both. We get to think, we get to choose, what we do not accept, and what we include in our short lives.

*A big thank you to Team TARSHI for helping prep this article, and a bigger thank you to all those who responded and shared their thoughts and feelings with a raw honesty that gave a true sense of the feelings involved.

Cover Image: Photo by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash