Is food writing sexist?

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Here's something to mull over on the weekend: Is food writing sexist? Frankly, we had never thought about this question, but  L.V. Anderson over at Slate has a decisivie article called Hey Food Writers, Stop Comparing Food to Women in which she maintains that it is indeed sexist and has to stop.

Anderson started on this track by noticing an Alan Richman article in GQ in which he describes the decor of a restaurant as "The room is as ornate, startling, joyous, and ridiculous as a blonde popping out of a birthday cake."

From there she started to plow through archives and discovered: "Comparing food to women is, rather, an extremely popular rhetorical device among food writers and restaurant critics-and not just in GQ, a men's magazine not known for its sensitive and nuanced portrayals of women and female sexuality. Scroll through the recent archives of the New York Times dining section and Bon Appétit - two of the best respected, most widely read mainstream food publications in the country - and you'll find a trove of analogies between edible substances and female humans."

She argues that "The main reason food writers resort to comparing food to women, I'm convinced, is that food writing is boring..." So writers turn to sex - not that comparing food to sex is necessarily bad, but Anderson objects that sex is usually introduced by using woman metaphers: "Why metaphors about women? It's a short hop from a more forgivable food-writing tic: comparing eating to sex." 

It is a thoughtful argument and makes for good reading. We did stop to think - if this is true, why hadn't we noticed it before? Maybe using women as sexual metaphors is so omnipresent culturally it doesn't register on a radar screen (boating leaps to mind as an example), maybe we've never considered it to be unflattering so it hasn't come to the forefront, or maybe as a percentage of food writing it's not that prominent.   But definitely food for thought here, and we'd love to hear any other opinions.

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  • FuzzyChef  on  8/10/2013 at 12:22 AM

    Hmmm. I can't say that food writing isn't full of sexist language -- frankly, a great deal of our culture is -- but if so, LV Anderson isn't demonstrating it. Her lead example, the Alan Richman quote, uses the metaphor of a woman jumping out of a birthday cake ... but calls it ridiculous. The rest of her examples demonstrate the ingrained sexism of our language, but rather weakly so; for example, most Americans use the term "prima donna" to refer to both men and women, and English really doesn't have a masculine equivalent to "femme fatale". The only truly appalling language in that article is the Mark Bitterman quote; his editor should have changed that, sexism aside, it's a horrible metaphor. Like I said, I expect that a lot of food writing *is* sexist. We live in a sexist society, and professional food writers are overwhelmingly male, especially towards the criticism end of the spectrum. But the linked article doesn't tell us anything. Well, except her conclusion about why the unnecessary florid metaphors: "food writing is boring". Yeah, spot on.

  • hihelen_westbrook  on  8/10/2013 at 3:29 AM

    I think that the supermodel analogy is revolting and unecessary but I also think that when the writer states that it "not only reduces supermodels’ human worth to their looks, but also treats them as being as disposable as a tablespoon of salt" they have slightly missed the point of the analogy itself. The point, as I understand it, has nothing to do with the human value of anyone or anything, but simply that it is impossible to judge an item, in this case salt, if you first destroy the very features on which you will base your judgement. That said, it is still an offensive metaphor, just not for the reasons stated by the writer. Overall I agree with FuzzyChef. The language in the article indicates limits existing in the English language as a whole, not those of food writers. Prima donnas, femmes fatales and ingenues don't really have a masculine equivalent. None of those terms have ever made me personally feel objectified as I understand them to represent an idea (an almost cartoonish Jessica Rabbit figure) rather than impacting on me. In addition to this I cannot help but feel that women globally face far more serious, threatening and important problems because of their gender than being compared to a chocolate pudding!

  • BethNH  on  8/11/2013 at 11:42 AM

    Eh, much ado about nothing. Except for the Bittman quote, which is deplorable, I found the rest of the article lacking. I simply could not take seriously any of the examples.

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