Why people who like food like sex
Pleasurable ... figs are one of life's delights. Photo: Jennifer Soo
I’ve been thinking about Nigella Lawson. She’s just too much … all her “plumptuous beauties” and “heady aromas” and “solitary pleasures” and “invitingly gooeys” and “lovely” this and “lovely” that. And that little self-satisfied tilt of the head thing she does with accompanying coquettish smile. Five minutes of her and I need to take a shower.
Mercifully, the last episode of Nigella Kitchen, “Can’t Live Without”, screened a few weeks back with Lawson in a lather about lemons and pink garlic and chocolate. But while I’m delighted she’s vacated my lounge room, I’m full of admiration for the example she’s setting. Because I know what else she can’t live without — SEX.
No, I have no intimate experience to support my claim, but let’s look at the facts. A woman who eats like she does, with such rapturous pleasure, licking fingers, rolling eyes, tossing hair, has to be just as rapturous about other fleshy pleasures. A woman who eats with such abandon makes love with abandon — and some ability. "If anyone chose chocolate over sex then I'd say they have a serious problem. I'm greedy,” Lawson told Esquire magazine. “I think one should be allowed everything.” (Any wonder that 1.8 million people have watched a YouTube mash-up of Nigella clips titled Nigella Talks Dirty.)
Prosciutto, and watermelon and figs, oh my. Photo: George Fetting
We’ve had our dalliances with New Year’s resolutions; with our cleanses and our diets (mine lasted two days, one hour and 32 minutes — until someone thrust a piece of glorious French cheese under my nose). Excess Baggage has been dumped in the television compost bin that is Go! and Febfast is almost a distant memory.
It’s time now, it really is, to abandon our tremulous relationship with food. I mean, is it actually achieving anything? Is it turning us into supermodels and putting Hollywood heartthrobs and American NFL quarterbacks on our mattresses and millions in our bank accounts? Is it giving us more confidence about prancing along a beach in a bikini? Is it really making us any healthier? Is it helping us love ourselves and our lives? And, if we’re so consumed with anxiety about food, so beholden to that damaging, self-critical little voice in our heads, how can we possibly have the time, the energy, the focus and the self-confidence for shagging?
The Observer’s restaurant critic, Jay Rayner, recently had some things to say about slow eaters.
Chocolate or sex? Or perhaps both. Photo: Richard Briggs
“It's wrong. It's unnatural. It's a mark of bad character,” he wrote. “Greedy people are enthusiasts. They are there to suck the marrow from the roasted thigh bone of life. We recognise our appetites in all their forms and, unlike the buttoned-up, spank-me-now-and-call-me-Alice slow eaters, we are not ashamed of our true natures.”
Rayner’s comments might equally apply to the picky and the fussy, the lettuce-leaf-eaters and the calorie counters, the food shufflers and the turned-up-noses — to all those mentally and physically healthy women who have an ambiguous relationship with food. Take those little matchstick girls Katie Holmes and Posh Spice, who a while back were spotted at a Hollywood restaurant delicately sharing a salad, a piece of steamed fish, a side of spinach and a bottle of mineral water. Let’s face it, hardly sucking the marrow from the roasted thigh bone of life. Hard to imagine they’ve ever immersed themselves in the wobbly lovely slipperiness of an egg or an oyster, or the fleshy insides of a fig, or picked up a bone in their fingers and greasily torn the meat off it. And you’ve got to wonder where David and Tom are finding their pleasures.
If Nigella is Exhibit A, Liz has to be Exhibit B. The passionate, man-loving Elizabeth Taylor adored food. “She was like a luscious, opulent, ripe fruit. She enjoyed life to the max. She loved to eat and drink”, Taylor-obsessed American feminist Camille Paglia wrote in a fabulous piece in Salon after the star’s death in March last year.
Saucepot Nigella Lawson is a little, well, much.
And so what if it wasn’t always high cuisine or high health — Taylor liked peanut butter and bacon sandwiches on baguettes (with a 1945 Chateau Margaux), fried chicken, trifle and homemade potato chips — she ate and lived with gusto. When she filmed Cleopatra in the early ’60s she famously demanded that buckets of her favourite chilli be airlifted from the Los Angeles’ restaurant Chasen’s to the set in Rome. And just look what happened on that set. A volcano of passion erupted when she met Richard Burton — a love affair that continued for a decade.
And take a look at Exhibits C, D and E, all strong, smart, substantial women: Adele, that glorious-voiced, luscious, now multiple Grammy-award-winning chanteuse. As the lyrics to the songs on her album 21 make clear, Adele has loved deeply and loved well. “I like eating fine foods and drinking nice wine,” she told Rolling Stone magazine in 2011.
And Elizabeth David, the sexually liberated, post-war English cookery writer who changed the way the English eat. She wrote seductively about food and, according to her biographer, “had a racy love life”.
And our own Margaret Fulton, who at one point in her relationship with her beloved partner Michael, ate Beluga caviar and French champagne for breakfast, lunch and supper. “I had a good bite at the cherry,” Fulton wrote in her autobiography.
So I’m going shopping. I’m going shopping for figs, watermelon, white peaches and grapes, a wheel of dribbling brie and some buffalo mozzarella, some fine charcuterie — prosciutto, terrines and pâtés, Spanish ham. A loaf or two of the best sourdough and some fine unsalted butter. Hand-made chocolates. And ice-cream. Buckets of it. And I’m going to enjoy it, rapturously.