Sunday, June 12, 2011

Food, sex and hedonism

I was thinking today, while Masterchef was playing in the restaurant Dave and I were eating at, that we’ve all become a bit hedonistic of late. It’s all pleasure for pleasure’s sake. We collect culinary experiences like we collect passport stamps, or music for our ipods, or furniture, or clothes, or sexual experiences for that matter. We pile these things up like Lego pieces and put them in the shape of a person, and they become us. We become mirrors for the things we project onto ourselves, and we hope that people like us for it. In other words, we become what we consume. We value things for the pleasure they can afford us, and then once we consume them we think we’re valuable.

I’ve also been thinking about sex lately, due to an essay I’m writing. In the last 60 years or so, ‘sex’ as a dominant discourse has drifted from the moorings of family and procreation, to a personal pleasure that is transacted between two free individuals. Sex has entered the market place alongside food, cars, music and real estate. New ideas about sex have reduced its value to its fun-factor, or, less crudely, it’s ability to give us deep and fulfilling pleasure. Without sex, we are told, we are not reaching our potential as human beings. Commodified sex always existed in the form of prostitution, but now it seems to be the basis of relationships.

Sex can be pleasurable, as can be food and all the other things we like to consume. But to reduce these things to consumable pleasures is surely to drain them of all the really good stuff they embody. Surely, when it comes down to it, food and sex are about life.

In a literal sense food gives us the nutrients to live, but is also what we share with our friends and family in order to laugh, commune and deepen relationships. In focusing exclusively on the optimum taste and texture of a black forest cake is to forget that the cake is ultimately for celebration with people we love.

And sex is also about life, in more than just a literal sense. Sex can bring people closer, deeper and more awake to each other. If sex is just for pleasure, then as one author put it, it is no more than simultaneous masturbation, offering no more than personal gratification, and making us more disconnected than ever.

This whole focus on pleasure is ultimately a massive set of blinkers, distracting us from things in the world that are outside of our bodies. The exploited animals and farmers that produced our exquisite food don’t matter, and neither do the wars we are involved in or the lonely man down the street who is eating by himself.

Surely if we deeply experience food and sex, for more than the pleasure that can be derived, they would bring us closer to the people and the world around us. Experiencing the world purely for the pleasure it offers just sends us further inside our own bodies, leaving us deaf, blind and senseless to the real world beyond ourselves.


sattler said...

I keep on leaving link by way of comment but 'great minds think alike', etc. So much trouble has been cause because we've been convinced that we need to beg, steal, borrow or seize what is there in rich abundance anyway. I was blogging about 'original plenty' and the myth of scarcity:

With sex so has become manufactured and grasping that should be utterly natural.

Andreana said...

Yes, we have so much. What does 'Satan' tempt us with when we already have it all? As you say, it begins with the lie of scarcity. It leaves us grasping, stuffing our faces and pretty damn undignified!

ZB said...

A very interesting post - but something about it niggled at me.
Certainly I am not entirely comfortable with the consumerisation of sex, and I am definitely not okay with the idea that without sex we are "not reaching our potential as human beings".
But I'm not sure about your contention that food is more than food, and sex is more than sex. You say that really they symbolise life.
I partly agree - they can symbolise life. They can bring people together. But they don't have to. Food is food - if it brings you together with people, then you're using food in a positive way. Sex is sex - and if it brings you closer to someone, then that's brilliant. But that doesn't mean that that is the true nature of food or sex. Any meaning in them is meaning that we attach to them.
Maybe I'm nitpicking. It's just that criticism of pleasure is something I associate with a sort of anti-body anti-feminist rhetoric that I'm not a big fan of.

(And I hope you don't take this as an attack! I'm interested in discussion, nothing more.)

Andreana said...

Hey ZB :-)

You are quite right in that food and sex only have meaning that we attach to them. And we can attach all different kinds of meaning.

For me, I want food and sex to be meaningful, because in attaching meaning, I feel more fully human and kind of 'connected in'. And I guess I want that for other people to - because I think the world would be a better place if people connected deeply with the food they eat and the people they had sex with. As humans, we can't help but attach meaning to otherwise meaningless objects or actions. I think that's what makes us human. I guess we could reduce eating and having sex to simple biology, but I think our humanity struggles to do that.

What is the 'true nature' of food and sex? Well, that's up to us, I guess. Personally I think that our bonds grow stronger if we see food and sex as means to connect, but there are obviously other meanings we can attach - such as engaging for sheer pleasure.

I critique the focus on pleasure because I think if that's our sole value, we end up hurting people, and the planet. 'Hedonism' is individualistic - it's not about pleasure for the world as a whole (which I wouldn't have a problem with!) but pleasure for ME, regardless of how others are affected. Focussing solely on pleasure for oneself leads to all sorts of abuses. I'm not anti-pleasure or anti-body - but by focusing too much on pleasure at the exclusion of others, the result can be damage and abuse (which isn't really, in the end, very pro-pleasure or pro-body!).