It has been said, by some, that a good meal is better than sex. While this is hard to quantify, some meals have come fairly close. And the comparisons are apt: Our appetites before, and the sensations we experience as we dine; our insatiable hunger for something so all-consuming and delicious one feels as though they will never get enough, e.g., honey that drips from fingers and chins with rank cheeses, Époisses and Limburger, that envelop the senses, or more subtle cheeses that sit delicate at the back of the palate: Appenzeller Swiss or white cheddar from Wisconsin.
And those savory foods that are necessary as well – a paradox, perhaps, of food. The sweetness of dinner comes more from an umami flavor profile; a richness, sure, but more from the complex flavors of which pure sweetness of sugar/dessert can not alone compare –
Breathe in the smell of onions cooking in butter. There is very sensual about that smell. A touch of honey for sweetness. Then add the onions to your steak, cut thin and cooked rare. Have vegetables on the side. Have asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli cooked in oil with a pinch of salt. Have something from rivers or the ocean: Trout cheeks are the best part of the fish, as soft and nearly as rich as pork belly. Enjoy truffles and pickles and pate beforehand, with the cheese.
Tension builds as you wait for your food to cook and the smells and the feelings float through the air around you. It is a wanting. And as sexual tension comes from a strong want/desire/need in our brains and bodies that goes unrequited, postponed and growing greater/stronger with each moment that passes, so too can the same be said about the feeling of want in the kitchen. Waiting, waiting for dinner to be done, for breakfast to be ready, for the coals to grow hot enough to lay meat or produce across them, for the meal to arrive on plates and in bowls to be devoured hungrily without shame.
“I was so very hungry“
But sometimes, as with sex, satisfaction is the death of desire: The meal ends and leaves the wanting as still the most prevalent piece. Like a poor sexual partner (of which there has been many for all of us), a poor meal leads to disappointment. Left wanting more, left unsatisfied, is it better to be left wanting than to have something that reminds you that life is often full of disappointment when it could have be so very, very beautiful?
But, better, and (so much) more memorable, sticking in your mind, burned there forever, is what does satisfy completely. So good, too good almost the words leave us unable to describe what we feel. Feelings throughout the entire body. It is the energy running from head to toe, the *tingling* left at the end of fingertips, the involuntary smiles that curve lips upwards. The increase in heart rate and explosion from tongue to thought and back again.
I told a girlfriend once, “I love your smile.”
She said, “Thank you.”
“I want to fill it with food.”
And she said, “Marry me.”
But we have a strange relationship with food in this country – this country of excesses, either too much or too little. Overindulge (“it’s my right”) to the point of obesity and diabetes, or cut out completely (gluten-free by choice this week, or vegan, or just not eating today…) while not understanding the true, tangible good and the beauty that comes from a meal.
Conversely, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we have a strange relationship with sex in this country as well.
My roommate in college lived in a room right next door to mine. It was a small house near campus. The sounds of him having sex with his boyfriend and me having sex with my girlfriend would blend together in a beautiful chorus (or a symphony) of cross-gender pleasure. And after we would eat together at the table, in varying states of undressed still humming and warm. Eating and laughing. What had transpired moments before no longer as important than the state of perpetual bliss and hunger we had found ourselves in.
The frying pan sizzling with eggs. Toast in the toaster. A frozen pizza in the oven. Anything, really, on a college student’s budget, that we had in the house put onto plates to be eaten, fingers, crumbs, wiping sweat leftover on brows, underneath the single light at the kitchen table/in the kitchen.
This was unique perhaps. The traditional dinner table looks less like this, both with less intimacy (often/usually) and with more pomp and circumstance.
Dining, and Sex, as Performance
When I think back to our largest (most memorable, rather) traditional meals, typically/often associated with special events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or Sunday dinners after church (chaste? Could there be anything more sinful than thinking of the food waiting as you count the minutes until service is over), what comes to mind is the anticipation for the meal, waiting to be satisfied. For mashed potatoes, fried chicken and ribs, salads with pecans or walnuts and pears, tall glasses of lemonade, hot dish (not nearly as hot as the name implies, usually macaroni noodles, ground beef, canned tomatoes, salt and butter), peas and carrots, and desserts of pies, bars (peanut butter bars, another Minnesota specialty), cakes, pudding.
And everything in between: The dinner table as the arena for families to come together, to butt heads, maybe, or share and appreciate. Those holidays and special days bringing the whole family together. Family and friends. Acquaintances. People we wouldn’t normally wouldn’t spend time with on the street sitting across from us because they’re family, friends, acquaintances. Eating. Eating together. And when we eat together we are forced to converse and talk to one another. To connect.
Luis Bunuel understood this well. Many of his greatest film scenes (and one of the greatest film scenes in cinema history) revolve around dining, eating, drinking.
Dining in large groups, i.e., dining surrounded by people, is something of a performance – you’re supposed to follow rules; etiquette is most-important. Have something to say, have amusing anecdotes and personality. You’re supposed to (supposed to) know how to use a knife and fork properly at the very least and know when to groan appreciatively and compliment, decline third helpings, pass the butter, salt, wine –
Know what to say, or not say when crazy Aunt so and so goes off, or when racist Uncle so and so speaks offensive about the headlines in the news today –
You’re supposed to understand inherently, the things that make for the experience to be enjoyable.
As you are also in the bedroom: Being a good dining companion and a good lovemaker are two things deserving of praise. Unforgivable, and worthy of ridicule when mis-performed.
But all it takes, on some level, is an appreciation of these things. These things that bring the utmost joy and pleasure for us as humans. The sensations, the appetites, the insatiable hunger for something so perfect you simply cannot get enough…
Take out the politics, the stale traditions, the droll need to perform. Let loose and let our minds and mouths enjoy. With sex and with food, these two things rooted in pleasure in ways that nothing else really can be, it is only to feel. It is only to want/need/desire. That is enough. Everything else will fall into place, or: Everything else will fall by the wayside. Everything outside this purity of pleasure is extra.