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August 19, 2004

Women and Food, Cont.

Dear Vanessa --

At the local gourmet-food superstore a short while ago, I noticed something I've often noticed before:

Women in gourmet food stores are far more likely than men to help themselves to food-goodies as they shop.

If a tasty foodthing is out there, available to the hand, a fair number of women will pick it up and feed it to themselves. There's no question of paying for the goodie; these women stroll around the store munching, as if this were just the way life is meant to be.

I seldom see guys doing this. Not that I'm a representative guy -- far from it. But I do know that it'd never occur to me to help myself to an as-yet unpaid-for goodie. Well, not unless it's a sample that's being deliberately handed out.

Might this difference in attitude have something to do with basic differences between the sexes, do you suppose? I've long suspected that men and women relate to food differently. (Here's a posting about women and baked goods, wherein I suggest that women essentially are baked goods. And here's a heartbroken posting about how women generally prefer food to sex.) My hunch says that women identify with food in some way that men don't.

If there's anything to my suspicion, what might some of the explanatory factors be? Perhaps one is the "appetizing" thing. In the mating dance, guys don't need to be more than physically presentable, where women need to make themselves downright appealing -- unfair or not, this seems to be one of those basic facts of life. Perhaps because of this, women sense a kinship with food, which after all also usually needs dolling up to make it appealing. Perhaps women go around, at least part of the time, feeling like bons-bons -- not a common experience for a guy!

The woman-as-foodstuff idea certainly works in reverse; guys often find a physically attractive woman mouth-wateringly appealing. A great old blues line or title, I forget which, goes like this: "I'm struttin' with some barbecue," which I'm pretty sure conjures up a picture of a guy proudly walking around with a sexily fleshy gal on his arm.

Does the women-and-food thing go beyond this? I think it must. There's a certain look of triumph many women get when they walk into a restaurant that I never see on men's faces: "Life is now as it should be; the lady is about to be fed. Now, let's see how it can best be done." I've also noticed that women handle the food they're eating differently than men do -- more solicitously and tenderly, you might say even compassionately. The Wife, for instance, strokes, folds, and pets bread and cookies before wolfin' 'em down. And you can probably picture as well as I can the look on many a woman's face when she puts that first forkful of dessert in her mouth: naughtiness, smugness, ravishment ... It's the look of a blissed-out masturbator who's getting away with some illicit pleasure, come to think of it.

Does all this simply come down to woman-as-nurturer? Food of course being one of the primary vehicles of nurturance. Maybe women, being built for nurturance, give of themselves physically and emotionally in ways guys don't -- they volunteer and surrender their chi, their essence, just like a piece of good food does. (Cooks speak of that moment when a piece of food renders up its juices.) Come to think of it, women's flesh is different than guys' flesh -- and I'm not the first person to notice the resemblance between womanflesh and bread, or bread-dough, the staff of life itself. Yeasty yumminess, all of it. Well, when it turns out right, anyway.

One friend I've compared notes with speculates that the food experience parallels the sex experience for women in a way that it doesn't for men. A woman who is eating is taking pleasure into her body; like sex, it's essentially an internal experience. For men, maybe the closest food-sex analogy that can be made is in the sense that sex can be like sinking your teeth into a hunk of juicy barbecue. There's a predatory, outward projection there; we reach out in order to be able to plunge in. Plus, for women, eating resembles sex but is safer than sex. Pregnancy and disease are avoided, of course. But eating's also a more count-upon-able pleasure than sex is, as well as less emotionally complicated.

Perhaps it's all as basic and biology-based as that. But what then to make of cultures where men make a big fuss about food? I suppose the case of Italy could be explained away by taking note of how many Italian men are momma's boys. But what about France? Hmm ... Well, food for Frenchmen seems like a matter for swashbuckling poetic connoisseurship. Rather like sex, come to think of it.

Hey, you're a gal and a foodie, so you're the authority here. Are you one of those women who helps herself to treats as she cruises through the gourmet-food store? And how do you explain the diffs in the way men and women experience food-pleasure?



posted by Michael at August 19, 2004


A few months ago I happened upon some female acquaintances eating a snack at a cafe I was going to. I was getting a glass of water, they were sharing a small carton of ice cream and really getting into it. When they offered me some, I mentioned to them it may, though it just may be my unrefined palate, beyond a certain threshold, I can't really differentiate between foods. I wasn't necessarily referring to ice cream, which is one of the rare foods that I might get special pleasure from eating, but in the general scheme of things most foods fall into the catch-all category of "good." Things that aren't good means I'm not interested in having them again, so the majority of my dining options exist on the plateau between the valley of indigestable crap and the mountain of exalted but really unhealthy foods. I don't think every man's experience is this general, but I think most of us bring a more practical attitude toward eating and a taste that, unless honed, is coarser than the ladies.

Posted by: . on August 19, 2004 9:40 PM

Sexually, it's an oral act, taking something into our bodies, filling a void.

Not necessarily gender specific, but for cooks, it's the act of creation and consumation. The delight in the mixing and planning and presentation, the pleasure in the reward of eating.

No, I don't usually "taste" freebies.

Posted by: susan on August 20, 2004 11:47 AM

Hey, these two comments go a long way towards explaining, or at least illustrating, the diffs in attitudes towards food, no?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 20, 2004 12:39 PM

Women are more likely in general to sample because they are bringing the food home to their families, and if it's possible to check it out first, they will. I shop at a farmers' market every Saturday, where you are positively encouraged to sample anything and everything from a leaf of arugula to a grape to a cherry tomato. Not that I will grab anything I see in a grocery store, though . . . but most women have had the experience of buying some good looking cherries and having them be not so good when you taste them at home. Also, women will pick up something in a store and open it for a fussy kid -- but then pay for it on the way out.

I think that there is something biochemical in the way that women respond to things like chocolate and ice cream. But men can find food sensual too -- my husband and I once splurged on a dessert course at a very nice restaurant, tasting 12 fabulous cheeses with appropriate wines, and he was as blown away as I was. By the time we got to the world-class roquefort with port at the end, I think we were both on the brink of orgasm.

Posted by: missgrundy on August 20, 2004 3:13 PM

I remember having lunch with a book publicist once -- spending scads of expense account money at a sensational Manhattan restaurant. (That wasn't money that was going to deserving authors, that's for sure.) The food was amazing. As we rolled our eyes in pleasure, I roguishly (haha) said "Wow, better than sex!" Her response: "Yeah, plus you don't have to break a sweat."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 20, 2004 3:22 PM

Hunter - gatherer distinction? Acquiring food and eating it was a constant, on-going activity for cavewomen, but for cavemen it was an occasional, big deal activity?

Posted by: Steve Sailer on August 20, 2004 3:24 PM

1. Hunter/Gatherer. As a boy, I used to snack a lot. Sometime along the college-meal-plan-half-hour-for-lunch get-to-work thing, I stopped. Now when I eat, it is a full, complete meal, or as full and complete as possible. Why torture myself with just a nibble?

2. Sex. If it's like sex.... See 1.

3. Moral obligation/time. If I take the free sample I feel obligated, somehow, to either listen to the sales/info pitch, or buy the thing or something. I owe. I don't like that. Why this doesn't seem to bother women is beyond me.

4. Back to the hunter thing. I usually have a plan for what I'm looking for when I go to the market. I don't want to be thrown off by sampling the give-aways.

Posted by: Chris on August 20, 2004 4:47 PM

In light of the above, what do you guys make of the habit of eating while reading (and vice-versa, depends on a book)?
I consumed unimaginable quantities of indigestible snack combinations (sweets+cold water+sunflower seeds+apples) when consuming (digesting?) symbolist poetry in my teen years.

Mayonnaise sandwiches (with smoked kielbasa) - Dostoevsky and Bunin. Coffee and pound cake - French 19th c.

No weight gain, amazingly...

Posted by: Tatyana on August 20, 2004 6:09 PM

I think it's partly evolutionary. In a hunter/gatherer society (which of course homo sapiens was for the vast majority of its existence), women want to mate with the man who can best provide for her and her children. The men who go off on a hunt and bring back good meat are better providers than those who bring back bad meat, or who take the good meat for themselves and bring back leftovers. Thus a woman's sense of taste (and sense of satisfaction with food) helped her determine who the best potential mate was.

In modern times the provider/providee relationship has pretty much been abstracted away, but the evolutionary consequences of it still remain.

This is all wild speculation, of course.

Posted by: ben on August 21, 2004 10:20 AM

That actually sounds very plausible. Helps explain that feeling we all have that it's all about satisfyin' the woman, as well as the existence of feminine "good taste." Tks.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 21, 2004 10:43 AM

All I can focus on here is mayonnaise sandwiches with smoked kielbasa. That sounds awesome!

Posted by: Vanessa Del Blowhard on August 23, 2004 1:43 PM

I know, isn't it?
Unfortumately, that's about all I can remember from Dostoevsky. Or was it Bunin?

Posted by: Tatyana on August 23, 2004 3:02 PM

One of my former co-workers, he went to prison (drugs). He said while he was there he read Dostoevsky. He said he had no problem in prison. He was a tough guy. But when he said he had read Dostoevsky, he was making a statement. That was cool. One of the reasons I even talked to the guy. I live in America, I generally don't have to talk to nobody unless I want to. I think what he was saying, was "that he knew evil". I'm not sure if I''ve read Dostoevsky. I know Rand said that he was a good writer but that while reading him she felt like she was walking around dog droppings. Reading about evil, I suppose, can be a defensive enterprise. Seems like, though were all human and liable to fuck up sometimes, that evil for evil's sake is a sad testament. Anybody can fuck things up, it's the people who benefit our miraculous station that deserve the recognition and it ain't zero-sum-game. Yea I've read The Fable of The Bees. Reading Dostoevsky seems similar to reading Stephen King or the latest depravity movie everybody's talking about, whatever that may be. But if there wasn't contrast, if there wasn't the law of non-contradiction, what would it mean?

Posted by: reader on August 23, 2004 9:05 PM

I tried to post this last night but everything locked up. Trying again...

Could the reason women are so attracted to food be a biological imperative related to the greater nutritional needs of pregnant and nursing mothers? Even while not actually pregnant or nursing, it would be an advantage, if food was scarce, to "stock-up" on nutrition in order to be more ready for motherhood.

Posted by: Lynn S on August 24, 2004 9:58 PM

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