“Homemade white cheese, sizzling in a pan melting inside a folded tortilla… My mouth salivates at the thought of the hot steaming tamales I would be eating… if I were home.”
“How To Tame a Wild Tongue,”
~ Gloria Anzaldua
I suppose it’s almost a no-brainer that whatever our cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds, the natural collaboration of food and feelings is common to the experience of us all, generating a mix of visceral reactions in us that can span the enormous gamut of human emotions. For Anzaldua, memories of her Mexican girlhood, the loving warmth of home and family, were all tied up in the seductive sensory impact of hot, spicy, savory dishes that nourished her at her roots.
I remember a recent talk I was invited to give about, what else? Postmenopausal women and sexuality. My audience was to be a group of retired and semi-retired professional women. The venue? A high-end country club on
Florida’s . As is usually my
preference, I arrived a bit early and to my happy surprise, was greeted by the group’s Chairwoman and
the most beautiful display of fat, luscious freshly-dipped chocolate-covered
strawberries that I have ever seen. “We hope you like them,” the Chairwoman
beamed. “So ripe. So decadent. So perfectly juicy!” …. Indeed! Gulf
Of course, as Valentine’s Day approaches, the intricately entwined relationship between certain foods, desire and the performance of sex is often on our minds. And when you stop to think about it, the presumed connection between particular foods, desire and the performance of sexuality has been a source of human fancy and fascination since ancient times.
Called aphrodisiacs in honor of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexuality and love, we can’t get away from the notion that some foods have particular use when it comes to enhancing our sexual energies and desires. And when it comes to what really works in terms of libido-enhancement, torrents of folk wisdom have ebbed and flowed over time.
Depending upon where you stand on the planet, it’s not out of the question to hear praises sung for the ingestion of emu eggshells sold in capsule form, or a nice, big helping of horny goat weed. And while almost anything is possible theoretically, scientific proof about lots of this stuff is pretty hard to come by.
Still, the world is a wide one, as we learned in our girlhoods. Take the exotic truffle, for example. Ancient Greeks and Romans once thought that eating these earthy, buttery-tasting fungi greatly enhanced erotic pleasure and performance; some folk still do. And we’ve all heard the lore about oysters and their reported impact on the prowess of the notorious Don Juan. As legend has it, he regularly downed massive quantities of the hapless creatures as a way to ensure a long-lasting, rock-hard erection and make legend his ability to send many a swooning partner over the edge.
Indeed, Eastern cultures often look to the relationship between yin and yang-oriented food items as a way to affect sexual energy and performance; yin items are thought to be more passive and cool, like vegetables, while yang items are thought to be hotter, more protein packed, like meats. And let’s not forget, that some culture traditions prize certain exotic animal parts, like tiger penises, as the gold standard in maximizing sexual energy regardless of the fact that these animals and many others with sought after sex organs are in danger of becoming extinct.
And as always in the
US, history frames our present
reality. In fact, since reality really is shaped by our language, it’s easy to
see how we’ve framed women’s sexuality in food-related terms, with objectifying
words and expressions like “tart”, “tomato” or “tamale” which sound silly now,
but were once commonly used in the US to describe women who were seen as hot,
spicy, sexually exotic and permissive.
And let’s not forget the cultural use of the word “cherry” in referring
to a female’s virginity.
Even today, such ubiquitous and well-known terms of endearment still in use like “honey”, “sweetie,” “sugar” and the like, all find their origins in reference to foodstuffs that sit easily on the tongue. What’s more, in 19th century
Orleans, brothels catering to gentlemen of the land-owning aristocracy often threw parties at which their
affluent male clients were invited to spoon out and enjoy a rich, sweetened caramel custard
that had been packed into the plump vaginas of young mulatto virgins.
Really… Can you imagine?
While there’s no real scientific proof to support such claims, generally, foods are thought to evoke sensuality if they exhibit one or a combination of the following characteristics: smooth, rich, creamy, exotic or spicy. In that regard, and based largely upon a wide expanse of cultural folklores, most edible aphrodisiacs have fallen into five general types over time.
First, foods that create warmth and moisture such as curries and peppers were thought by many cultures to arouse heated passion.
On the other hand, cold foods like lettuce and other green leafy foods were thought to chill passion and slow things down. Second, foods that stimulate the senses (sight, smell, taste, and touch) in a pleasurable way were thought to stimulate passion. Think about the old standbys here: rich, smooth chocolates, red ripe strawberries, thick, creamy caramel custards, not necessarily spooned out of someone’s vagina, and so on.
Third, foods that were involved in reproduction such as fish eggs or roe, bird eggs, and animal genitals were believed to increase sexual desire and potency, and foods considered rare, expensive or otherwise hard to obtain were believed to be sexually exciting. Of course, as these items became more common, their reputations as aphrodisiacs diminished.
Fourth and finally, foods that resemble male or female genitalia were thought to increase desire, hence the reputation of Don Juan’s oysters, corn, some fruits and root vegetables like bananas, cukes and carrots. Lots of folks call this sympathetic magic. Cool, right?
But on Valentine’s Day, though we’re not likely to be interested in serving our partners some of the truly exotic, storied sex-drive enhancers like ambergris, a thick semi-solid substance regurgitated from the gut of sperm whales, or a tasty side serving of tiger penis stew, many of us might still be looking forward to something special for that romantic dinner. And for those of us who aren’t partnered, whether by chance or by choice, there’s reason aplenty to treat ourselves to something especially, deliciously, lustfully decadent as well.
Happy Valentine’s Day!