chapter  5
17 Pages

“The Food of Love”: Illicit Feasting, Food Imagery and Adultery in Old French Literature

Barbara Ehrenreich has proposed that in the modern era, food “may be the only sensual experience left.”2 Her omission of sex itself as a sensual experience is perhaps intentional in her commentary, yet what is most interesting about her assertion is that while we may debate the lost sensuality of sex in our culture, there appears to be no debate or refutation of her claim to food’s inherent sensuality. The link between food and sensuality, or indeed between food and sexuality, appears to be firmly ingrained in our minds; it is found in the increasing trend to cast young, beautiful women and men in television cookery programs; it is in the food pages found in Playboy magazine or even in films, such as the infamous kitchen scene in 9 1/2 Weeks (1986). My first realization of the link between the two came at age six. I was in my Italian grandmother’s kitchen, watching her make my grandfather’s favorite dish: a very tiny little pumpkinfilled tortellini. It was an immense undertaking, cutting, gutting, roasting, peeling and mashing the pumpkin and making her own pasta. It had taken almost all day and then, amidst all the work, she turned around to me, seated on my three-legged stool, and said, “There are two desires a man follows, and his stomach always wins-especially when he is very young or old.” She picked up a beautiful sheet of perfectly rolled out pasta and said, “Your hair will go grey, but your pasta only gets better.” I thought about what she said for a minute and then asked what was the other desire men follow. She said she would tell me when I was married and chased me out of the kitchen with her usual excuse that virgins ruin dinner. So from the age of six, I was keenly aware that there was a link between a woman’s sexuality, the sexual fidelity of marriage partners and a woman’s ability to cook for the man she loves. Much later in life, my own academic work on images of

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episode after episode of women feeding their lovers, serving up both meals and their bodies to the men they loved who were seldom their husbands. In his work on the Ascetic Eucharists, Andrew McGowan claims:

From Durkheim through Levi-Strauss to Mary Douglas, there has been a continued discussion of the way in which food and meals can be understood largely by analogy with language, as a code or metaphor whose structure somehow patterns the structures of the universe of the participants.3