Appetite for seduction
If there’s one person who knows their way around a microwave oven, it’s me. Same goes for takeout delivery menus. And the cereal aisle, come to think of it. This tells you two things about me: 1) My cholesterol level is probably atrocious, and 2) I spent vast swathes of my adult life single.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved being single and I adore eating but at the time my approach to food was pretty much the same as my approach to sex: I wanted it fast, easy, perfunctory and ideally single-serving (though if it was delicious enough, sure, I could probably face a little more the next morning). As almost anyone who has spent any amount of time living alone or cooking for themselves only will tell you, food is great and all but it’s the sharing of it – the preparing, the experience, the indulgence – that really makes trying harder than a bowl of Cornflakes for dinner worthwhile.
There’s a real neural link between eating and intimacy. Food and love produce the same feel-good hormones in the brain – the same reward centres fed by the one gorge themselves on the good shit like dopamine and norepinephrine with the other. Okay, but there’s more to the relationship between food and love than getting high.
Food is often one of the first ways in which we connect. Think about it. You go on a first date to your local burger joint and even though you’re so nervous sitting opposite your crush that chewing on your fries is like digging into a bowl of pencil shavings, at least it gives you something to do with your face – I mean, other than potentially embarrass yourself. You offer them a bite of your burger; they insist that you try theirs. At this point, even before the saliva swapping that you’re praying happens later, sharing food is an act of intimacy.
I’ve always maintained that if you can’t be comfortable eating with someone, you sure as hell can’t be comfortable eating them out. There’s this weird vulnerability to stuffing your face in front of someone that you somehow had no problem masturbating about earlier that day. It can be messy, sticky, gluttonous – and no, I’m not even talking about the masturbation. The flipside of that is the raw sexiness of watching someone eat. Do they take their time and savour each morsel? Or are they voracious, insatiable, licking-the-plate enthusiastic?
If eating allows us the first opportunity to glimpse our lovers in this primal state otherwise generally reserved for fucking – it’s somehow not surprising that the word ‘appetite’, ‘a natural desire to satisfy a bodily need’, is generally used in the context of either sustenance or sex – don’t let the careful wine selection and recently dusted-off silverware fool you, cooking for someone is pretty primal too.
When we prepare a meal for someone, we are, on the most basic level, providing for them. It’s what animals do to attract mates in the wild. It’s a chance for us to show off our resourcefulness, our creativity, fuck it, even our ability to follow a recipe. It’s usually not the time we choose to whip out some supermarket readymade sandwich. Aside from sharing our culinary skills, the kitchen often becomes the place that we share our history, our culture, our values. We take on a richness, nuance, flavour, through food.
As relationships develop and you manage to conceive of doing things with your mouths other than each other, food becomes a shared experience. It’s the first time you finish a stupidly decadent meal together too full to fuck and have to settle with lying groaning in bed with your fingers outstretched towards each other so that you can still touch without jostling each other’s food babies.
It’s stumbling home from the club at 5am and going, ‘Fuck it, let’s fry up some dumplings’ because, in my case, I knew full well that someone else was going to be doing the frying and all they needed to do that – to want to do that – was my company. It’s you telling that person that you’re craving something and them unhesitatingly offering to go get it. It’s knowing that you can’t bake for shit but baking them a birthday cake anyway. Nurturing, indulging, spoiling – this is what love is about, right?
The real takeaway – or maybe it’s some slow-cooked truth – is not so much that there’s more value to being in love than being single (other than, let’s admit it, the nutritional type) but more that as romantic relationships develop, the things that nourish us change. The goalposts shift from fast, easy and perfunctory to something that maybe takes a little more effort, demands a little more patience, entails occasionally fucking up and definitely requires more washing up. But hell, I don’t even own a microwave anymore.