Food, sex and hedonism

I was thinking today, while Masterchef was playing in the restaurant Dave and I were eating at, that we’ve all become a bit hedonistic of late. It’s all pleasure for pleasure’s sake. We collect culinary experiences like we collect passport stamps, or music for our ipods, or furniture, or clothes, or sexual experiences for that matter. We pile these things up like Lego pieces and put them in the shape of a person, and they become us. We become mirrors for the things we project onto ourselves, and we hope that people like us for it. In other words, we become what we consume. We value things for the pleasure they can afford us, and then once we consume them we think we’re valuable.

I’ve also been thinking about sex lately, due to an essay I’m writing. In the last 60 years or so, ‘sex’ as a dominant discourse has drifted from the moorings of family and procreation, to a personal pleasure that is transacted between two free individuals. Sex has entered the market place alongside food, cars, music and real estate. New ideas about sex have reduced its value to its fun-factor, or, less crudely, it’s ability to give us deep and fulfilling pleasure. Without sex, we are told, we are not reaching our potential as human beings. Commodified sex always existed in the form of prostitution, but now it seems to be the basis of relationships.

Sex can be pleasurable, as can be food and all the other things we like to consume. But to reduce these things to consumable pleasures is surely to drain them of all the really good stuff they embody. Surely, when it comes down to it, food and sex are about life.

In a literal sense food gives us the nutrients to live, but is also what we share with our friends and family in order to laugh, commune and deepen relationships. In focusing exclusively on the optimum taste and texture of a black forest cake is to forget that the cake is ultimately for celebration with people we love.

And sex is also about life, in more than just a literal sense. Sex can bring people closer, deeper and more awake to each other. If sex is just for pleasure, then as one author put it, it is no more than simultaneous masturbation, offering no more than personal gratification, and making us more disconnected than ever.

This whole focus on pleasure is ultimately a massive set of blinkers, distracting us from things in the world that are outside of our bodies. The exploited animals and farmers that produced our exquisite food don’t matter, and neither do the wars we are involved in or the lonely man down the street who is eating by himself.

Surely if we deeply experience food and sex, for more than the pleasure that can be derived, they would bring us closer to the people and the world around us. Experiencing the world purely for the pleasure it offers just sends us further inside our own bodies, leaving us deaf, blind and senseless to the real world beyond ourselves.