“Put down that cheeseburger and listen up,” said George Will in The Washington Post. In a provocative essay in Policy Review, scholar Mary Eberstadt offers a deliciously provocative analysis of the relationship between our attitudes toward sex and food. In some very fundamental ways, Eberstadt argues, food and sex have traded places. Two generations ago, most Americans observed strict moral codes regarding sex, but happily ate frozen steaks and canned vegetables. Today, society encourages sexual freedom, but condemns those who don’t eat locally grown organic veggies and free-range chickens. So we are left with “mindful eating and mindless sex.” There’s nothing wrong with eating more healthfully, of course, said India Knight in the London Times. Eberstadt’s point is that we seem to have transferred the notion of “taboos and rules” from sex to food—giving rise to an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, and out-out-wedlock births.
The problem, said Mary Eberstadt in her Policy Review article, is that we increasingly think of our sexual activities purely as matters of personal taste. When it comes to food, we are more aware than ever of what our choices mean for our health and for the planet. But while “the all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized, the sexual smorgasbord is not,” and I believe there is a direct connection between the two trends. All the new rules being drawn around food reflect the fact that many people, in their heart of hearts, are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone. “Not sure what to do with it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.” So in a very real sense, “junk food” has been replaced by “junk sex.”
That’s very clever, but I’m not swallowing it, said David A. Bell in The New Republic Online. Eberstadt argues that Americans used to be nonjudgmental about food and are now, instead, nonjudgmental about sex. In fact, people in the 1950s were plenty judgmental about their food, just not well-informed—believing, for example, that lots of red meat was good for them. As for sex, Eberstadt merely assumes that a looser attitude is, on its face, harmful to society, when in truth, much sexual behavior affects nobody but those involved. And she neglects to account for how the shift in sexual mores has made America “a more tolerant, humane place for millions,” most dramatically for gays. If there is a connection between food and sex, said Andrew Sullivan in TheAtlantic.com, it’s this: “Modernity has allowed us far less dangerous and consequential ways of enjoying both.”
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