Can We Please Stop Describing Food as Sexy?

I like food. It tastes good, it smells good, it makes me happy. Although I lean vegetarian, I do enjoy all types of food from time-to-time, including dead animal flesh (or meat as we call it in our sanitized food vernacular).

I watch cooking shows, and one of the things that’s always mentioned on cooking competition shows is that we begin eating with our eyes. If we’re lucky we can smell good food before we even see it, but we always see it before we taste it. And everyone wants to eat food that looks good, and avoid food that looks gross.

(Two exceptions to this rule: guacamole and refried beans. Both look horrid, but taste great when done correctly. I lost more than two decades of consumption of those two foods because I judged those two culinary “books” by their covers. I draw the line at shrimp and lobster though. No way in hell am I eating those disgusting cockroaches of the sea.)

So I understand why it’s so important for food to look good. When faced with the choice of eating a plate of lasagna that looks freshly made versus one that looks like it’s been sitting in the refrigerator for four days, we’ll obviously choose the one that looks freshly made.

And because I watch Food Network Star, I know how important it is to have good words to describe food. Saying something is delicious is worthless. Ice cream’s delicious. Roasted Brussels sprouts are delicious. Ice cream and Brussels sprouts don’t taste the same though.

That’s why we need to be able to explain that strawberry ice cream is sweet, creamy, and velvety, with chunks of frozen, fragrant, tart strawberries. And roasted Brussels sprouts are earthy, almost nutty, and pleasantly fragrant.

See, isn’t that better than just saying delicious?

I’m all for employing a plethora of adjectives when describing food, but for the love of God, can we stop calling food sexy?

It seems that in almost every episode of a cooking competition show, one of the contestants or judges breaks out the word sexy to describe a dish. Last night I was watching Masterchef, and Graham Elliot, who knows a little something about food, described a tomato napoleon dish as sexy.

The food looked good. I’m sure it smelled good. I wish that I could have eaten it, and if I find the recipe for it I might try to make a tomato napoleon of my own. But I’ve yet to see food that looks sexy.

It could be that people who use the word sexy to describe food don’t intend the Oxford English Dictionary primary meaning of “containing or characterized by explicit sexual content,” or even any of the secondary meanings: “Of a person (esp. a woman): sexually attractive or alluring; (also) sexually charged, highly sexed” and “Of a personal attribute, thing, etc.: characterized by sexuality or sexual appeal; sexually attractive, stimulating, or suggestive.”

Perhaps they’re implying the last definition, “In extended use: appealing, stimulating; liable to excite interest.”

I don’t think so though. There are often other dishes that look just as appealing, stimulating and liable to excite interest, but aren’t described as sexy. So that makes me think that when chefs and foodies use the word sexy, they mean ooh-la-la sexy.

Using the word sexy to describe food sort of fits in with the decadent, fetishizing of food that’s occurred in the last decade or so. Food isn’t just food anymore. It’s art, it’s science, it’s cachet. We’ve moved from thinking of food as sustenance or as part of a communal experience, to food as the focus.

11707987_10205598256541144_4106183170338095849_o2And while I’m happy that more people are learning about and experiencing good food, to call any of that food sexy just seems silly. Eating food can be sexy. Cooking food can be sexy. Growing food can even be sexy, but food by itself, on a plate…not sexy.

So a plate of veggie tikka masala. Not sexy. The act of surprising your wife by making veggie tikka masala because you know she likes it. Sexy.

Everything that happens after that will be nothing like a tomato napoleon.

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