One or two lumps?

Make it three, and keep your sexist remarks to yourself:

Sweetness is code for feminine. It’s code for not being able to handle “reality” and having to cover it up. Because people really need to read that much into a desire to eat or drink something that tastes good/actually listen to your palette when it says that you do or don’t like something.

There is an odd cult of masculinity around things that taste like shit and being able to eat things that taste like shit and/or hurt you when you eat them (cinnamon challenge anyone?). Oddly, putting oneself in situations that require pain or discomfort is seen as good and manly and powerful and strong, whereas actually doing things you enjoy is seen as girly (unless it’s eating a steak which gets a pass because killing things and eating their flesh is also manly). And for that reason, eating things that are sweet is considered feminine. It’s delicate, because only weak ladies feel the need to consume things that go down easy.

I have long suspected that said “cult of masculinity” originally coalesced around a group of guys who couldn’t tell you which end of a stick of butter you shove into the toaster. (How big this group is, I’m not sure, though it’s surely not insubstantial.) By general cultural agreement, the Confirmed Bachelor lives on an indiscriminate diet rivaled only by the jackal’s, which explains that part of his beer belly that isn’t actually attributable to beer. But this, too, is a stereotype.

Food is an important cultural signifier. We use it to communicate our values (see veganism and vegetarianism), to communicate our in-groups (through ethnic food or family traditions), to bond with each other (group meals), and to communicate how we fit into the world (eating disorders are a good example of this, but many people choose their food to signify what kind of a person they are). We don’t often look to food consciously as a way to reveal our prejudices or assumptions, but it’s woven into every day of our lives (even when we’re not eating it).

Or, as I once said:

Nobody eats arugula for the taste. It’s a status indicator, pure and simple. If you could get it in a salad at Wendy’s, no one would pay however many dollars a pound for it.

Why, yes, I think I will have another strawberry daiquiri.

(Via this @syaffolee tweet.)


  1. okie1701 »

    8 June 2014 · 7:43 am

    Arugula! oops. Meant arrrgh! Words are exactly what they are…words. When one applies “meaning” to what I say? I failed to punch them in the mouth. I’m not in a good mood and by that I mean that I’m not in a good mood. I added sugar to my coffee for sweetness.

  2. McGehee »

    8 June 2014 · 9:40 am

    I don’t sweeten my iced tea or (usually) my coffee. I do add a bit of sweetener to a bowl of Grape Nuts if that’s what I’m having. I like an occasional rich dessert, but I also like to wash it down with something that isn’t sweet.

    I’m that guy who always declines a bottle of steak sauce to pour on his steak, or cheese on his scrambled eggs. Then again, I’m also the one who eats the hot peppers that come with a Papa John’s pizza or in an Olive Garden salad.

    It isn’t about masculinity, at least not to me (my wife and mother-in-law make good-natured comments in that vein, but that’s them) — it’s about enjoying the full palate (pun intended) of good food. I’ve known plenty of women who are the same way.

  3. Francis W. Porretto »

    8 June 2014 · 10:08 am

    Make mine a pina colada.

    I wrote a few months ago about this very subject. Of course, the usual gaggle of protestors arrived post-haste to let me know that “that’s not why I drink Scotch / tequila / Sterno.” In reply to which I can only cite the Talmud:

    “Of tastes, there is nothing written.”

  4. Brett »

    8 June 2014 · 12:03 pm

    “Sweetness is code for feminine. It’s code for not being able to handle “reality” and having to cover it up.”

    That idea has literally never occurred to me prior to reading this, and I hope whatever neurons retain it busy themselves with something more important post-haste.

    “Because people really need to read that much into a desire to eat or drink something that tastes good/actually listen to your palette when it says that you do or don’t like something.”

    Well, someone apparently really needs to read that, but it ain’t me.

  5. Bill Peschel »

    8 June 2014 · 1:05 pm

    If you eat or drink something you shouldn’t (or avoid food and drink even though you like it) because of what the stranger next to you thinks, you might need to reconsider the culture you’re swimming in.

    I like ice tea with sugar, coffee with cream, dry champagne to sweet, Guinness and horseradish. I like sweet pepper rings and moderately spicy food (if you’re crying over your chili, you aren’t tasting it).

    The sweetness = feminine code is interesting, I’ll grant. But a look at the writer’s CV (“Olivia recently graduated with a degree in philosophy and religion and is now after another one in linguistics!”) suggests she might be overthinking this a tad.

  6. fillyjonk »

    8 June 2014 · 3:53 pm

    It seems to be a bizarre strain within our culture – heck, perhaps within most modern cultures that have mostly solved the problems of hunger, rampant disease, and threatening hordes at the border – that we turn to judging one another based on what are pretty much solely aesthetic choices.

    I’m of the female persuasion, so I’ve never had anyone harass me for putting sugar in my tea or similar as being “feminine.” But I have been harassed by relative strangers giving me the “Dear, are you sure you want to be eating that?” passive-aggressive concern-troll remark, simply because I’m larger than a size 4 and happen to be ordering dessert.

    Frankly, I don’t give a crap what anyone else is eating or drinking, provided it’s not my left arm or my blood. I know I’m a picky eater and that other people are less picky than I am, that there are things they appreciate that I don’t. And I would expect the same courtesy to be extended me.

  7. McGehee »

    8 June 2014 · 4:52 pm

    “Dear, are you sure you want to be eating that?”

    “No, but people freak out when I start tearing out throats.”

  8. Tatyana »

    8 June 2014 · 5:53 pm

    FJ, as usual, are right on point.

    The sheer zeal of passions over someone’s taste in food always makes me wonder…are these people too bored in real life? They have no other problems to fight?

    That reminds me: I am out of my favorite ice cream bars!
    Sunday is almost over, I better run out fast.

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