Food Slut Manifesto

First Published in Artlink Vol. 24, No. 2, 2004 Shopping and Extreme Pleasures

‘Pleasure is the necessary complicating nuance that rescues us from pure theory – for surely there is nothing more tedious than earnest discourse on the significance of food’

Hannah Fink[i]

The need for a manifesto

Food increasingly became alienated from the body over the latter half of 20th century. Its material, its preparation, its distribution and its consumption became hostage to the banal aesthetics of the food stylist, the aridity of cultural studies and the repressive partnership of the public health zealot and the liability lawyer.

But, glycerine is not the wetness of the purple wound of a torn fig. Food on the plate is in soft focus only to the myopic. A table setting is not a shopping list. An after-footy barbecue is not its cultural iconography. A gang of teenage girls eating post school microwave snacks while watching t.v. together is a commensal activity. Scoffing down the odd germ with your cold pasta salad may be necessary to help you digest said pasta and may just build up your resistance to something really nasty when it comes along.[ii]

Brillat-Savarin said ‘Tell me what you eat; I will tell you what you are’.[iii] He also said ‘The Creator, who made man such the he must eat to live, incites him to eat by means of appetite, and rewards him with pleasure’ and ‘Gourmandism is an act of judgement, by which we give preference to things which are agreeable to our taste over those which are not’,  ‘The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star’, and’ The pleasures of the table belong to all times and all ages, to every country and every day; they go hand in hand with all our other pleasures, outlast them, and remain to console us for their loss’.

I am against the trend in gastronomy for the valorisation only of the first of these aphorisms. I am for retuning pleasure and taste back to the centre of eating. Like the Futurists before me, I call for a culinary revolution that rescues food from aesthetic and academic terror. With them I say: ‘We think, dream and act according to what we eat and drink. Let us consult on this matter our lips, tongue, palate, taste buds, glandular secretions and probe with genius into gastric chemistry’.[iv]

Aphorism 1: Return food to the body and the body to food.[v] This is the sole task of the food slut. The revolutionary activity to achieve this is transgression of all food rules.

The food slut defined

A food slut is not a gourmet. We celebrate the unreconstructible awfulness of a collagen skinned hot dog fished out of oily hot water, in a stale white roll, with dribbles of DayGlo yellow mustard and fuck-me lipstick red sauce, dished up outside a pub late at night, as we also celebrate the daring of thinly sliced braised bulls pizzle on a slice of fresh fig topped with star anise foam served up by a cream leatherette clad jillaroo.[vi]

A food slut is not a glutton. We succumb to the ineluctable bliss of a single Malteser coddled on the tongue, emulsifying to a lush chocolaty caramel ambrosia drizzling down the back of the throat, as we also succumb to the cornucopia of an all-you-can-eat Sizzler rest-stop till, bellies full and belts unbuckled, we leave as Zorbas unafraid of life.

A food slut is never indifferent to food, any more than a sex slut is indifferent to sex. We are as ready for gratuitous bingeing as a sex slut is for an orgy. A sex slut walks into an early opener and still find something to hump; we approach the direst catered luncheon and still find something to sate an experience-weary palate.

Notes towards a theory

A food slut is not a gastronome. We love talking about food. However, we are against the gastronome’s inclination to over-intellectualisation and the prescription/ inscription of pleasure.

Aphorism 2: Gustation has primacy over mentation. Taste, then talk is the rule, with the latter preferably quite some time after the former. We applaud the writers of the dietary tracts of the Renaissance for identifying that thinking impedes proper digestion and can be positively dangerous too soon after a meal, like going swimming.[vii]

Aphorism 3: Theory is only as useful as the next good meal it gets you.

However, we are not uninformed. My own journey to understanding why I am a food slut has three milestones.

(1)Mary Douglas was my Charles Atlas. When I first read Purity and Danger in another sociological context (AIDS panic as it happens) I beefed it up big time on her demolition of religious dietary laws as bugger all to do with the realities of health risk and everything to do with inclusive and exclusive practice by groups.[viii] Eat the foods of the other and you risk being polluted by the other, and, in the extreme, becoming the other. Having for all of my life been one or other kind of other (queer, non-Anglo, arty-farty, short, other othernesses) and so already engaging in behaviour that got me put down as a smart arse, shit-stirrer or being up myself, I now had an academically condoned motive for my behaviour.

Aphorism 4: Transgression without humour is like porridge without salt: indigestible. For example, a favourite food slut joke: Two cannibals meet in the jungle. One says to the other: ‘Have you seen my father lately?’ The other replies: “Yes, I just passed him in the jungle’.

(2) Brillat-Savarin – BS to we sluts – to whom you have been introduced earlier.

(3) But it’s the rare food slut who reads enough to have this kind of theory to fall back on when they next have a craving to a pie floater. For many, even reading a menu is an unconscionable delay to eating. It’s then we turn to the greatest food philosopher slut of all, Homer Simpson, unmatched for brevity and acuity.

Aphorism 5: Mmmmmmmm! Doughnuts!’[ix]

Praxis

Food slutting is a broad church and its acts are manifold. Context is everything. Intent is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition. Examples with some exegesis for the cadre follow. Most of them are not performed by self-identifying sluts; we are only at the birth of the food slut revolution.

(a) The gifted amateur

My neighbour the intern tells me he’s had to extract an apple from a man’s arse. It had a bite taken out of it – the apple, not the arse. The obvious humour here is in the transgressiveness of using an apple as a sex toy.  For a food slut, this is cliché  – come on, how many times have you heard of people using cucumbers, carrots, zucchinis as dildos? Well why not an apple?  For us the pleasure is in the take on a classic dish. Picture it: two naked men, one on all fours, greased, squealing and grunting as his partner stuffs an apple in his arse. Then the partner, also on all fours, takes a bite out of it. Got it? Yeah, these guys are inverting your traditional roast suckling pig with the apple moving in a daisy chain from mouth to arse and to mouth again.

(b) The public auteur

Gai Bilson, chef, writer, artist, plays these subversive games with intent and in public. I’m not saying she’s a slut, but she does stuff that we sluts aspire to. I drool like dog a dog before sausage roll whenever I recall her public disclosure that she nurses a hope one day to make a blood pudding out of her own blood.  But the single event that has most placed her in my food slut pantheon was the Banquet she and fellow Berowra Waters chef Janni Kyritsis created for the 7th Symposium of Australian Gastronomy held in the National Gallery.

‘As we turned the corner at the bottom of the stairs, we were confronted by a forty metre (40 m) long table literally covered in tripe. … Bare-torsoed waiters, bandaged diagonally across their hearts, quickly dispatched the offending table cloth – rolled it up and whipped it away – leaving a bare canvas on which the dinner would unfold…. ..’ (Subsequent courses are described. Offal features – marrow, blood; red wine is served throughout; the blood sausage makes an appearance though sadly not of her blood.) …..’After a short interval, all eighty diners were blindfolded. The bandaged-torsoed waiters (they were all men) appeared with strips of white sheet, and tied them around everyone’s eyes …A bandaged (mummified?) body was borne to the table, and laid down in the middle. ….In a flurry of activity, with all the kitchen staff called on to help, her supine body was buried – hidden – under a mound of black grapes, and the table strewn with yet more grapes, figs and fruit breads – a type of foccaccia with sultanas and walnuts – glazed with plum jelly. Then the blindfolds were removed. At this point (the body) rose from under the mound of grapes like a corpse coming to life, to be borne away by the waiters, leaving the laden tableto be devoured……’ [x]

The transgressions here multiply giddily. The inner workings of the body are externalised. The table is a gut (tripe is the first and second divisions of the stomach of a ruminant) and the diners are reduced to stomach acids, stripping away all pretence that food is in the end anything but nutrient for the human animal. The bandaged torsos evoke a wound where a heart has been ripped still beating to be consumed in a propitiatory rite. As the soul begins its perilous journey to the afterlife we mourners throw off the semblance of grief and gobble down the funerary offering. The soul will starve and die; but for us there’s another corpse and another meal waiting.

(d) The guardians of the senses                                                                                                                          

In the first series of the SBS Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia (a favourite food slut show) Tony Marino (who runs a shop in the Adelaide Cental Markets, or did at the time of the show) made an enormous pot of polenta, spread it straight onto the dining table, smothered it in home made tomato sauce and stepped back for the family and guests to scoop the gooey mass with hands, spoons, bread whatever. It’s apparently an Abruzzi tradition. This is food as it ought to be encountered: refusing to be contained, a messy overwhelming of all the senses, not stranded on a desert island of white china, quarantined by a forbidding reef of luridly coloured jus. Max Lake, the most idiosyncratic and insightful of food writers in this country, says: ‘Why on earth would we be deluged in a cascade of natural happy hormones as we sit around the meal table, unless we were designed to enjoy food and drink (or the promise of it)?[xi]

Aphorism 6: We have five senses, and the last of these to develop was sight.

(e) The medium massagers

Iron Chef is a delirious Japanese cross between a game show, a reality show and a cooking program that takes it’s food very seriously while it sends up its genres mercilessly. A contending chef is pitted against one of three Iron Chefs (Japanese nationals expert in Japanese, Chinese and French cooking) in a contest to create in the studio within 60 minutes the widest range of new dishes featuring a selected product each week. Throw into the mix a sequin jacketed, Michael-Jackson-one-black-gloved, bouffant haired spunky male host; a panel of three Japanese judges which includes a pop cultural notable whose contribution can vary from the erudite to the vapid, and a Japanese-inflected American English voice over except for the host and the chefs who are inexplicable subtitled instead. Even the most hardened post modernist food sluts abandon the task of deconstructing the program and given to the sheer joy of it. Nothing here is lost in translation.

www.foodporn.com This is a truly slutty site. Check out the Hardcore tab
from which you can buy a porcini thong (the US kind not the Oz kind) –
unfortunately not made of porcini, but a white thong with a pickie of a
porcini on the crutch. Then there’s Amateurs where you can send in pictures
of yourself making food, a slut equivalent of the guys who send in photos of
their wives and girlfriends to men’s magazines.  Other tabs tempt you  –
Table Dance, Self-Pleasuring. The former is actually a list of restaurants,
and the latter is a recipes page. So, here’s a site that packs a double
whammy as it takes the piss out of porn, the staid transgressive genre.

(f) An  authorial  contribution

I am at yum cha. A waitress approaches and I ask what she has. She takes the lid of a plate of lurid orange tripe. As she does so she inadvertently exposes the dish below. I spy what I am sure is blood jelly. I ask what it is. She hasn’t the English to explain, so makes a face as if she has smelt something bad, waves a dismissive hand over it, shakes her head and covers it up quickly. The game is on. ‘Is it liver?’ I ask, in my most disingenuous manner. She grows distressed. She does not want me to have whatever it is. She calls to another waiter to explain. ‘It is pork blood jelly’. I order some, and a side order of tripe. I have just pulled off the food slut equivalent of a daily double. I am eating blood, pig’s blood at that, highly charged in the pollution and purity stakes. In the species game, eating blood, eating offal of any kind, puts humans at risk of degrading to the level of animals. In the class game, offal is the food of the poor and to eat it is to risk indigence. In the culture game, I’ve polluted both the  Anglo and the Chinese, the former because being inside it I should not eat what is from outside, the latter because being outside it I should not eat what is only for those inside.

A threatened species

Alas, the food slut revolution is in danger of being stillborn, victims of our humanness Ever heard of the ‘Omnivores Paradox’? [xii]  It goes like this: we omnivores are riven by two conflicting urges; the one is neophilia, and aversion to monotony and hence a curiosity toward new food and neophobia, culinary conservatism deriving from the potential of new foods to be sources of health danger.

Since the first health inspector closed down the first pie cart because someone got the runs from a dodgy pie, we have invested our legislatures with the power to resolve the paradox on our behalf, and unsurprisingly it’s been on the side of neophobia. In the past decade, the situation has become critical. Driven by the increasing likelihood and cost of food illness related litigation, health authorities at all levels of government have been enacting ever more restrictive regulations on what and how we can eat.

But just how common is food poisoning in Australia? OzFoodNet the Federal body charged with keeping track of this, in December 2002 estimated the total number of cases of food poisoning in Australia each year at 7 million.[xiii]  Of these, about a quarter apparently happen at home. So that’s say 5.25 million incidents out of how many incidents of people in Oz putting food in their mouth outside of their home over the course of a year? Other surveys find that Australians suffer on average about one episode of gastroenteritis a year, with roughly a third of these due to food poisoning, of which about a fifth of the cases keep someone home from work.[xiv]  I’m not going to do the math, but in each case it looks like bugger all chance to me.

So why all the fuss? The potential compensation damages bill for this number of incidents has been estimated at $25 billion plus.[xv] That’s what’s leading to regulations that will drive your gran’s marmalade from the CWA fete unless they can prove they’ve got an industrial standard bottler in the kitchen; that’s seen sawdust banned from the floors of butchers’ shop (can the butcher’s block be far behind); and puts up the cost of your takeaway macchiato because you have to be given sugar in individual paper sachets. Don’t believe me, ask you local Council. And all of this despite Parliamentary Secretaries for health saying that many cases of food poisoning could have been avoided if food handlers had taken simple precautions.[xvi]

Food sluts say enough is enough. We want the right to resolve our own paradoxes at the risk of getting very ill.

Aphorism 7: No one stops a food slut from chomping on that next Vietnamese pork roll with the dodgy butter. La lucha continua! Venceremos!


[i] Hannah Fink, ‘Tasteless’ (Editorial), Artlink, Vol 19 No 4.

[ii] Roberto Foschino, ‘Microbiomachy’ Slow. Issue 16, January – March 2000  

[iii] Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste Trans. Anne Drayton. Penguin 1994

[iv] Marinetti, The Futurist Cookbook. Trans. Suzanne Brill. Trefoil Publications London 1989

[v] I am endebted to my editor, Helen Grace, for this aphorism, arrived at over the typical slut activity of having coffee with eye candy on the side.

[vi] The creation of Simonn Hawke for the banquet of the 13th Symposium of Australian Gastronomy, February 2004

[vii] Ken Albala Eating right in the Renaissance University of California Press, 2002.

[viii] Mary Douglas, Purity and danger. An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. London, Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1966

[ix] Oh come on, you really want a citation for this! You ought to get out more.

[x] Cherry Ripe, ‘Food and Art – Corporeal versus surreal food.’ Weekend Australian, 3 – 4  April 1993

[xi] Max Lake, Taste. Self-published, 2003. Track it down, and his dozen other books too!

[xii] Mick Fiddes, ‘The omnivores paradox.’ Food Choice and the Consumer, ed. David Marshall, 131-150, Glasgow, Blackie Academic and Professional, 1995 In that lazy way of sluts, I haven’t read and have no intention of reading Paul Rozin’s original formulation of the paradox.

[xiii] South Australia Department of Human Services, ‘New laws to ensure the safety of food.’ Accessed at http://www.australianolives.com.au/archives/seafoodlaws.htm, December 2003.

[xiv] Melissa Sweet  ‘Cold sweats and ham’ Accessed in November 2003 at http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/EdDesk.nsf

[xv] GAB Robins Food poisoning litigation the panacea to the upset tummy? Accessed November 2003 at http://www.gabrobins.com.au/news/news07.htm

[xvi] Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Aged Care, ‘Cost of food poisoning cannot be underestimated.’ Media Release. 1999 Sunday 15th February.