“Food is never anything but a collection of fragments, none of which appears privileged by an order of ingestion; to eat is not to respect a menu (an itinerary of dishes), but to select” (Empire of Signs, 22).
By correlating food to fragments and ‘selection’ we see the intention of choosing food and intention correlates to meaning. Sexual encounters are also a series of fragments. One partakes in sexual experiences in the same way one indulges in culinary delights. He/she selects the object of one’s desire, there is a giver and a receiver and they are ‘served’ as a series of fragmented episodes, tied together through a common experience. Barthes states that food is an experience in touch. Sex is also an experience in touch.
Barthes (1983) provides an example of rice, stating that the substance is a fragment, both cohesive and detachable, what floats contrasts with what sinks, what’s dense vs. what is stuck together. He compares and contrasts food in France in contrast to food in Japan and the role of perception. For example, in France a clear soup is a poor soup, but in Japan, fluid as clear as water with only a few shreds floating gives the idea of density, nutritive without grease and a comforting elixir demonstrating that “food becomes no longer a prey to which one does violence (meat, flesh over which one does battle), but a substance harmoniously transferred.
Sex is also viewed differently in different cultures. Using The Sopranos as an example, it is stated that in Italian culture, the man shouldn’t be providing oral sex, as it is a sign of weakness. He can ‘receive’ oral sex, but he shouldn’t provide it. We hear this directly from Uncle Junior as a big beef between him and Tony is over Tony making fun of him for supposedly giving oral sex to his girlfriend. Tony and Uncle Junior are at war with each other and Tony quips:
“Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this”
We see the same thing in regards to serving and receiving food, as women ‘serve’ and men ‘receive’. Additionally, the fragments of what is considered sex and intimacy is varied among food and sex. Just as in Japan, soup is a clear substance with only a few shreds of solid food, while in France, soup must be dense, we see in The Sopranos the difference between love and intimacy between Tony and Carmella.
Carmella has three “affairs” throughout the series, which differ wildly from Tony’s affairs. She has moments of intimacy with Father Phil, spending the night with him, cuddling and drinking wine. She has a massive crush on Furio and visits him daily under the pretense of decorating his home.
She has greater intimacy with both of these
Tony also treated sexual experiences as if he were selecting dinner off of a menu. Sex with his wife? Goomah? An affair with a realtor? Mercedes dealer? Oral sex? He treated partners and sexual acts as casually as ordering gabagool from Satriale’s. The entire menu was at his disposal and he felt free to indulge in either act to his liking.
Barthes, Roland. Empire of Signs. Cape, 1983.