The Sopranos provides a plethora of rich representations for which food serves as a semiotic representation of love, sex
Food is prevalent throughout the series. Tony’s best friend, Artie Bucco, owned the Vesuvio restaurant and Tony often had business and family dinners here. Tony’s ‘office’ was at the back of Satriale’s Pork Store and he and his fellow mobsters often sat outside the shop, eating, sunbathing or making deals. Food was often the topic of conversation and the Sopranos’ dinners and barbecues became a staple of the show. The Sopranos uses the ‘language of food’ throughout the series to portray Italian-Americans, culture, personalities, and religion. Names of Italian dishes flew as freely as their bullets; pasta “
From the first episode, Sopranos intertwines food and sexuality.
The role of women and food in The Sopranos is best summed up in a line in the pilot episode. Carmella serves Meadow and her best friend, Hunter, a hearty breakfast. In awe of all of the rich
In College (Episode 5 of season 1), while Tony and Meadow are away from home exploring colleges, Carmela stays home with the flu and she’s visited unexpectantly by Father Phil, the priest at the Soprano family’s church. The viewer immediately picks up on the sexual tension between the two of them, as Father Phil rings the doorbell Carmella quickly runs to the mirror to fluff up her hair and freshen her face, while still remaining in her silky bathrobe, showing that she cares about how he views her appearance, but by not bothering to remove modify the intimate feel the thin cloth of the bathrobe invites. Father Phil enters the home and immediately “confesses” that he has “a jones for your baked ziti”. As Yacowar (2002) pointed out in The Sopranos on the Couch, this seems to be a euphemism for “having a boner” and being sexually excited for what she has to offer (41). The sexual tension between Carmella and Father Phil intensifies throughout the night as Carmella serves him her ziti (while not partaking in any of the ziti herself) and wine. The Priest is celibate but seemingly uses food and wine as stand-ins for sex, enjoying worldly pleasures to excess to compensate for lack of sexual gratification. As they cuddle on the couch watching a movie, Father Phil places his hand on Carmella’s knee and asks her if she’d like to take part in a private confession. Carmella agrees Father Phil grabs his travel Communion kit from his car. Carmella is on her knees on the carpet of her living room as she tilts her head back in preparation for the communion.
The camera zooms in on Carmella’s mouth and tongue, with the romantic setting of the roaring fire in the background. As Father Phil gently places the paper-thin wafer in her mouth, she slips her tongue back into her mouth gently, an act that appears more sexual than religious. Note that Carmella did not partake in eating the ziti and in fact we don’t see her eat at all in this episode, with the exception of the delicate ingestion of the paper-thin wafer. This represents that the female, particularly the ‘mother figure’ can only partake in the enjoyment of food when it is
When Tony returns from his trip with Meadow and learns that Father Phil not only ate all of “his” ziti, which he is upset over when he opens the refrigerator and discovers the “entire tray” is missing, but he also learns that Father Phil spent the night. This scene is particularly interesting, as Tony is clearly upset at Father Phil coming into his home, sleeping with his wife (literally) and eating his food.
Tony says, “He spends the night here and all he does is slip you a wafer?”
Notice the use of ‘slip you’ which is also used in the phrases “slip you the tongue” and indicates giving someone something secretly, such as “slipping” a tongue in their mouth to French kiss when the other party wasn’t expecting it. Carmella warns Tony that he is on the verge of sacrilege and Tony retorts, “I didn’t mean to verge”. This entire scene demonstrates that Tony views this act of Carmella engaging in a food exchange with Father Phil as a sexual act.
The second scene in which food plays a prominent role in sexuality is in I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (Season 1, final episode). Carmella visits Father Phil at the church, bringing him an overflowing casserole dish full of her baked ziti. However, as she enters the church, she sees him sitting with her best friend, Rosalie “Ro” Aprile, eating a dish of homemade pasta.
The viewer should note that yet again, the female is not eating, only the male. Ro is ‘feeing’ Father Phil the ziti and she looks at him, lovingly with a smile on her face, content to be ‘feeding’ but not eating. The camera enables us to see this scene from Carmella’s viewpoint, walking into the intimate setting, the church filled with candles and rows upon rows of empty pews with Father Phil and Ro cuddle up next to each other in the front pew. Carmella doesn’t say a word, but flees the church and immediately dumps the contents of the baked ziti into a trashcan right outside the chapel. The camera is angled up from the ground, so the viewer can see the painstaking way she scooped out the ziti in a fit of rage and deceit. Note that even though she’s enraged, her ever-practical side ensures to save the glass casserole dish. This scene reveals how Carmella viewed her food (ziti) as her love and desire, of which she was delivering to the subject of her desire(Father Phil). When she discovered him eating another woman’s food, it was a betrayal as deep as if she caught him having sex with another woman. The symbolism of Carmella dumping the ziti in the trash represented her discarding her desire for Father Phil. Later in this episode, Carmella accuses Father Phil of intermingling food and desire.
He’s a sinner father, and you come up here and eat his steaks, and you use his home entertainment
….I think that you like the…whiff of sexuality that never goes anyplace. I think you need to look at yourself…I think you have this m.o. where you manipulate spiritually thirsty women. And I think a lot of it is tied up with food somehow as well as the sexual tension game.
Carmella recognizes that Father Phil substitutes food for sex (for which he can’t have because he’s celibate). She says, “you eat his steaks”, referring to her husband’s “steaks” she is alluding to the fact that Father Phil is “consuming” the fruits of Tony’s labor, including his food, entertainment
The third example of food representing sex is in Pine Barrens (Episode 11, Season 3). Before detailing this scene, I’d like to mention that Tony suffers from the Madonna-Whore complex, which is the juxtaposition of women as either the saintly Madonna figure or debased prostitutes. Given that he has this viewpoint, he finds it difficult to remain faithful to Carmella, as she is the mother of his children and therefore, in his eyes, not someone whom he can treat in a sexual manner. He viewed his “goomah” (mistress), as a “whore” and he treated them with disrespect and as a source of
Gloria Trillo, Tony’s
The viewer feels the tension as we see Tony’s back tighten, we know what he’s capable of, but instead of returning the passion she’s shown towards him, he simply leaves. It’s also important to note that we don’t see Gloria partake in any of the dishes she’s prepared. She drinks wine while waiting for Tony, but the food remains untouched. This is a semiotic representation that the dishes she prepared represent her sexual desire, and it’s not for her consumption, yet for her to “give”.
The viewer can also make a parallel between the female being the provider, not the receiver, in the episode Boca (Season 1, Episode 9) in which Uncle Junior takes offense when his girlfriend, Bobbie compliments him on his
In conclusion, there are several examples throughout The Sopranos series in which food acts as a semiotic representation of love and desire. Through the examples provided we see how the theme throughout the show is that women are the ‘provider’ of food and pleasure while men are the recipients. The Italian culture, as represented in The Sopranos, views men as “less manly” if they are the provider of the pleasure or food, whether it be oral sex or baked ziti. Food helps shape the gender normative identify of women throughout the series, as we seem them preparing and serving food in a nurturer role while the men form