Have you ever experienced that euphoric sensation after eating an absolutely delicious food? You are not alone. Many have experienced this feeling and refer to it as a “foodgasm”. These types of connections between food and sex have long been established, but from where do they come? Do we make these connections through our cultural experiences or are they biologically programmed within us? In Like Water for Chocolate, the author, Laura Esquivel, portrays sex and food as being connected in a cultural sense.
The basis for this conclusion rests largely in her use of tradition and her depiction of a Latino family strongly based in their culture. This cultural foundation, paired with the interactions between characters, food, and sex, gives the reader plenty of evidence to support this perspective. Esquivel uses the preparation, eating, and serving of food as a connection to love and sex, and as humans we have learned, through culture, to make this connection. Structured in twelve chapters, each representing a month of the year, Esquivel has created an entrancing love story that is sprinkled with culinary enchantments around every corner.
Each chapter is prefaced with a recipe that is relevant to the progression of the novel, not to mention the many cooking tid-bits thrown in throughout each chapter. The preparation of food is clearly very important to the culture being represented. Tita, the main character and protagonist, was born in the kitchen and possesses all the superior traits of a culinary expert. She is also blessed (or cursed) with the ability to inject her emotions in to the food she cooks, in turn, infecting all those who consume the food with that emotion.
In one section of the novel, Tita makes Quail, in Rose Petal Sauce, to express her passion for her sister, Rasaura’s, husband, Pedro, who she is deeply in love with. With that meal it seemed they had discovered a new system of communication, in which Tita was the transmitter, Pedro the receiver… Pedro didn’t offer any resistance. He let Tita penetrate to the farthest corners of his being, and all the while they couldn’t take their eyes off each other. (Esquivel 52) It is customary, in many cultures, for a woman to prepare a meal for her significant other in order to show how much she cares for him.
The fact that Tita has taken the time to cook such a complex and beautiful dish, to translate her love to Pedro, shows how much impact this cultural custom has on her. Through this particular interaction, Esquivel has displayed the influence that culture has over the preparation of food and it’s relation to love. The expectation for a woman to acquire the ability to prepare food for her significant other brings me to another question: Does a woman’s capacity for cooking significantly affect a man’s attraction to her?
Esquivel brings this question to the forefront of the reader’s mind when she offers this comparison between Rasaura and Tita’s cooking. The rice was obviously scorched, the meat dried out, the dessert burnt. But no one at the table dared display the tiniest hint of displeasure, not after Mama Elena had pointedly remarked: ‘As the first meal that Rosaura has cooked it isn’t bad. Don’t you agree, Pedro? ’ Making a real effort not to insult his wife, Pedro replied: ‘No, for her first time it’s not too bad. ’ (50-51)
She goes on to show Pedro’s reaction to Tita’s cooking saying, “It wasn’t enough he’d made his wife jealous earlier, for when Pedro tasted his first mouthful, he couldn’t help closing his eyes in voluptuous delight and exclaiming: ‘It is a dish for the gods! ’”(51). This comparison allows us to reasonably assume that Tita’s aptitude for culinary artistry did contribute to the growth of Pedro’s love. So, how might this reaction be culturally habituated? In almost all cultures, men are expected to provide and women are expected to cook. Even if a man is not consciously aware, they subconsciously factor this in to their choosing of a mate.
It is culturally conditioned for a man to prioritize supporting his family over many other things. If a woman does not possess the ability to cook then a man may assume that she will not be able to support or provide for their family. This, of course, is not a strict rule of thought but, from my experience, it can be applied to many cases. Through comparison, Esquivel gives the reader evidence that Pedro loves Tita partially for her ability in the kitchen, and with prior knowledge we, as the reader, can attribute this connection to his cultural influences.
We’ve determined that falling in love can be related to a woman’s ability to make food, but what about the relationship between food and making love? Earlier I made a reference to the word “foodgasm”, this portion of a quote, which I previously used, provides a great example of what a foodgasm might look like. “… for when Pedro tasted his first mouthful, he couldn’t help closing his eyes in voluptuous delight and exclaiming: ‘It is a dish for the gods! ’”(Esquivel 51) It is instances like this one that finds Esquivel nudging the reader to make a connection between food and sex.
Esquivel’s use of diction such as ‘voluptuous’ makes it practically impossible not to connect this experience to the effects of an orgasm. Thinking further on this connection, I think that giving food is a form of showing love just as making love is. As raunchy as it may seem, Pedro is receiving Tita through food. It is their unique form of making love. Esquivel makes another food/love connection on page 67 when she says, “Tita knew through her own flesh how fire transforms a tortilla, how a soul that hasn’t been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour. (67)
It’s almost as if Esquivel allows characters, in this case Tita, to take on the form of food. With this being said, receiving food is like receiving the person who made it. In Tita and Pedro’s case, it was their way of making love before they could actually perform the act. I think that the importance of food to their relationship can be contributed to their culture’s emphasis on food. If food were not so important to their culture it would not be the medium for such an important interaction.
In order to make and express love in Like Water for Chocolate, Tita makes food for Pedro further emphasizing the cultural connection between food and love. Some may argue that this relationship between food and sex is purely natural and scientific. In some sense this is true. Sex and Food are both biologically programmed drives that all humans possess. We have a strong need to procreate in order to further our species as well as a great need to eat in order to survive. These are facts of nature, but you can’t ignore the emotional connection that we have to food and sex.
Tita and Pedro do not have these reactions to food in relation to sex simply because they need to eat or they have a great need to reproduce. Culture conditions us to eat because we love food not to simply eat to live. The same goes for sex. We are taught that in order to have sex one must have a connection to their partner; it is “morally sound” to think this way. This is especially true for the culture being represented in Like Water for Chocolate. Just in the way that Esquivel structures the novel you can get a sense of the importance food.
The food must be treated with respect and love just as a person should be. Esquivel shows the significance of treating food well here: Something strange was going on. Tita remembered that Nacha had always said that when people argue while preparing tamales, the tamales won’t get cooked. They can be heated day after day and still stay raw, because the tamales are angry. In a case like that, you have to sing to them, which makes them happy; then they’ll cook. ‘(218-219) Esquivel’s personification of food demonstrates the meaning that food holds in this culture.
It has feelings and you have to love it and nurture it. You don’t just eat food to eat it; you eat food because food is a beautiful part of life that you respect. In this way, Esquivel creates a strong connection between food and love through the cultural importance that the novel puts on the meaning of food rather than the natural tendency of humans to make this connection. After analyzing Esquivel’s novel, Like Water for Chocolate, I can say that the connection between food, sex, and love, in this context, is predominately based on cultural influences rather than natural ones.
In making food, one is showing how much they care, just as Tita did for Pedro with her Quale in Rose pedal sauce dish. The ability to create such meals, in a man’s mind, is a reflection on a woman’s ability to provide for their family. By personifying food, Esquivel allows this process of cooking food and giving food to become much deeper than the simple act itself. The act of giving food then takes the form of giving ones self to the individual receiving the food. Whether it is between food and love, cooking and falling in love, or eating food and making love, culture is the force that defines these connections.
Courtney from Study Moose
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