The ways that we interact with food are very similar to the ways we interact with sexuality. Both are mixtures of nature and nurture which is a very simplified way of explaining a dynamic hyperspace influenced by a number of factors. DNA, exposure, availability, association, culture, and morality all impact the way we enjoy food and sex and some of these factors may or may not be a trump card to some people and we’ve learned just enough about these factors to understand how little we know at all. The best we can do, for now, is use phrases like “some, many, most,” because it’s impossible to consider every single element at play.
There is also a very wide gap between the ways we publicly enjoy food and sex and the way enjoy it privately. Many people engage in a contract of monogamy or heterosexual sex only, but are secretly engaging in extramarital or homosexual activity. What you order at a restaurant on a first date or in front of your boss is also probably very different from what resides on your plate during a Law and Order marathon at home. What you prepare for guests is also very different from what you might serve your children. Has anyone ever announced to a dinner party that they will, “eat it and like it or else no one is getting any dessert.”
The lexicon of food is often sexual in nature. Take a bite of this “positively sinful triple layer chocolate cake,” or watch the Food Network in high definition to enhance your “food porn” experience. You “really shouldn’t indulge” in that meal made with more butter than can fit inside of a churn but you do anyway. We make outward apologies for the culinary sins we are about to commit and we atone for them in the gym. A diet does more for our love of food than it does for our waistlines.
Leviticus was written in a time before Maytag refrigerators and hospitals. Infant mortality was high and the average human life span was low. When life is a fight for survival it makes a great deal of sense to abstain from activities that pose a risk to population growth. Masturbation and the consumption of pork weren’t ever intrinsic evils, but they were potential threats. We lacked the resources to identify dangerous germs and stop them in their tracks.
Nowadays our biggest concern about eating shrimp is choking and our population is so large we can concern ourselves with the mating habits of other species like pandas that really do need to get laid more often. Our context is very, very different and instead of killing people who deviate from the norm (for the most part) the overall preference is to wave a sign or turn up a nose simply out of tradition rather than purpose.
Sex and food are both sensual and we interact with them differently from culture to culture and person to person. We will never come to any kind of unanimous consensus on what “the best” really is because it doesn’t exist. I’ve listened to a critics complain that porn has exposed us to different kinds of sex that we would never have come up with on our own and I don’t disagree. The global economy has also exposed us to foods that we wouldn’t have normally come across either. We eat more varieties of fruit, vegetables, and grains than ever before in the human experience and we can even genetically modify them to grow in habits that would be otherwise hostile. Why is it moral to go to the grocery store to try out a new vegetable you’ve never seen before in your life but immoral to surf the web and discover a new way of having sex? I’m not saying that you should take a brownie bite out of everything you see, but if you want to it is there.
Ultimately, the decisions we make around food and sex are composed of a number of components. Some are within our control, others are not. What I find unfortunate is that we are comfortable looking at someone else’s dinner plate and saying, “not my choice, but have at it my friend,” but we’re still very uncomfortable saying the same without sex. Sex and food are similar, but copulation still has a lot to learn from cooking. As if I haven’t beaten this dead horse of a metaphor enough already, sex is just a giant all-you-can eat buffet. Take what you like and leave the rest for someone else who wants to eat it because somebody invariably will.