When it was first released in 1952, the TV dinner tray was a relatively benign invention, designed for families who wanted to dine in comfort while watching I Love Lucy and The Ed Sullivan Show. But for anyone watching food television these days, the tray serves a new purpose: Providing a visual shield for your uncomfortable erection.
Food Network is the new Skinemax, and shameful as it may seem, you’re only human if you’ve felt a slight stirring in your shorts during an episode of Giada at Home. The personalities themselves are partly to blame, all big hair and boobs and sensual diction. So, too, is the softcore editing engineered to make you think maybe that cucumber is more than just a cucumber. But above all else, the thing that sends the whole throbbing euphemism of food TV over the edge is the foodgasm—that moment when the apron-wearing vixen (or frosty-tipped bro) bites into the dish at hand and makes the type of face that’s usually reserved for the bluest corners of the Internet.
What is a foodgasm?
While it hasn’t yet snuck into the Merriam-Webster dictionary alongside other ridiculous new words like emoticon and European Union, the term foodgasm has entered the popular lexicon and shows no sign of going away. The general concept makes sense: Eating is undoubtedly a sensual experience, and we’ve all devoured something so tasty that the experience was almost as good as sex. But the keyword here is almost—it’s safe say that erotic and gustatory stimulation are entirely different, and the notion that both would make you convulse with pleasure in the same way is absurd.
To smile when eating something delicious seems like a natural human reaction—one need only watch a baby tucking into some Gerber to see that. But gasping with delight, or moaning mmm while rolling your eyes into the back of your head? Not so much. If you’ve ever actually walked away from the table with a wet spot in your pants—unless you were the recipient of an under-the-table foot job—you’ve got some explaining to do.
Food TV programming, and the advertising sold around it, lies at the crux of this bellwether moment for the culinary orgasm.
The foodgasm, then, must in some part be a social phenomenon, likely born from society’s increasing fetishization of food. I’m sure Henry VIII belched his approval of a nice piece of spit-roasted meat from time to time; Marie Antoinette, too, might have muttered a few breathy superlatives about all the pastries she was eating. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of art history, Shakespeare, and Chaucer knows that gastronomic aphrodisiacs and forbidden fruits have been around since forever. But the sexed-up histrionics of eating itself are a more modern development, one that goes hand in hand with an era when food is having its pop-culture coming out party.
From the shared spaghetti plate between lovers to the cheekily consumed banana, food has always been used to turn us on. But now, it’s taking us to completion.
How did we get here? Food TV programming, and the advertising sold around it, lies at the crux of this bellwether moment for the culinary orgasm. In the past, programs revolved almost entirely around prep and cooking, with little time, if any, devoted to the act of consuming. Today, eating on camera has become a fundamental element of many shows, forcing on-screen chefs to develop an arsenal of fluttering eye-rolls, lip smacks, and other reactions to adequately express how YUM-O AMAZEBALLS everything is. (There’s something particularly masturbatory about this act when it involves a chef tasting his or her own dish.)
With celeb toques hamming it up like never before, we sifted through the archives to better understand the anatomy of a foodgasm, as portrayed by the stars and starlets of food television. The results are by turns arousing and revolting, but they paint an intriguing picture of how the “O” face has seeped into the very core of these shows.