Tampopo: Similarities Between Food and Sex and What That Says About Humanity

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The gangster has ordered a cart of food to his hotel room.

As brought up in Linda Ehrlich’s “Community and Connection,” eating and sex might not be all that different. This particular scene, where the gangster in a white suit and his lover find inventive ways to include food during sex, is a perfect example to represent this point. Though part of a subplot from the film Tampopo, the ideas that can be taken from it can be applied to the other subplots, the main story, and even beyond the screen.

From a strictly evolutionary perspective, both eating and sex are done solely for the human species to survive. Food is needed to nourish the body, sex for the passing on of genes, then food once more to raise a new generation, and so on, hence both are driven by a biological need to survive. Then if eating is a basic act of survival as sex is, perhaps this could also mean that there are no real “class divisions” to food. What separates high-end and common dishes when both can take years to master, and the ingredients can be as high or poor quality as the other? How can you divide an instinct into different levels, where one particular level is superior over the other? Whether sitting down to an expensive meal, or only taking a few minutes for carryout, food is still consumed for sensory pleasure, energy, and nutrients. In the end, whether made with the highest quality ingredients or bits of scavenged scraps, it is all the same.

This could then bring up the point that the sort of class system given to food by humans is cause for criticism. To further liken humans to animals, food could tie into Darwin’s concept of survival of the fittest. There are ingredients, such as those to prepare French cuisine, that are placed on a pedestal, while the simple things, such as those that make up a bowl of ramen, are seen as inferior. The “high-end” is exclusively for those who can afford it, thus giving rise to another opportunity for humans to flaunt their strengths, or characteristics ideal for attracting mates. As much as we try to separate ourselves from them, we are reduced to animals in this way. For all the morality we try to portray ourselves with, we are simply trying to survive.

However, this is a less optimistic outlook on the human race that many would prefer not to use. Instead we can look at this scene and see similarities between food and sex in an entirely different way in that both can further the bonds between people. With food, cooking for someone can be seen as an expression of love or closeness. It can also bring people together for various reasons, as Tampopo meets Goro, and through him she meets many others along her journey to improve her ramen. Additionally, this can be seen through the band of homeless men that learn and share their cooking with each other. Both can also be seen as giving, as opposed to only preserving one’s own life. In this way, food and sex are more than a simple instinct and become something that makes us human.

Because this scene emphasizes people more as animal than human, other parts of the film that show the ability of food to bring people together is highlighted. Through integration of the food and sex in this scene, Itami Juzo is able to portray that something so basic as an instinct can become something much more complex and essential to our humanity.

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