“Chocolate Cake and Mummy Milk” Food and the maternal body explored through art, literature poetry and performance: 29th June 2012

There is a chapter in Rosmary Bettertons brillant book ” An Intimate Distance, Women Artists And The Body” called ” Body Horror? Food (and sex and death) in women’s art”. this contains many themes and ideas relevant to the context of this meeting.  In this chapter she makes reference to the work of Cindy Sherman, Laura Godfrey Issacs, Helen Chadwick, Anya Gallacio, Janine Antoni, and the writings of Julia Kristeva. Here is a flavour of her writing under the subtitle of “My Best Ever Chocolate Cake”:

From a fascinating brief survey conducted as part of  their research, Gamman and Makinen learnt that women appeared to prefer (talking about) food to sex. Chocolate was rated most highly as a “guilty pleasure”, with nearly three-quarters of those surveyed naming it as a major source of satisfaction. The authors concluded that, when it came to pleasuring themselves, ‘Food was clearly a more “speakable” outlet for women, though one surrounded by guilt’ (Gamman and Makinen 1993: 139). It is perhaps for this reason, as well as for its stimulent effects, that chocolate is now on the increase as a form of “safe sex”.

The idea that chocolate may be preferable to sex comes as no surprise. Sweets and chocolate have long been metaphoric substitutes for sex in popular songs and in advertisements -like the notorious invotations by Haagen Dazs and Milk Flake to orgasm over icecreams and chocolate bars – while cookery books offer us seduction by recipe. In the language of lovers’ appetites, women and girls are often ‘sweeties’, ‘sugar’ or ‘honey pies’, metaphors pf consumability which point to an equivalence between the female body and sweet foodstuffs. Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman subverts this metaphor as the heroine bakes and ices a woman shaped cake, and finally eats her. Eating ‘herself’ both marks the end of the heroine’s anorexia and symbolizes her rejection o fa sterotyped feminine sexuality: “You look delicious, ” she told her. “Very appetising. And that’s what will happen to you; that;s what you get for being food” (Atwood 1979: 270).

(Betterton 1996, pgs 156-157)

The suggestive finger licking of cake mixture from Nigella Lawson, is a long way removed from my personal experience of baking as a mother. I have cooked a lot of cakes in the past three years as a two fold exercise in creative therapy to alleviate the domestic boredom of motherhood and naturally to comfort my chocolate desires. I have also attempted to step into the frame of the “yummy mummy” happily baking alongside her children, in actuality these baking sessions tend to lead to anarchic kitchen frenzies with flour flying everywhere and eggs being cracked, with sticky yolk spilling onto the floor. But hey ho the boys are happy and licking the bowl is always a fair reward for “helping mum”.

Food is at the heart of life and “we are what we eat”. When women fall pregnant what we consume becomes carefully monitored by ourselves and by health professionals. We become acutely aware of what we consume, and try to avoid “substances” that may have a detrimental effect upon our growing babies. Recent research has proven that an unborn  baby can smell food odours through the amniotic fluids, so baby really is cooking with mother from an early age.

When our babies are born we are encouraged to breast feed. The food that we eat directly effects the nutritional make up of the milk that we give to our babies. Again mother is held to account to monitor her diet to provide her child with the best quality milk. But what about the mother, how does breastfeeding effect her and her emotional wellbeing ?.

I love the intimacy of breast feeding, but it can be totally exhausting and the early months of both my childrens’ lives left me feeling literally physically and emotionally drained, I  named myself “mummy moo cow”. One of the great joys of breastfeeding is that you can get away with consuming vast quantities of cake without it making too much of an effect on your waist line……well at least for a while you can. Whilst writing this I am consuming vast quantities of blueberries and wishing for a slimmer waist, as  my belly is a lumpy bumpy mess of too much CAKE.

Next months meeting therefore will be an exploration of the relationship between food and the maternal body. Please feel free to present what ever you like within this context. I look forward to seeing you all in June, for a chocolate art extravaganza of a meeting to fill the mind and body YUM.

Outcomes of Meeting

We looked at a clip from the Mexican film Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua para chocolate) directed and produced by Alfonso Arau, based upon the magic realism novel by Laura Esquivel published in 1989.

We looked at a book by the artist Anu Tuominen see: http://www.anutuominen.fi/
We looked at Paula Chambers arts practice and her work Burnt Offerings

Burnt toast pieces cut in a crochet pattern baby blanket as a memorial to hours sacrificed in the kitchen feeding children.

see Paula’s website: http://www.paulachambers.co.uk

We taked about weaning from the breast and how making art work can be a cathartic and comforting process.

We discussed the physical and emotional levels of endurance that breastfeeding requires. We discussed the pressure’s that some women feel to breastfeed, and reflected upon our own mothers choices to either breastfeed or bottle feed. We discussed attachment parenting. We discussed ideas of the breast as sexual, erotic object of desire as opposed to the breast’s function to nurture life through milk production and feeding. I mentioned the work of Tracey Emin and talked about this essay “Work in Progress: Tracey Emin: Ideas of melancholy and maternity” by Rebecca Baille which can be found here in Studies in the Maternal online journal:


A member of the group shared some art work that she had made using chocolate sprinkles to form a woman that then could be offered to her children to eat, here she deals with a disturbing and powerful metaphor of the woman, the body and the devouring of the mother through domestic life.This image reminded me of Margaret Atwoods novel Edible Woman (1969).

We talked about mothering, boredom and comfort eating, and cake baking a s a form of creative activity. We discussed the  differences of making cakes by yourself and baking with children. The joys and pleasures of uninterrupted baking and of the anarchy of baking with children.

We talked about food and how it can be a source of conflict within the family and made  reference to ideas from anthropology and Darwinian Theory.

We ate some amazing home cooked cakes.



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