Erotic desire, Eros, is in decline. However, Appetite, Orexis, which has all the assets to replace Eros as the dominant “power to act”, is struggling to develop: why?

Sexual practice in our societies is in decline. The study by Herbenick, D., Rosenberg, M., Golzarri-Arroyo, L. et al. Changes in Penile-Vaginal Intercourse Frequency and Sexual Repertoire from 2009 to 2018: Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior  shows a steady decline of sexual activity over the last 10 years in the United States. The phenomenon is also observed in Europe.

Truth is that the sexual liberation of the 1960s and 1970s gave rise to a considerable cultural catch-up, and that the years that followed saw an all-out prevalence of the sexualization of life, not without this phenomenon being encouraged by mercantile interests (advertising, pornographic industry).

Moreover, today, Eros, desire, has become “problematic”, as we all know. Desire for another is no longer acceptable unless it is expressly desired; it is therefore a question of a “power to act” that collective morality tends to circumscribe to precise conditions, and which, apart from these, provokes in our societies a feeling of distrust, sometimes of fear.

Orexis, by contrast, (appetite), presents all the prerequisites to engage a virtuous “power to act”, a source of joy without shadow.

Of course, appetite can turn people towards dangerous and harmful foods: sugar, chemicals, preservatives. But unlike Eros, it is not our momentum that is problematic, but those that introduce into our food allogeneic agents that should not be there, which we can protect ourselves against by a rigorously selective purchasing hygiene. The same goes for foods that we morally condemn, such as meat for vegans: it is not appetite that causes animal suffering or methane pollution, but an irresponsible organization of food production. Even bulimia (“boulesis”) is not really of the order of “thanatos”, because its harmfulness has external causes: untimely, solicitations, junk food manufacturers, etc…

Thus, appetite is becoming the paradigm of a happy “power to act”. When we devour a good cake with our eyes, when we prepare to eat it, there is no need to obtain its consent, we can aspire to eat it “innocently”; chefs everywhere have established themselves as the new bards of pleasure, the heralds of a noble and highly cultural pleasure, culinary or mixology recipe have become the vademecum of well-being, the source of an indisputable,  dominant art of living, the Internet is invaded by “foodporn” and “Instafood”, the boundless celebration of the desirability of food, which has become, along with selfies (and cats), the indisputable icon of social media.

However, however, the figures show that the interest in food, its psychological and cultural relevance, its social aura, even, struggle to translate into a notable increase in household spending on food: USDA figures (Food Expenditure Series 2019) like those of INSEE, show that if the decrease in food expenditure has stopped, compared to the 1960-2000 decline, no significant progression is to be noted, and despite the COVID crisis, which was hoped to help strengthen the bonds of confined people with their own kitchen. Why ?

Beyond the very real economic anxiety of households, since the health crisis, the fact is that the cultural (and psychological) relevance of Orexis is absolutely not solicited in contemporary discourses around food. Worse, these discourses confuse the issue and paradoxically contribute, when the momentum (appetite) is very real, to devalue the object of desire through an anxiety-provoking discourse.

The discourse on local food, like food nationalism, far from celebrating the appetizing qualities of local and national products, taste and pleasure, have inscribed these trends in a doubly anxiety-provoking rationality: local and national products would not be better , but more virtuous, because on the one hand they would favor the local and national economy, on the other hand they would make it possible to protect the environment by limiting emissions linked to transport.

The discourse on Organic, a market which is in decline for this reason (and its high price), is centered on the rational benefits of food health, the absence of “nasties”, pesticides and other chemicals: such a discourse, if it could be necessary for the launch of the category, is not enough to bring out a strong appetite for its products.

As for traditional players in the agri-food industry, many of them trapped in an “era of suspicion”, they have chosen to defend themselves by multiplying “ethical” discourse or ones centered on functional health benefits. In addition to the fact that they are often accused of “green washing”, they seem to have given up doing what they did best and which built their success, namely creating appetite.

In our era of suspicion, how to activate the lever of appetite? Y. Cornil and P. Chandon, in “Pleasure as an ally of healthy eating? Contrasting visceral and Epicurean eating pleasure and their association with portion size preferences and wellbeing”, Appetite (2015), , proposed to distinguish between a “visceral appetite” and an “epicurean appetite”. While the first concerns the satisfaction of “basic” nutritional needs, and would be activated by necessity, the second would integrate multiple dimensions of food pleasure, aesthetic, cultural, sensory. Activating the epicurean appetite, according to them, would lead to a reduction in the portions consumed, as well as to the fact of favoring foods of greater quality, taste and nutritional value.

Isn’t it time, then, to activate the Epicurean appetite?

Good Orexis!

Christophe Abensour


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