I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance regarding our views on relationships. At some point he mentioned that although he usually had a penchant for “Latina chicas” he had recently become more attracted to Asian women. To put it in his words, he found them to be…yummy. I found this correlation to be a bit strange and awkward but attributed his choice of words to his social awkwardness.
I’ll admit I sort of called him out on it but also laughed it off. However, the more I thought about it the more it began to bother me. I think that my uneasiness with the adjective “yummy” when talking about the opposite sex stems from two things. First, it reinforces this unhealthy relationship that American’s have with food. Secondly, it objectifies women (and men).
We like to tie food to different aspects of society. For example, Revlon has a line of lip butters that associate food items (mostly sweet) with different shades. Feeling fiesty? You’ll probably want to wear a loud shade like lollipop or candy apple. Feeling more demure? Maybe try creme brulee, cupcake, or sugar frosting.
Food references are also found in English language cliches. You might say that the test you aced was “a piece of cake”. A nice, charming individual is seen to be “as sweet as pie”. If someone tells you something that you’re skeptical about you might take it “with a grain of salt”. We go over a cliche each week in the ESL class that I help out with. The students find it baffling, amusing, and absurd that we incorporate so many “foodisms” into the language. I mean, you don’t have many Spanish language counterparts to these English foodisms*. Personally, I’ve never heard someone say, “Oh, her temper is as spicy as menudo.”
The American people’s penchant to use food words as descriptors, freely reflects the unhealthy relationship we have with food [A weighty topic for another post but basically: Food is for nutrition and survival NOT for overindulgence and gluttony]. This is reflected in the English language; cliches and such and in how freely non-food items–in this case women–are associated with food descriptors.
However, I think the aspect of this “women are yummy” idea that is really unsettling is the way it casually and in a largely unassuming way objectifies women. The argument has been made for the sexualization of food but what about the other way; the food-ization of the sexes? [Yes, I made up a word. Deal with it]. To be fair, there are the more innocuous food related nicknames: honey, sweetie pie, pumpkin which are used for significant others, kids, and strangers alike. “Yummy”, on the other hand, is different. If something is yummy one assumes that it is delicious; to the point of enticing one to devour it.
All blatantly sexual connotations that can be associated with the word yummy aside, the word still conveys an unsettling sense of objectification. To describe a woman as yummy disregards her other aspects: her intelligence, her sense of humor, her physical appearance and instead focuses on her relationship to food; something that, once consumed, is no longer needed. It has a misogynistic connotation to it.
I asked a couple of friends their thoughts on the use of “yummy” to describe women and, for the most part, they had a negative reaction. One deemed being called “yummy” as disgusting. Another friend’s visceral reaction was, “[He] sounds like [a] Hannibal Lecter who eats Asian women”. I hadn’t thought about it from the creepy, almost literal angle. My friend Rebecca added that it was gross considering the recent conviction of a NYPD officer who plotted to kidnap, kill, and eat women.
So, I think that we should move away from using the adjective “yummy” when talking about each other. There are so many more appropriate, descriptive, and flattering words that one can use. For example, I’m guilty of once saying that my ex-boyfriend’s facial hair was yummy. But, really, how can facial hair be yummy? Sexy, rakish, alluring; yes, but never yummy. Keep using yummy at the risk of seeming like a Hannibal Lecter (or his female equivalent).
*that I’m aware of.