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Tapas served on a naked woman in 'Modern Spanish Cookery' | © Robinson Press

Women Should Not Be Used as Plates

Picture of Andrew Webb
Andrew Webb
Food & Drink Editor
Updated: 31 July 2017

A photo of a woman used as a plate in a new cookbook makes Culture Trip’s Food Editor see red.

We get sent a lot of cookbooks here at Culture Trip, so when Modern Spanish Kitchen, by ‘influencer’ and former MasterChef Australia contestant Joel Serra, arrived, it sat on my desk for a few days before I got round to looking at it.

When I did, a casual flick through revealed a ho-hum blend of ‘edgy’ statements and photography, and then this…

Tapas served on a naked woman in Modern Spanish Cookery | © Robinson Press

That’s right, Joel, or photographer Aldo Chacon, thought it would be a good idea to serve tapas on a female body. Fellas, let me tell you now, women are not plates.

Thank the Japanese?

I’m trying to work out the creative process that led to this state of affairs. There is a ‘custom’ (if you can call it that) in Japan called nyotaimori, which is eating sushi off a naked woman. In fact the practice is not that common at all in Japan, and when it is done, it’s mainly the nouveau riche or gangsters looking to show off, and even they ‘view the whole thing as a little too much’ according to this article in Kotaku.

But along with vending machines selling used knickers, and love hotels, it’s somehow made it into western culture’s ‘erotic mysteries of the Far East’ playbook.

A Miami restaurant offered male or female nyotaimori nights in September 2016, with prices starting at US$500. It wasn’t a total success, with one Yelp! reviewer commenting ‘My experience at Kung-Fu Kitchen & Sushi might have been better if I didn’t get mouth gonorrhea from eating a spicy tuna roll off of a stranger’s semi-erect penis’.

There have been attempts to launch nyotaimori nights in the UK too, with limited success. Guardian reporter Julie Bindel attended one in 2010, you can read her piece here. Also, this is tapas, not sushi. Tapas is a quick snack at a bar, it’s part of Spanish culture, to see it presented in this way pisses on that heritage.

Page from Modern Spanish Cookery | © Robinson Press

The rest of the book is filled with other daft statements such as ‘with a street value rivalling cocaine, saffron is straight outta Spain’. If so, Joel’s getting a hefty discount from his dealer, as Amazon’ll sell you 4g of Spanish saffron for just £9.19.

But hey, it’s just a photo right? Perhaps we should consider it art? No, this excuse doesn’t hold much water either, this is a cookery book, not a catalogue for an Allen Jones retrospective.

So ‘we want the book to be sexy and edgy… I know, let’s do that thing they do in Japan only with tapas!’ is perhaps how we’ve got here. But I can’t think of anything more degrading, misogynistic and just plain dumb to put in a cookery book, than an image of a group of people eating food off a woman’s body, or a man’s for that matter. It’s not edgy or cool, and it’s certainly not sexy.

I can’t help but be left with the feeling that this book isn’t really about food, rather it’s a vainglorious vehicle to establish Serra’s profile.