Romantic dinners for lovers are one of the sweet pleasures of life, and if you don’t initiate one, who will? Remember the thrill of that special dinner before you were married? … A late intimate dinner for two beside a crackling fire, or on the back porch amid balmy breezes will help set the atmosphere.
– Marabel Morgan, The Total Woman Cookbook, 1980
What can we learn about the history of sexuality from the ways that food has been prepared, consumed and represented? Recently, I rediscovered Marabel Morgan’s Total Woman Cookbook (1980) and with it another angle of vision into the histories of sexuality and gender in the 1970s. During that decade, Morgan became the voice of a woman-led, religious-conservative ‘sexual revolution’ in the United States. As Evangelicals assumed unprecedented visibility, Morgan and a cadre of born-again women contributed to the sexualization of American culture as the authors and devotees of best-selling instruction manuals that sought to eroticize the home as a means of saving unhappy marriages. Their discussions of food and their cookbooks mapped women’s overlapping roles as wives, lovers and mothers. When Morgan approvingly told the story of a Southern Baptist woman who “welcomed her husband home in black mesh stockings, high heels, and an apron,” she yoked together traditional images of wives as cooks and homemakers with sexual scripts drawn from an increasingly pornographic culture. Morgan’s genius was that she sexualized housewives and domesticated the sexual revolution, channeling it toward conservative ends.