Problems with Food in 50 Shades — Book 2

First off, big thanks to @Jenny_Trout for linking my post on the first book on her great 50 Shades recaps. She’s currently working on an awesome book in response to 50 Shades, called The Boss. This is radical for several reasons: it presents a BDSM romance in which the submissive heroine is not a doormat and the dom is not an asshole, but I think the really crazy thing here is that the heroine works hard, likes to eat, respects her friends, and worries about paying the rent. Chapters will be posted for free twice each month, and I’m very excited to see how this unfolds.

If you’re new here, much of this blog covers game-related topics, but I do have another 50 Shades piece from the summer. It’s called 50 Shades of WoW and mashes up the game my website covers with the awfulness of 50 Shades.

Anyway, onto food in Book 2:

Christian ordering Ana to eat gets really fucking weird in the second book. We learn he’ll stop ordering her around to eat when he wants sex, even when minutes ago he appeared so worried she was starving. He doesn’t appear genuinely concerned for her at all: ordering her to eat is just another way he can control her when he can’t control her with sex.

This book makes the first book seem healthy in comparison. I’m going to organize this book slightly differently and summarize all the food references for each day, because some days have plot arcs that center around food consumption. These chapters are also laced with control about Ana’s body–from “small” things like arguing to let her drive with music on, to majorly wtf things like forcing her to use birth control because he dislikes condoms, even down to scheduling appointments without her knowledge.

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Problems with Food in 50 Shades of Grey

People make a big deal about the food in 50 Shades of Grey, but Ana doesn’t eat much of the gourmet food at all. Instead, she continually loses her appetite after Christian does something unpleasant or distracts her with sex. It’s repetitive to the point of being really uncomfortable to read about.

I made a spreadsheet of all the food and drink references in the three books to make sure I wasn’t selectively reading negative passages and not viewing things clearly.

Food and drink were put into three categories. Page numbers were taken from the e-book, although this is a bit inaccurate as they vary based on the size of the screen:

  • Green: positive, non-angsty descriptions of food.
  • Red: negative descriptions of food/lack of appetite.
  • Blue: references to alcohol (all alcohol was consumed without deliberation or protest).

The overall trend in Book 1 is that while Ana tends to skip meals on her own, she can eat generic foods fine with her friends and family. Her lack of eating intensifies around Christian, around whom she consistently loses her appetite. Since she easily capitulates to his sexual manipulation, the author needs some way of pretending she has a backbone (while retaining pages of sex scenes)–so an attempt at character defiance is shown by her refusal to eat in front of someone who seriously cares about regular meals. While he gets her to agree to sexual things she’s unsure about in his contract, she won’t agree to his request that she eat regular meals.

But because Christian Grey is Right About Everything and Ana is a Silly Woman, this also lets the reader see how conscientious and thoughtful Christian is in caring about food. Right, except all he does is rage about Ana not eating and how he needs to threaten her, then lets her go back to ignoring all the food on her plate because the conversation turns to sex after she suggestively eats one thing.

Another reading is that Ana is a timid heroine in a controlling relationship, who starves herself because it’s the only way in which she can feel in control of her life. She’s easily manipulated by sex, but she makes herself feel better after by defying Grey and not eating. However! This is seen as the most romantic novel of all time, something you read for pleasure, so I’m going to go with “clumsy attempt at characterization” as opposed to “grim portrayal of abusive relationship.”

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