Artist-turned-food writer Stasha Butterfly has cooked up a storm of controversy with her new book, How to Feed a Man. The tome of recipes is specifically geared towards the male of the species because "men are simply the best creatures to feed".
"Each scrumptious dish is designed to empower you and bring maximum pleasure to the man in your life," trills the stepdaughter of retail behemoth Philip Green (Topshop).
Needless to say, the book has brought feminists to boiling point. They consider it an anti-feminist backlash, a return to the domestic ideals of our grandparents' generation and an era when you could assert that a "woman's place is in the kitchen" without receiving a sharp slap across the face.Provocative
Others wonder why men should be fed any differently. The title implies that they are an alien species with unique dietary requirements. Stasha Butterfly -- better known as Stasha Palos -- portrays men as wild animals who should be flung strips of ribeye steak and Yorkie bars at regular intervals.
It's fairly safe to conclude that a woman who changes her surname to 'Butterfly' is living on a different planet to the rest of us, but I still find it hard to swallow that Palos didn't recognise the provocative nature of the book before she published it. On the contrary, I think she relishes the debate it will no doubt stir.
Consider the cover: there's a moist carrot cake -- slice taken out of it -- superimposed between her splayed, bare legs. Inside, there's an image of her wrapped in an apron reading: "I love my man." Underneath, she's wearing skin-tight, bondage-tie PVC trousers. I'm surprised she isn't giving a sly wink to the camera.
It should be added that Palos is no twee, pearl necklace-wearing Stepford Wife. She's a blonde, rake-thin quasi-bohemian.
The instinct is to deride this book at first sight, but look closer and you'll see that this is not just a cookbook; it's a seduction manual. 'Feed a Man' is the thrust of the book. 'And Get What You Want in Return' is the subtext.
Palos is a firm believer in the old adage that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Essentially, this book is about securing a man's affections, not mastering recipes.
It's about pandering to man the hunter and assuming designated gender roles. "There you have it," she concludes in one chapter, "an extra large dinner for all those extra large, extra hungry men out there!"
I'm reminded of The Game, the Neil Strauss book which teaches men how to pick up women by using all manner of psychological subterfuge. Similarly, Palos' book is about women getting what they want.
It's hardly, as she says "empowering", yet the women who balk at it should ask themselves if they've ever flicked through a copy of The Rules or He's Just Not That Into You.
How To Feed A Man has echoes of The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, another book which sparked controversy when it hit the bookshelves in 2004. Author Laura Schlessinger essentially advises women to treat their husbands with good food, lots of sex and no nagging.
She didn't pose with a carrot cake in between her legs on the cover, but she did say that her book would show women "how to wield that power to attain all the sexual pleasure, intimacy, love, joy, and peace you want in your life".Throwback
Both Palos and Schlessinger are serving up dishes on a 'quid pro quo' basis. Besides, is Palos' book any different to Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking? The latter was also received by feminists as a throwback to the fifties.
Lawson suggested that the book was something of a parody of the era. "Some people did take the 'domestic goddess' title literally rather than ironically. It was about the pleasures of feeling like one rather than actually being one."
Given that her husband, Charles Saatchi, has gone on record saying that her food is wasted on him, the 'Domestic Goddess' has some way to go to impress him in the culinary department.
But can one really pen a well-considered recipe for chocolate cherry cupcakes with a sense of post-feminist irony? Besides, why would you want to feel like something you have no compulsion to become?
There's no doubt that many female cookbook writers recognise the seductive power of food, but surely it holds the same sway over either sex. Are men really wooed by food, or is it a dated adage?
Men cook just as much as women -- granted, they tend to prefer an audience when they do it. Bake, sew, cook, clean was the essential checklist for a wife-to-be in the 1920s.
I know many women who are of the can't/wont persuasion when it comes to this checklist. I know men who perform many of these tasks without considering it a threat to their masculinity.
Others would contend that a different part of the male anatomy will lead you to their heart. As Robert Byrne says, "anybody who believes that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach flunked geography".
Comedian Chris Rock agrees with Schlessinger, though rather less eloquently. "You know what men want? Food, sex, silence. That's it. Feed me, f**k me, shut the f**k up!''Seduction
No doubt then, that he would fall under the spell of 'Engagement Chicken' -- the roast chicken recipe that supposedly makes men pop the question -- which appeared in US Glamour magazine in 2004. Dozens of readers wrote in to the magazine to say it had worked.
One of the readers was Beth Ostrosky, the then-girlfriend of shock-jock and bachelor Howard Stern. She cooked the dish for Stern, who enthused about it on his radio show the next day, even saying that she was wife material. Despite the embarrassment of finding out he had fallen for it, Stern married her shortly afterwards.
Maybe whipping up a chocolate gateau isn't going to make a man fall for you but it seems that could be the icing on the cake.
How To Feed A Man, by Stasha Butterfly is priced at €26.95 hardback