Abstract: This article examined the semiotic representation of food symbolizing love, sex, and desire in The Sopranos. Throughout the television series The Sopranos, food served as a semiotic representation of love, sex, and desire. Women were portrayed in gender normative roles and used feeding practices to serve men, representing their sexual desires. Alternatively, men were the recipients of food and sexual pleasure. Food and sexuality were intertwined in a way that mirrors patriarchal society. I argue that women used food to demonstrate their sense of agency and desire. To illustrate this argument, I used Feminist Standpoint Theory to analyze three scenes that construct the rhetorical framework of power and cultural values related to the gendered experience common to women, specifically the domestic work of feeding and caring for others.
Keywords: The Sopranos; gender normative roles; food semiotics; feminist standpoint theory; semiotics
Introduction: Food and Sex in The Sopranos
Throughout the television series The Sopranos, food served as a semiotic representation of love, sex and desire. Women were portrayed in gender normative roles and used feeding practices to serve men, representing their sexual desires. Alternatively, men were the recipients of food and sexual pleasure. Food and sexuality were intertwined in a way that mirrored patriarchal society. This essay will use Feminist Standpoint Theory to explore sexuality and the objectification of women shown through food semiotics in The Sopranos. This essay will highlight the themes of power and cultural values related to the gendered experience common to women, specifically the domestic work of feeding and caring for others. The rhetoric reinforcing women as feeder/nurturer highlights ideological narratives that perpetuate women’s subjugation (DeVault 1994).
Food served as a semiotic representation for sex with gender roles mimicking patriarchal societal expectations. While at first glance, this rhetoric might seem to empower women by enabling them to have a sense of agency, the characteristics associated with the gender normative role as female as nurturer do not empower women, but rather continue to oppress them. The exchange of food, just as the exchange of sex, is not a balance of power, rather the man is the recipient while the woman is the giver. I posit that while women in The Sopranos used food and sex to demonstrate their agency, it continued to subjugate them in our patriarchal society and limited their power to the span of control under heteronormative gender roles, including mother, wife and lover.
In this article, I will examine the problems of the woman acting as nurturer and how this perpetuates patriarchal ideologies. I first examine the rhetorical history of semiotics and feminist standpoint theory, specifically as it relates to the arguments regarding food acting as a semiotic representation for sex, and I place these arguments in the context of patriarchal societal representations in The Sopranos. I then explore three scenes in The Sopranos that demonstrate women serving food as a representation of their sexual desire and men acting as recipients. These episodes provide examples of how women use food to demonstrate their sense of agency and how this power actually serves as a paradox in placing them in a subservient role. I examine fat-phobic rhetoric that creates a paradox between a thin, gender normative, attractive female and an obese female and the differences in their ability to demonstrate their sense of agency through food. Finally, I reflect on the repercussions of this rhetoric and I offer suggestions for how we might improve our representation of women in film.
Language of food
The Sopranos used the language of food throughout the series to portray Italian-Americans, culture, personalities, and religion. Names of Italian dishes flew as loosely as their unrestrained profanity: pasta “fazool,” “reh-got”, “pro-zhoot”, “gabagool”. The cinematography and editing techniques set the stage by hovering over steaming heaps of freshly baked ziti, peppering scenes with the sound of clinking wine and placing the viewer at the table with the characters, close enough to almost taste the cold cuts that Tony ate straight from the fridge. Many scenes start in the Sopranos kitchen with the camera spanning past the ever-present bowl of fresh fruit, showing food in its simplicity. Tony’s best friend, Artie Bucco, owned Vesuvios, a restaurant in which Tony frequented. Tony’s office was at the back of Satriale’s Pork Store and he and his fellow mobsters often sat outside the shop, eating, sunbathing or making deals. Food was often the topic of conversation and Sopranos’ dinners and barbecues were a staple of the show.
Prior to analyzing specific episodes, it’s important to understand semiotics. Semiotics is the study of signs and behavior relating to sign identification, including sign processes, such as allegory, metaphor and symbolism (Leeds-Hurwitz 2002). The significance of signs has been recognized throughout the history of philosophy, beginning with Plato and Aristotle exploring the relationship between signs and the world. Both Plato and Aristotle believed there is a connection between the signifier and the object it signifies. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) believed that signifier and signified are not fixed. He called this différance, which is the relationship between text and meaning, specifically the endless deferral of meaning, and to the absence of a transcendent signified (Of Grammatology 1967). I will explore the signs, using semiotic analysis, to understand the objects and what they signify in The Sopranos.
This essay will use feminist standpoint theory to explore sexuality and objectification of women shown through food semiotics through scenes in The Sopranos. The feminist standpoint theory identifies the cultural values and power dynamics that continue to subordinate women. The theory also highlights the conditions and experiences that are common to women, which are experienced through typical female activities, such as domestic work and caregiving. As an epistemological theory, feminist standpoint theory focuses on how one’s gender shapes her knowledge. “A feminist standpoint grows out of (that is, it is shaped by, rather than essentially given) the social location of women’s lives. Feminist standpoint can, but does not necessarily arise from being female,” (Wood 62). Throughout this essay, the theme of highlighting the power and cultural values as it relates to the gendered experience common to women, specifically the domestic work of feeding and caring for others. The feminist standpoint theory aims to promote understanding that a “woman” is not just a body, but also is an unheard voice in a “man’s world” (267). This discourse has created a patriarchal point of view, in which women speak from unknowingly. It’s a man’s world, in which men’s language is preferred (Rakow and Nastasia 2009).
The Sopranosreinforces gender normative roles. Carmella portrayed a gender normative role as a stay-at-home mother who places her role as a mother above all else. To better understand the complexity of gender roles, I turn briefly to outlining a patriarchal society. A patriarchal society is a social system in which men hold the primary power. The term patriarchy originated from the Greek word πατριάρχης, meaning patriarkhēs or “the rule of the father”. Power is related to privilege. Therefore, the social consequences in living in a patriarchal society is that men hold all the power. The challenge of a patriarchal society is that women are oppressed by the underlying basis of a society in which men hold all the power. Terry Real, Director of the Gender Relations program at the Meadows Institute in Arizona, explained that we all live under a patriarchal society and it isn’t an issue that only affects women. The psychological issues relating to a patriarchal society are that men and women lack the intimacy that could be achieved through two equal parties. He relates the concept that psychologically, women normalizing a patriarchal society is similar to a child who has been abused protecting their abuser. He calls this the “core collusion” (Caprino 2018, 1). This psychological effect can be damaging as the perpetrator is being protected.
As I demonstrate in the examples that follow, women in The Sopranos use food to demonstrate their agency and the rhetorical emphasis on desire disguises the patriarchal ideology of woman as nurturer, which limits the choices available to women. The series reaffirms hegemonic values and provides several examples of the relationship between gender, food and power.
Results – Language of food serving as a representation for sex in three scenes
Carmella and Father Phil
Carmella used her agency as a woman to seduce Father Phil and used food as a semiotic representation for sex. In College (1999), while Tony and Meadow are away from home exploring colleges, Carmela stays home with the flu and she’s visited unexpectantly by Father Phil, the priest at the Soprano family’s church. The viewer immediately picks up on the sexual tension between the two of them, as Father Phil rings the doorbell Carmella quickly runs to the mirror to fluff up her hair and freshen her face. Notice that she remained in her silky bathrobe which created an intimate setting. Father Phil entered her home and immediately “confessed” that he had “a jones for” her baked ziti. As Yacowar (2002) pointed out in The Sopranos on the Couch, this acts as a euphemism for “having a boner” and being sexually excited (41). The sexual tension between Carmella and Father Phil intensified throughout the night as Carmella served him her ziti (while not partaking in any of the ziti herself) and wine.
The Priest is celibate but seemingly used food and wine as stand-ins for sex, enjoying the excess of worldly pleasures to compensate for a lack of sexual gratification. As Father Phil and Carmella cuddled on the couch watching a movie, Father Phil placed his hand on Carmella’s knee and asked her if she’d like to take part in a private confession. When Carmella agreed, Father Phil grabbed a travel Communion kit from his car. Carmella then fell to her knees on the carpet of her living room and tilted her head back in preparation for the communion. The camera zoomed in on Carmella’s mouth and tongue, with the romantic setting of the roaring fire in the background. As Father Phil gently placed the paper-thin wafer in her mouth, she slipped her tongue back into her mouth gently, an act that appeared more sexual than religious. Note that Carmella did not partake in eating the ziti and in fact we don’t see her eat at all in this episode, with the exception of the delicate ingestion of the paper-thin wafer. This represents that the female, particularly the mother figure can only partake in the enjoyment of food when it is virginesque, not a desire of excess (such as ziti), eaten for enjoyment, rather sustenance that served a greater good, not eaten for enjoyment, but the cleansing of one’s soul. Carmella and Father Phil shared a romantic interlude that brought them to the brink of kissing, only to have Father Phil suddenly run to the bathroom to vomit, representing the purging of the sexual desire (food and wine) and cleansing himself. The next morning, he guiltily asked if they “did anything out of line” demonstrating further that their interlude was a night of desire, for which he felt guilt and remorse.
Tony admonished Carmella when he returned home and discovered that Father Phil ate the entire tray of “his” ziti and spent the night. Tony refers to Father Phil as “Monsieur Jughead”, a reference to Jughead from the Archie comics who was obsessed with eating. This scene is particularly interesting, as Tony is clearly upset that Father Phil came into his home, slept with his wife (literally) and ate his food. He says, “He spends the night here and all he does is slip you a wafer?” The use of slip you is also used in the phrases “slip you the tongue” and indicates giving someone something secretly, such as “slipping” a tongue in their mouth to French kiss when the other party wasn’t expecting it. Carmella warned Tony that he is on the verge of sacrilege and Tony retorts, “I didn’t mean to verge”. This entire scene demonstrated that Tony views this act of Carmella engaging in a food exchange with Father Phil as a sexual act.
Ro’s ziti serves as competition
Carmella’s best friend, Rosalie “Ro” Aprile, demonstrated her sexual desire through food, as seen in I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (1999). Carmella visited Father Phil at the church and brought him an overflowing casserole dish full of her baked ziti. However, as she enters the church, she saw him sitting with Ro, eating a dish of homemade pasta. The viewer should note that yet again, the female is not eating, only the male. Ro is feeding Father Phil the ziti as she looks at him lovingly with a smile on her face, content to be feeding but not eating. The camera enables us to see this scene from Carmella’s viewpoint, as she walked into the intimate setting; a church filled with candles and rows upon rows of empty pews with Father Phil and Ro cuddled up next to each other in the front pew.
When Carmella saw this romantic interlude, she didn’t say a word, but instead fled the church and dumped the contents of the baked ziti into a trashcan outside the chapel. The camera was angled up from the ground, so the viewer could see the painstaking way she scooped out the ziti in a fit of rage and deceit. This scene revealed how Carmella viewed her food (ziti) as her love and desire, of which she delivered to the object of her desire (Father Phil). When she discovered him eating another woman’s food, it was a betrayal that bore as deep as if she caught him having sex with another woman. The symbolism of Carmella dumping the ziti in the trash represented her discarding her desire for Father Phil. Later in this episode, Carmella accused Father Phil of convoluting food and desire when she said:
He’s a sinner father, and you come up here and eat his steaks, and you use his home entertainment centre….I think that you like the…whiff of sexuality that never goes anyplace. I think you need to look at yourself…I think you have this m.o. where you manipulate spiritually thirsty women. And I think a lot of it is tied up with food somehow as well as the sexual tension game (1999).
Carmella recognized that Father Phil substituted food for sex (for which he can’t have because he’s celibate). When she said, “you eat his steaks”, referring to her Tony’s meat, she alludes to the fact that Father Phil is “consuming” the fruits of Tony’s labor, including his food, entertainment and wife.
Gloria’s hot, steaming London Broil of love
The second example of food representing sex is in Pine Barrens(2001). Tony suffered from the Madonna-Whore complex, which is the juxtaposition of women as either the saintly Madonna figure or debased prostitutes. Given that he had this viewpoint, he found it difficult to remain faithful to Carmella, as she was the mother of his children and therefore, in his eyes, not someone whom he could treat in a sexual manner. This is why he always had a “goomah” (mistress) on the side, as he could treat her as a “whore”; a source of sexual pleasure without any strings attached. Gloria Trillo, Tony’s goomah, cooked him an elaborate dinner for what was supposed to be a romantic evening together. The semiotic representation of her loving preparation of dishes for Tony represented her love and desire for him. When Tony showed up late, she was furious. She sat on the couch and sipped wine, but left the food on the table. As hours went by, the food cooled, representing the cooling of her sexual desire. By the time Tony arrived both she and the food were cold. Tony and Gloria got into a heated fight and Gloria picked up and hurled a London Broil at Tony’s head. When he didn’t consume her food, she viewed this as a rejection of her love and she became enraged. The camera was positioned from Gloria’s point of view so the viewer could see the tension of Tony’s back tightening when the London broil bounced off of his shoulder. The viewer knew what Tony was capable of and anticipates a heated response, but instead of returning the passion (of anger or love), he simply leaves. It’s also important to note that the viewer doesn’t see Gloria partake in any of the food she prepared. She drank wine while waiting for Tony, but the food remained untouched. This is a semiotic representation of food for sexual desire, and symbolized that the food/sex was not for her consumption, it was something for her to “give”, not receive.
Junior rejects the insinuation he likes to “eat sushi”
The third scene that drew parallels between sex and food as semiotics to reinforce patriarchal expectations and hegemonic ideals was Boca (2002). In this episode, Uncle Junior took offense when his girlfriend, Bobbie complimented him on his cunnilingus skills (Boca 2002). While Junior and Bobbie lay in bed, she said he was a “real artist” when it came to “kissing down there”. He did not feel complimented, instead he was deeply offended. He warned her to never tell anyone of his skill, stating “They think if you suck pussy, you’ll suck anything”. He reminded her that in his “culture”, it’s a “sign of weakness” for a man to give oral sex and it is manlier to receive (Boca 2002). This signified the heterosexist masculine codes that the men in the series abide by, even if they don’t understand or agree with the reasoning. Tony established his masculinity superiority over Junior and insulted him for providing his lover with oral sex. Junior and Tony are on the golf course when Tony taunted Junior, whistling South of the Border and holding his golf club upwards, a phallic gesture establishing dominance. Tony implied that Junior was not a “real” man, stating, “I thought you were a baccala man, Uncle June. What’re you doin’ eatin’ sushi?” (Boca 2002). Tony drew parallels between food and sex in regards to the representation of sexual pleasure and desire. This demonstrated the hegemonic ideals and codes that both women and men must abide by. I posit that there is a correlation between the giver/receiver roles in sex and in food, as men are viewed as weak if they “give” food or sex. It’s no coincidence that when Junior finds out that Bobbie was bragging about his cunnilingus skills that he smashed her in the face with a lemon meringue pie, a semiotic representation for vagina. By smashing the pie in her face, Junior showed that he will no longer partake in her pie (metaphorically and figuratively) because of her transgressions.
While the pie served as a semiotic representation of a vagina, sausages served as a semiotic representation of a penis. In the episode Marco Polo (2004), Tony and Carmella are in the midst of their separation and impending divorce when she threw a birthday party for her father. Her father demanded that Tony attend because he was the “man of the house”. Carmella reluctantly asked Tony to attend to appease her father and he showed up, late, with a string of sausages around his neck, which served as a semiotic representation of his masculinity. He made his presence of “man of the house” known as he proudly displayed his sausages, represented a claim of his territory for which he had been usurped.
In this section, I discuss how the scenes I outlined correlate to the research on semiotics and gender normative roles. According to Kenneth Burke (1953), consubstantiality or “shared substance” represents our unconscious desire to identify with others. We may identify with someone because we want to be with another or feel better about ourselves when we are with them. Burke believes there is a struggle between identification and division, as people can never be identical or divided in the absolute sense.
In Carmella’s encounters with Father Phil, the Priest, I posit that her “desire” to be with him isn’t necessarily driven by her libido, but rather her desire to “identify”. InA Grammar of Motives Burke (1953) states:
As regards human motives, the natural, biological, tribal order of food and growth would seem to culminate in the emotion of love. It is the realm of appetites generally, the whole range of desires encompassed by the psychoanalyst’s concept of eros or libido (122).
Carmella lived a life of sin, benefitting from her husband committing crimes to provide a life for their family. She had a desire to cleanse herself from these sins. By having a sexual relationship with a Priest, she felt that she can absolve herself of her sins and become one with God, in a sense. Therefore, her “desire” is related to how she wanted to identify with the morality of the Priest. What’s interesting about Carmella’s religious undertones to her desire is that in Christianity, the enjoyment of food and eating is cautioned against as a ‘sin’ of gluttony.
Gustatory taste can divide and unite classes, race, and gender. From a moral standpoint, food can serve as both a bodily pleasure and a vice of gluttony. Taste can be thought of not only in the literal sense as it applies to food, but also in a metaphorical sense in regards to the ability to discern beauty and aesthetic qualities. Walden (2018) argues that “good taste” is correlated with class, stating: “Rhetorically, taste now indicates rational food choices based on modern science, while the palate connotes uneducated food choices based on tradition and emotion. In either application, the message is clear: Americans need an intellectual understanding of food and the body to promote good taste and cultural betterment,” (124). Carmella attempted to uphold societal ideas and good ‘taste’ for her family. This is demonstrated both through her cooking and her selections for her family as matriarchal head.
In The Sopranospilot episode (1999), Hunter (Meadow’s best friend) asked Carmella, “How do you stay so skinny Mrs. Soprano?” The answer was because she didn’t eat the rich foods she served, rather her gratification and pleasure didn’t come from eating, but rather denying herself food and feeding others…giving, not receiving. One must question if she denied herself food for religious reasons, because she was trying to absolve herself of the sin “gluttony”, or if it was because of the patriarchal societal expectations of women and their appetites. I argue the latter.
Ordering sex, and gabagool, off the menu
The men in The Sopranosviewed sex as fragmented acts that they can order in the same manner they order gabagool, baccala and panzerotti from Vestuvios. Barthes (1983) writes in Empire of Signs, “food is never anything but a collection of fragments, none of which appears privileged by an order of ingestion; to eat is not to respect a menu (an itinerary of dishes), but to select” (22). By correlating food to fragments and ‘selection’ we see the intention of choosing food and intention correlates to meaning. Sexual encounters are also a series of fragments. The men order up prostitutes and partake in sexual experiences in the same way they indulge in culinary delights. The men select their object of desire, allow themselves to be ‘served’ in a variety of fragmented experiences which are tied together through a common experience. Tony is used to being served, both with food and sex, and he’s a man who is used to getting what he wants. However, Carmella, as a female, isn’t afforded this same opportunity.
Compare and contrast the scenes in the examples I outlined between Tony’s affair with Gloria and Carmella’s romantic encounter with the Priest. Tony visited Gloria’s home, expected to be served, both food and sex, and he was allowed to select the sexual experiences and partners the way he would select food off of a menu. Carmella, on the other hand, has Father Phil visit her home and eat her food. While she shares her desire with him, he rejects her. The menu of sexual favors is within the male’s realm of control, not the females.
What we see here is the correlation between sex, food and power. Foucault (1978) speaks about sexuality and his conception of modern power in Volume 1 of The History of Sexuality. According to Foucault, sexuality isn’t a “thing” that is repressed by power and then needs to be rediscovered. Sexuality and power relations are closely intertwined. Foucault states that sexual repression is a superficial phenomenon.
Foucault (1990) asserts:
“[T]he deployment of sexuality, with its different strategies, was what established this notion of ‘sex’” (The Care of Self 154)
The conception of sex takes form in the strategies of power, not separate from it. According to Foucault, sexuality doesn’t exist in us in the way our consciousness exists in us, but instead it’s a construct that has grown out of discourse.
Carmella’s sense of agency
In some ways, Carmella possessed a tremendous sense of agency. She held the unique ability to control her unruly husband. While Carmella rejected feminism as “an elitist practice”, she was a paradox and full of contradictions. At times she portrayed the role of victim, at other times she was a domestic goddess and at others, a Mafia matriarch (McCabe 2006). While Tony may have displayed male bravado and appeared to be in control, the viewer can see that Carmella is the one person who knows how to ultimately get what she wants in her male dominated environment.
The most relevant example of this is when Carmella strong-arms Joan O’Connell, a prestigious alumna of Georgetown University, to write Meadow a letter of recommendation. Carmela brought Joan a ricotta pie (using food to represent desire) and a folder of Meadow’s high school transcripts. Joan refused to write the recommendation, but Carmela told her she is not asking for it, she “wants” it. It is clear that she’s used her power and influence to ensure that her daughter got into the right college. When Joan realized that Carmella was the mob boss’s wife, she changed her mind and decided to write the letter of recommendation.
On one hand, Carmella was able to successfully use her agency to get what she wanted. While she publicly denied her alignment to feminism and held gender normative roles, she certainly bucked against patriarchal society and did not submit to the dominate male presence on the series.
Another example in which Carmella used her agency is the episode, For All Debts Public and Private (2002). Carmella pressed Tony about their finances and the need to conduct estate planning. She approached Tony while he was in a vulnerable state, eating ice cream on the coach after a long day and watching Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks 1959). His mouth was still full of ice cream with the bowl balancing on his belly, as she approached him to ask what provisions he’s made for the future. He rebuked her efforts to disclose information about their finances. However, throughout the thirteen-episode season, Carmella persisted and continued to pressure Tony about their estate. The season ended with Tony and Carmella sitting down with a financial planner and making an investment in a beach home. The long series narrative arc “imposes meticulous rules of self-examination” (Foucault 19). The narrative mechanisms compel Carmella to bring forth representation. In the end, she wins and is successfully able to influence him to see a financial planner.
Double standards based on body normative ideals
I want to point out that not all women afforded the same opportunity to use food and sex as a sense of agency, as women who exist outside of the white, middle-class, thin ideological ideals are not viewed in the same manner. I build on Lindenfeld’s (2005) assertion that in the films Pretty Women(Julia Roberts), When Harry Met Sally (Meg Ryan) and Flashdance(Jennifer Beals) the leading women are portrayed eating in delight, but only to enhance their erotic attraction to men. Because the bodies of these heroines portray female body norms, it articulates that it’s only ok for women to eat if she doesn’t get fat and if it leads to heterosexual intercourse. I extend this to the representation of women in The Sopranos, as the juxtapositions between Carmella and Ginny Sack show the double standard.
As I pointed out earlier, Carmella is thin, conventionally attractive and gender normative. Therefore, societal expectations for her consumption and indulgence are different than an overweight woman. It’s considered acceptable for a thin and beautiful woman to indulge in culinary delights. However, take the same behavior of indulgence and extend it to women who are overweight, and suddenly eating is shamed, looked upon as gluttonous, overly indulgent and gross.
At several points in The Sopranosthe dichotomy between thin and obese women is displayed. Compare and contrast how women and food were portrayed between Carmella (skinny) and Ginny Sacrimoni (obese). Carmella was seen denying herself food, while Ginny was seen on her hands and knees eating candy bars that she hid in the basement. The candy bars served as a semiotic representation of indulgence, lack of control and gluttony. Ginny’s weight was the subject of many jokes, including one led to her husband, Johnny Sack, calling a hit out on Ralphie (a fellow mobster). Ralphie joked, “Ginny Sack is so fat she had to have a 90-pound mole removed from her ass,” (No Show 2002). While the other women in the series were portrayed in a sexual manner as it related to food, Ginny was portrayed as pitiful.
Through these examples, you can see that there is a dichotomy between “good eating” and “bad eating”, linked thinness with “good eating” and fatness with lack of control. A social consequence from living in a patriarchal society that values a woman’s ability to provide sexual satisfaction to men above all else is that women are judged for their bodies. Carmella obtained a sense of gratification and pleasure came from denying herself food and feeding others…giving, not receiving. This serves as a metaphor, reinforcing what it’s like to live in a patriarchal society, in which the woman’s role is to serve the man.
In conclusion, there are several examples throughout The Sopranosseries in which food acts as a semiotic representation of love and desire. I have argued that while women in The Sopranosused food and sex to demonstrate their agency, it continued to subjugate them in our patriarchal society and limited their power to the span of control under heteronormative gender roles, including mother, wife and lover. The Sopranosreinforced that women are the provider of both food and pleasure while men are the recipients of culinary and sexual delights. Men are viewed as “less manly” if they are the provider of the pleasure or food, whether it be oral sex or baked ziti. Food helped shape the gender normative identity of women throughout the series, as the viewer saw them preparing and serving food in a nurturer role while the men formed their masculine identity through consumption. I also pointed out instances in which the expectations surrounding food and desire vary depending upon body norms. The repercussions of the portrayal of women in subservient, nurturing and “provider” roles in relation to food and sex can be far-reaching. Together, they confine a woman’s role in patriarchal society as a “nurturer” and her body remains a place of public interest and control. While women can leverage food and sexual prowess to develop a sense of agency, it is limited when they are subordinated and not offered the same selection or options as men. This sends a message to women about their sexuality and agency. In our patriarchal society it’s important that women feel empowered to both give and receive. While I have explored many concepts of rhetoric they relate to food, gender and weight, there are opportunities for further exploration of food and desire in Sopranos as it relates to race, sexual orientation and class. I conclude by placing a call to action for films to represent women in empowering roles that flip the script on giver/receiver gender roles, enabling women of all sizes to embrace their sexuality and demonstrate a sense of agency. This will require purposeful and thoughtful attention to women’s roles on screen. It is fitting that the final scene in the series ends with the family coming together for one last dinner. One by one they pop a single onion ring into their mouth to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. It harkens back to the first episode when Tony said that it’s the small moments that we remember. Their small moments are peppered with food, serving as a semiotic representation of their love, desire and motivation.
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