Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gender Theory (of Cheesecake)

I need your help, and because I have so many readers who love to bake, I thought I'd bring it up now.  Next time you host a dinner party I'd like you to conduct a little experiment and afterwards send me the results.  The working hypothesis that I'm testing is basically this: by a high margin more women than men prefer cheesecake. 

So here's what you do. Invite friends and co-workers over for a shindig. Might I suggest an Italian meal, manicotti and Caesar salad, and don't forget the diet soft drinks.  Surely someone will bring a bottle of red wine.  For you Miss Susie Homemakers out there, freshly baked bruschetta with plenty of garlic and a smidgen of oregano or rosemary would be nice.  You can either prepare the desserts yourself or have guests bring some in potluck fashion. The key thing is to have variety. First, provide non-cheesecake desserts (and not just one) like brownies with white icing or chocolate cake or meringue cookies or whatnot. Second, make sure you have a variety of cheesecake: cherry and chocolate, say.  One of our dinner guests, a dear friend of ours named Evelyn, hadn't touched my wife's special mud pie cheesecake because, as she explained later, chocolate makes her rosacea act up. So her reason for not eating cheesecake was invalid and it threw off the study.

Ladies, it's important that you don't spill the beans until afterwards lest you taint the results. Once everyone has had dessert and you're all sitting around chewing the fat, then you can talk about it if you like. As they say in the military, you can conduct an AAR, or after-action review. I suppose it could provide an interesting conversation topic for about five minutes while you're getting out Pictionary.  Until then quietly observe who eats what, but don't be obvious about it, because they'll think your keeping tabs on how much they eat.   Men and women struggling with their weight, Americans in other words, are already self-conscious enough.  A friend of ours caught me watching her choosing a dessert, and with disastrous results; but I'll discuss what not to do a few paragraphs below.

As you can gather by now, I have administered this non-scientific survey myself.  However, I need more subjects before I can confirm my hypothesis definitively.  Perhaps Der Viator readers could email their own results and we could base my anecdotal evidence on sounder quantitative data.  In addition we could hazard an explanatory theory to account for this gender divide.  Admittedly, I've worked out a few preliminary ideas  already, and I'll share them at the conclusion.

Since some of my readers—and most assuredly not you—are not well versed in etiquette and social protocol, I'd first like to offer some do's and don'ts in carrying out this study.  My dear wife, bless her heart, has obliged my relentless search for truth.  She's been the one making the dinner arrangements and preparing the meals, while I develop various theories upstairs in my office.  I'm hesitant to bring up some of my mistakes in conducting the study, as you might think I'm the most socially inept person you've ever met; but I think it's important to show you some of the pitfalls.  Let me say at the outset that I can be quite charming and personable, the type of person you'd be delighted to have at a party.  My wife won't testify to my gregarious side, but that's only because she has a different definition of social.  (Just because I don't grin like a chimpanzee and gesticulate like a seal doesn't mean I'm aloof.)

Joyce, a mutual friend of ours, noticed me observing her cut a slice of cheesecake and place it carefully on a plate.  A few crumbs from the graham cracker crust flaked off onto the table top.  She picked each one up by meticulously smashing them with her index finger and then licking them.  Fearing she figured out that I was conducting an experiment on gender-based cheesecake consumption, I tried to gloss things over, and, boy, did I say the wrong thing.  “My, Joyce, you have quite an appetite. I think that’s great.” I blurted out these words without considering their effect.  Still not thinking, and self-admittedly obtuse when it comes to the female of our species, I called to my wife. “Honey? Get out the reserve plate from the frig.” I realized instantly that I had made the situation worse.  The other guests stared into their plates trying to come up with a new conversation topic.  The rosacea on Evelyn's face, by the way, turned extra red, and she hadn't touched the chocolate cheesecake nor the M&M's I offered her earlier.

“Oh, I’m sorry," came Joyce's belated response. "I guess I am gobbling this thing down, aren’t I?” Another awkward pause ensued for five seconds and I swear it seemed like five minutes. “They’re so good."  She laughed nervously and manufactured a fake smile for appearances' sake. "I should start back on my diet, you’re right.”  No-one could miss the indignant tone in her voice. If you make a faux pas like I certainly did, quickly recover with a compliment. “Your blouse is cute, by the way."  I mentioned the only women's store I know (because it's located next to Barnes & Noble), thinking I needed a bit more detail for chit-chat.  "Did you get that at Lane Bryant?”  During pillow talk time with my wife later in the night, I learned I had made yet another gaffe.

Here’s the way it's supposed to happen. You’re all sitting around the table. Enough time has elapsed since the meal. You talk in the most amiable, polite voice you can muster: “Bill? Joyce? Karen? Evelyn?  Would you care for some dessert?” “Why, yes, I would,” Joyce responds. “Thank you, sweetheart, for asking.” The sweetheart reference repulses you, but you bite the bullet and press on. Your wife lays out the goodies, and you supply the plates and forks.  Simply thus.  Don't get out a notebook; don't start gawking at their plates.  Merely make a mental note, and utilize peripheral vision.

So why should we trouble ourselves with such an experiment?  That's a good question.  I suppose it satisifies my curiosity.  I suspect a physiological or cultural explanation for the preponderance of women who choose the cheesecake.  And I should make it clear that if you're a guy and you choose cheesecake over other dessert options, I don't intend to impugn your masculinity.  There's always been at least one guy who'll nibble on it.  It's not %100.  So consider yourself part of the ten percent club on cheesecake.

I have toyed with a few theories to account for these test results. Perhaps it has something to do with the process of making cheesecake, or cheese at any rate.  After all, enzyme and estrogen both start with the letter E.  This is possibly a coincidence but highly doubtful.  Another theory I'm developing is called the Motherly Instinct theory.  Women, according to this theory, like cheesecake because this particular dessert, arguably, is a bit more dairy heavy, and women, as lactating nurturers, identify with it.  Perhaps someday, somehow, the results of this study will lead to the cure for cancer, breast cancer especially, given the whole cheesecake-breast connection I've established.  I'm just throwing that out.  You never know.  Now, some uneducated people would suggest these theories are lame, but you, faithful Der Viator readers, appreciate the scientific spirit of inquiry as much as I do.  Remember what they said about Copernicus.