13 May 2019

Freud's pepper grinder... Not the size but how you use it.

| Alex Tricolas

I was recently clearing out some old junk and came across a tattered restaurant docket. Across the top were scrawled the words Pepper grinder sex survey – Men vs. Women. Below it, a series of columns and numbers, the raw data of a stunning piece of in-house scientific research undertaken by yours truly almost two decades ago and long forgotten in a dusty old chest of draws.

The subject of my study was the pepper grinder–or to be more precise, its weird Freudian sexualisation. You see, I had a hunch that there was something going on with the damn pepper grinder that had very little to do with a person’s tastebuds and more to do with their carnal desires. It may have been the shape of the thing, or the fact that it was active while the plate was passive. I wasn’t sure, but I was keen to find out.

My pepper grinder moment came some time in the late 90s, that crazy time when food was stacked to ridiculous heights on plates the size of foxtel dishes, and pepper grinders had reached a crescendo of silliness in ritual and in size. At the time, I was working on the floor of a popular Italian restaurant in Kingston with a slightly offbeat collection of co-workers and an even more offbeat boss.

One night a pair of witty and charming ladies–regulars with a penchant for the double entendre, about fifteen years older than me by my estimation–were in for dinner with their husbands. Upon arrival of their meals, one of them immediately asked for freshly cracked pepper. I returned with the oversized tool, and proceeded to twist it over the woman’s plate. “Grind away,” she said with a flirty smile. “She likes a good grind,” said the other, and they both broke into a cackle.

Feeling like an extra in a Carry On movie, I stayed in character long enough to service both of them and turned to their husbands with the great instrument in hand, only to be immediately met by indifference and shooed away without ceremony. I wondered why the men, who ordered steak, refused the pepper and the women, who ordered pasta, both enthusiastically received it. Surely the men’s tastes were more tuned to pepper than the women’s, I thought.

Being a great believer in market research and the scientific method, I immediately devised a plan to collect some data. My suspicion had been aroused by the flirty attitude of the women, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. That night, over a post-shift smoke and beer, I told a couple of my female co-workers about my idea and of course, roped them in to assist me.

The plan was straightforward. I would ask clientele of both genders whether they would like pepper, and then take a tally. The girls would do the same, with their tables acting as a kind of control group. Each group would continue the experiment until we had clocked up 100 customers each.

I was interested to know if the gender of the customer would determine their choice, and even more so, if the gender of the server was going to have the effect of altering the results for each group. I’m not sure what I was expecting to discover from this captivating work, but nonetheless, I am happy to reveal after all this time, the results are in.

Overall, our female clientele were clearly bigger fans of pepper than the males. 61 percent of them chose pepper, while only 45 percent of males did. However, when we broke the two groups up, the results were even more varied. When I offered pepper, 64 percent of women accepted and only 39 percent of men did. When the girls offered pepper, 59 percent of females accepted and 51 percent of males did.

The results for the females were slightly different; a few more percentage points in my favour. But for the males, the swing was massive. I imagined that a substantial amount of them wanted pepper all along, but when they saw me coming with that great big thing, they wanted no part of it. Get that thing away from me you bastard, they must have been thinking. As for the females, they seemed to prefer a man, but mostly didn’t mind who peppered their plate.

I’m not sure what my research revealed about human sexuality, or about our preference for pepper for that matter; but I’m sure that with more study, some conclusive proof would settle the matter once and for all. Of course, as more and more restaurants are supplying small do-it-yourself versions on tables, current trends have (thankfully) consigned the giant pepper grinder to the dustbin of fashion history–and as there probably isn’t another soul on the planet that would be in the slightest bit interested in this particular fetish, these may be the only results that we ever have. Hmm, I might frame that docket…

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