London had its first taste of what was touted as a purely organic dining experience in its maiden pop-up naked restaurant, The Bunyadi. It opened on 11 June this year, with the promise of providing its diners a service free of the trappings of modern life, such as electricity, mobile phones, and most certainly your clothes -- your nudity being an optional liability or liberty, as the case might be.
"Bunyadi," comes from the Hindustani word "bunyaadi" meaning fundamental, principled, foundational, natural or elemental. Whether nudity is represented in any of these is an ideological question. But more importantly, can a concept like The Bunyadi replace the gastro-tourism, which food has undergone in socio-digital spaces, with real human bodies?
Instead of food the diners are allowed to experience or openly desire naked human bodies...
Selling The Bunyadi is of course selling liberation, according to Sebastian Lyall, the founder of Lollipop (which is the creative collective that started the restaurant). The concept is undoubtedly upmarket too: "Think luxury spa—candlelight, bamboo everywhere, fluffy white robes, and cocktails named after the elements...," reads the blurb on the Bunyadi website. One is reminded of Slavoj Žižek's notion that lavatories are not merely essential, but ideologically weighed and designed places -- well, then so can be restaurants, and especially one like The Bunyadi!
The last thing that The Bunyadi -- or any of its reviews -- talk about is food. Their menu is a modest ten dishes. The thrust is not on what is eaten but how it is cooked -- barring the use of fire, gas or electricity -- and how it is consumed, that is "naked."
How liberating The Bunyadi really is can only be possibly said with the coming of a time when the trend is not confined to a London pop-up. So far the restaurant has been thoroughly recommended by UK journalists from Time Out to Daily Mail to The Independent to The Telegraph, and celebrated as a haven of experiencing, "Naked waiters, naked food and naked from modern day technology." The cult that The Bunyadi's restaurateurs would like to peddle out is that the place tries to purge urban psychology by easing out the restrictions that modern society lays on the human body, especially the female one.
The fact that postmodernism has only over-sexualized our bodies goes without saying. Lyall is of the opinion that Bunyadi "desexualizes bodies, which are beautiful whatever shape they are, as you are in a space where it doesn't matter how you look." Additionally, the restaurant's tables are screened by bamboo blinds, the crockery is made of clay, its cutlery is edible, and soups prepared by bicycle-generated power. Instead of food the diners are allowed to experience or openly desire naked human bodies; instead of luxurious cutlery and china they are permitted to long for earthenware.
[W]hat Bunyadi truly liberates us from are the shackles that bind us to a pornography of food.
That the folks at The Bunyadi managed to convince London of the benefits is beyond a doubt -- by the first week of June about 500,000 people were on the pre-booking waiting list. London has a population of about 8.6 million people today. The number of applicants to Bunyadi therefore occupies nearly .6% of the population. The number is only increasing, and by no means is it a miniscule figure. What it suggests is not the number of people who would like to be nude while dining, or dine in the company of naked others, but simply how many of them would like to do so at one small restaurant in Central London. Were the option of doing the same replicated in other parts of the city, it will be fair to say that number of diners would grow too uncomfortable for an escalating British conservatism to endure.
Bunyadi has space for 42 diners, and most of its applicants are women. "Why though," one asks, "are women more sexualized or self-sexualizing than men?" or so might ask the devil's advocate. Certainly, The Bunyadi is a place for women to feel more secure about their naked selves, both aesthetically and sexually.
What is liberated in the restaurant and the concept of naked dining is not the essential or bunyaadi beauty of the human body -- at least not yet (the proof that such a liberation is yet to come is that we are still writing about it, still opening up the matter for discussion and contrarian perspectives). But what Bunyadi truly liberates us from are the shackles that bind us to a pornography of food.
Food porn -- especially so in an age of digital reproduction where not only images and representations but also sensual experiences are passively reproduced -- has stretched the limits of sex. Sexual repression is channelized through consumption of food impressions which are then digitally disseminated through blogs and cookery shows. While it may be immoral for women to visually gratify a sexual consumer, it is now an acculturated practice for a woman to aesthetically transpose her sexuality into citrus peels, ounces of wine, cheese gratings, bacon wrappings, meringue swirls and finally the sight of a stainless steel knife between her two hands, penetrating the flesh of fresh meat or acrylic-coated vegetables.
Sparing nude London diners from the humdrum act of putting on garbs, for two months, the restaurant has paved a way to overcome the sexual repression whose malaise has touched many of us, even in the non-phallic sense. For many years since the birth of the internet --or much before since the first food aficionados that compared food to sexual objects -- we have grown used to consuming food sexually. It is time we did so with sexuality restored to its proper place -- free of gastronomic metaphors, for a start.