Twilight Summary: In Chapter 13, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.
Twilight, Chapter 13: Confessions
When we last left our star-crossed couple, Edward was explaining how he constantly wants to
“How do I explain?” he mused. “And without frightening you again . . . hmmmm.” [...] “You know how everyone enjoys different flavors?” he began. “Some people love chocolate ice cream, others prefer strawberry?”
“Sorry about the food analogy — I couldn’t think of another way to explain.”
I smiled. He smiled ruefully back.
When it comes to analyzing Twilight, I think "sorry about the food analogy" is one of the most frequently quoted lines in this book. Certainly, it was considered punchy enough to lead off the Twilight and Philosophy book. But I am willing to confess myself entirely baffled by the line: what is Edward trying to say here and what is he apologizing for, precisely?
Edward seems to be apologizing for using a food analogy in a manner that reduces Bella to food, rather than to a person. And normally I would be on board with that -- it's not appropriate to reduce women to food when discussing non-food things like, for example, rape. This is, in fact, a common argument employed by misogynists and it is an analogy that I have deconstructed in the past:
Lions eat zebras, just like men rape women! It's analogies like these that make me want to dig out a retro English police outfit, complete with inflatable novelty billy club, and style myself the Analogy Police. I'm not going to start singing "The Circle of Life" over here, but these two things are not even remotely the same. Lions eat zebras because if the lions don't eat something, they will die in a matter of days. I am pretty darn sure that never before has a man died from not being allowed to rape someone. Beyond that there comes a point where the phrase "apples and oranges" ceases to be adequate. How about "rape is a social phenomena that varies widely across cultures depending on the hostility of that culture towards the concept of female choice whereas lions as a species tend to have level consumption rates based on a shared biological need, furthermore men are not mindless robots with zero control over their ravening penises."
So, yes: it is utterly inappropriate to use a food analogy when talking about rape. Do not do this thing unless you want to look like a world-class douchcanoe.
But! Edward is not illustrating an urge to rape with a food analogy. Edward is employing a food analogy in order to talk about wanting to literally eat Bella. His analogy reduces her to a piece of meat because that is exactly how a part of him views her: as meat. And it seems to me that when you are explaining to someone how much you want to eat them as opposed to wanting to eat all the other kids at school, a "food analogy" isn't inappropriately reductionist -- it's spot-on.
Maybe Edward's apology here is supposed to convey his apologies for viewing Bella as food in the first place: "I'm sorry that I view you as food, whether I describe it in those terms or not." Or perhaps he is apologizing for the gaucheness inherent in outright admitting that he sees her as food: "I'm sorry that I'm using such coarse language to describe what is essentially a food craving but should not be admitted as such to you in this way." Yet his actual apology -- "sorry about the food analogy" -- seems to be less about discomfiting Bella by viewing her as food and talking about her as food, and more about a tacit acceptance that the analogy is somehow inappropriate here. As it indeed would be if he were talking about sex instead of eating.
It almost seems like Edward has forgotten that the rape threat hanging in the air has been cloaked in the metaphor of vampirism thus far. Which I find interesting, because the Doylist decision for an author to use vampirism as a rape metaphor is a decision to use a "food analogy" for something which is not food at all. Employing vampirism as a rape metaphor is a way to take what is ultimately a free choice to override someone's bodily autonomy and make it instead a physical compulsion to override someone's bodily autonomy, by linking the act of rape with the act of eating and the drive for individual survival.
Because rape and eating are not the same thing, this is one of many reasons why it's problematic to link them. No one, as noted above, has ever wasted away and died from Not Raping Folks. Many, many people have died from Not Eating Food. Linking something such as eating, which is a biological imperative in the sense that You Will Die if you don't do it, to something like rape, which is only a "biological imperative" in the evo-psych bullshit maybe-it-might-help-perpetuate-your-genes-but-maybe-not sense of the word is illogical and offensive when used as a rape-apologist argument and potentially very problematic when used as a literary device.
And maybe that's why Edward is apologizing here: he's sorry about the whole food analogy thing as applied to the metaphorical rape that he's metaphorically contemplating when he stares at Bella in her sleep from the corner of her bedroom.
But if that is his meaning, it's very meta of him to say so.