Dining in the Füde: An Interview with Charlie Ann Max
You may have heard something about that little “nude dinner party” that popped up in The New York Times a few weeks ago. The candlelit images of diners attending an elaborate vegan feast in the buff prompted more than a few people to ask themselves: Are nude dinner parties a thing now? But as Charlie Ann Max, the artist and model behind The Füde Experience, will tell you: Füde is much more than just a naked dinner party.
Raised as a dancer, Charlie came to New York to study at Joffrey Ballet before an injury forced her to leave dance behind. After transitioning to modeling, she launched the bi-coastal Füde experience: a nude dinner party that combines her passion for plant-based cooking with the exploration of nudity in a social context. Having studied at the Institute of Culinary Education, the fusion of her two passions was a no-brainer. But equally unsurprising is the controversial reaction Füde has received.
While Charlie’s passion for easing the stigma associating nudity with sexuality makes up for a good portion of the fuel behind this fire, the even deeper desire to help people develop a healthier relationship not just with their own bodies but also with their inner selves is clear. And—surprise surprise—that’s just not a goal we usually associate with New York City dining.
So, what exactly is it? Why dine without your clothes on? Well, luckily for us, Charlie is here to explain. And, hint hint: no, it’s not “some kind of sex thing”.
When did you first start exploring nudity as a practice?
Charlie Ann Max: I was going through a big party and exploration phase after dance because dance had been so structured… I’d been dancing since I was three years old and we had curfews at Joffrey so it was very intense. When I stopped dancing, there was this freedom: a new aspect on the other side of all this structure I had had all my life.
At the time, I was living with my roommates who were my best friends and I think it naturally happened by us just getting closer with each other. It must have been that I just needed a towel out of the shower or something but one day, I just went out naked. Then we started all just hanging out or getting ready naked. It became more and more comfortable and relaxed and it started to feel very positive and liberating and freeing. So I started to do it more and then I started exploring going out in public topless or wearing see-through clothing a lot.
How did people respond to that?
CAM: People were very shocked generally. But it became so normalized with me and my friend group that I kind of forgot people were like that. But recently, with all this press coming out about Füde and seeing everyone’s reactions, I remembered that it’s so crazy to people.
What role has cooking and food in general played in your life?
CAM: I’ve been cooking my whole life and I have always loved cooking for as long as I can remember. In high school, I loved making different cuisines like Thai, Italian, all different kinds… I grew up vegetarian and I’ve never eaten meat in my life because my parents were vegetarian when I was born. After dance, I started educating myself more on the meat and dairy industry as a whole, and the environmental aspects, which is why I became plant-based.
I love cooking; it’s my love language. I love communicating with food and sharing that with others. It’s a really beautiful way to create and communicate and it’s a gorgeous art form.
Did these two passions of yours come together organically to create The Füde Experience or was this an intentional fusion of these two interests?
CAM: It organically came together. I’d been hosting dinner parties that eventually turned into nude-optional dinner parties. When I moved to LA four-ish years ago, I’d been talking about starting something like Füde with plant-based recipes and just never did. But then the pandemic hit and, finally, that’s when it started.
I mentioned to a friend last night that I was interviewing you and she immediately jumped to the conclusion that Füde had to be sexually motivated in some way. I’m sure that this is something you hear a lot…
CAM: Yeah, people ask in almost every interview. It makes sense because people automatically associate nudity with sex. I think it’s because of the stigma around sex and the conditioning we have with the porn industry that when we see a naked body it automatically means sex. That, or you’re taking a shower. We were born naked and nudity to me represents so much more than the fact of being naked: it’s letting go, it’s surrendering. It’s all of these different concepts and aspects of the physical form of nudity.
Yes, I believe that we are sexual beings but that’s not the only thing we are and another way to shift that perspective is creative energy. So, if you’re working with the creative aspect while naked, it becomes not sexual at all. I’m passionate about this because I feel that there are a lot of spaces that do exist with both nudity and sexuality as well as sex-positive spaces. But there’s enough of that—these spaces are beautiful and there’s no shame with them but I think there needs to be more normalization when it comes to the connection with the body. There’s a big disconnect we have to our naked bodies which is why there’s so much shame around nudity and so much discomfort.
Was your motivation for Füde to try to reverse that stigma and do you find it disappointing when people assume the whole platform is just some kind of sex party?
CAM: It’s not so disappointing to me because it makes sense. I just think that it’s a direct result of where we are as a whole when it comes to how we perceive nudity and see it in general. I am passionate about normalizing nudity in a nonsexual context but also, to me, it’s more about creating a connection to our most pure authentic selves and that’s why nudity represents all of those things—along with plant-based foods.
I do think it’s a very sensual experience. The whole dinner is all plant-based and I don’t serve any substances so no alcohol or anything. But I do work with facilitators to incorporate breathwork or sound healing or different things that help to ignite our senses to a point where we feel more in touch with ourselves. I didn’t know our body can vibrate to the levels they can and when you’re eating certain foods, you actually feel the energy and the nourishment of those foods in your body. You can be more conscious and present with them when you are being more conscious with what you are consuming.
I read that typically there are mostly women in attendance. Does the vibe change when men are also present in the room?
CAM: Yeah, it’s definitely a different vibe and I actually prefer when it’s fully diverse: age, gender, etcetera. I find that when everyone is included it can be really powerful and, because of the sexualization of our bodies, it’s nice to be in a space where people are not sexualized while nude. In this space, people can have that authentic connection. I put a lot of intention into cultivating a very safe space and it’s just not a sexual space at all. It’s packed with activities throughout the whole night and you’re thinking and there’s a guided discussion… It’s been really healing for a lot of people, myself included.
Have you had any particular revelations through doing this? Was anything surprising to you?
CAM: I’m constantly surprised as each one I do gets better and better. I’m creating more of a flow and I am really taken aback by how transformed people say they feel and how life-changing they say they feel. I’ve experienced these things myself and I’m opening up a space for people to experience it for themselves too. It’s beautiful to see it either happen for the first time or [the feeling] coming back or even remembering a feeling like that in the past. So, that’s been kind of surprising to me.
A lot of people come alone, which is nice. Many have never been naked in a group before so it’s a lot of first-timers. Now, as it’s growing, it’s getting more mixed but it’s a lot of people trying something like this for the first time. I’ve been getting people who are closer to their 60s and 70s—which is cool because I want to expand it past the 20s-30s-40s age ranges. Especially because when we go through that guided discussion, hearing perspectives from people who have lived longer is really important….So it’s really nice to hear all these perspectives, especially when it comes to age diversity in the room.
Has anyone ever freaked out and left?
CAM: No, that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been really lucky and grateful that everyone stays and once they’re in, they’re in.
It’s interesting that that’s never happened. I think that mostly points to the idea that maybe it’s not as scary as people think.
CAM: I love when people are very nervous or scared because usually, those are the people that have the most transformation.
Have there been any noticeable differences between the crowd that attends in New York versus the crowd that attends in LA?
CAM: It doesn’t matter where I am. I was doing some in London and Berlin this past summer and every single place felt like home. It’s also attracting a similar type of person.
Find out about all upcoming Fude events—here.
WORDS Hillary Sproul
FEATURED IMAGERY From left to right: photograph by Raoul Alejandre, photograph by Charlie Ann Max