Food Porn: NSFW (Not Safe For Willpower)


Last week, NPR posted a casual poll asking people if they were fed up with the huge influx of food porn that was taking up their Facebook/Tumblr/Pinterest wall’s. When the poll was finished it turns out that most people liked the pictures of food their friends were talking; although it’s probably notable that there was a healthy amount of people who were indeed “over it”.

The problem that I have with that article is the fact that there wasn’t any real explanation to what food porn actually is. I think it’s important to distinguish the difference of a photo that qualifies as food porn and a photo that’s just a picture of food.

Like actual porn, food porn glorifies the acts or objects they present. Fantasies that go beyond what is actually real are portrayed. With sex, it might be the situation that occurs in a video or maybe even what is actually being done sexually. I mean c’mon, there is no way that some of those positions can be comfortable in real life unless you moonlight as an acrobat for Cirque du Soleil… not that I’m into that sort of thing. I’m just saying…

He’s OBVIOUSLY had some work done.

Food Porn accentuates the food or the act of eating the food. We can’t taste or smell the food that was posted so the photographer has to make what we can see hyper-real. Colors and lighting are altered, presentation is perfected, and in the case of video the expressions of the people eating the food are exaggerated. Seriously, no one’s that happy after eating a Quarter Pounder.

Anyone else suddenly in the mood for milkshakes and David Beckham?

Everybody, with the exception Kate Moss, eats. We all know what it is like to taste food and we all know what it’s like to taste food that we like. When it comes to food porn, we do half the work by imagining what something could taste like. It’s like looking at an outline drawing of something and filling it in the colors ourselves. We understand the concepts of salty, sweet, bitter, and umami/savory and we can imagine what a food is going to feel like: whether something will be chewy, smooth, crunchy and so on. This knowledge allows us to determine whether what we’re seeing is desirable as food.

I don’t even know what that is but I want it in my mouth… now

What food porn does is emphasize the visual cues that will help us decide what something will taste like when we eat it. We can’t taste the picture of the food but our brain uses color to give us an expectation of flavor. If we have an expectation of what something tastes like, we can then use that to create an expectations as to what something will smell like. We can’t chew an image of food so texture is emphasized to give us an understanding on that dish’s mouthfeel. Food porn does all of this, a simple picture of food does not.

Pictured: Vietnamese-Style Fried chicken. Also Pictured: Crispy, Salty and Savory

Like real porn, food porn is objective. Porn is only porn if it turns you on. Food porn is only food porn if it makes you hungry; it’s every bit as objective. A gorgeous steak might look absolutely delicious to one person while it repulses a vegetarian. Like I said before, we as the viewer are doing half the work…

… as opposed to real porn where we do 3/4 of the work… if you know what I mean.

Personally, I think the concept of food porn is ridiculous, it is. I mean, c’mon, how can you really take something that’s called food porn seriously? It occupies a part of the artistic spectrum where commercial advertising lives. It’s still visually and sometimes even emotionally stimulating but at the end of the day its motivations are not at all deep. Nothing that literally tries to make you salivate should be considered high brow.We’ve been exposed to food porn since we can remember, whether it be through advertising or Facebook or anything that’s on the food network these days. It’s just the glamorization on what we all do every day.

I’m not saying the level of overshare out there is good or bad. Some people don’t care about food, and that’s fine. I can understand how people log onto Facebook and think “Seriously, Jon? More pictures of things garnished with parsley?” But you know, I think of the same thing when I see pictures of puppies or babies. I mean it’s cute, but I don’t really get invested one way or the other. We live in an overshare culture and close-ups of your lunch was born out of that. I don’t expect everyone to like what I share; I share for the sake of people who DO like what I post. I don’t do it to specifically annoy the people that don’t.

So when it comes to food porn, don’t take personally something your friend isn’t taking seriously. In the end, it’s probably taking up more of your energy to get annoyed than to simply scroll past it.

Of course, there are lines that can be crossed. Where you draw them is completely up to you.

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