Connect with us

Top 10 Untold Truths About Food Porn

Food

Top 10 Untold Truths About Food Porn

We all love looking at images of food on the internet. There’s just something so satisfying and yet tempting about seeing that perfect image of a greasy cheeseburger, or a juicy steak, or a perfectly roasted turkey with all the trimmings. This phenomenon has come to be known as “food porn.” Food porn, though it sounds smutty, is really just the idea of looking at photos of delicious food and having the same sensation as staring at salacious images of people. Our brains are immediately triggered to expect food and we become hungry for it. Not just any food, however: no no, we need to have the most decadent, tasty, and unhealthiest food possible. Sure, sometimes a salad can look good in a photo, but it’s nowhere near the same as seeing something totally unhealthy, like a giant plate of hot wings or chicken fingers. The truth about food porn is that it is actually influencing us more than we may think. It has affected everything from how food is portrayed in advertisements to how it is served in restaurants, and it has also greatly affected the ways in which we consume food. It has even had a significant effect on how we think about food. The presentation has always been a huge part of cooking. After all, the more desirable a dish looks, the more likely we are to want to eat it, but food porn has taken the idea of photographing food to an entirely new level where we expect food to be attractive before we even taste it. These are the top ten untold truths about food porn.

10. The term was first used in 1984

We might be tempted to think that the term “food porn” is something that has only existed in the internet age. After all, it’s one of the biggest hashtags on Instagram, and there’s no way anyone might have thought to say it before it was a thing. However, we would be wrong in that assumption. The first instance of the phrase “food porn” being written actually occurred in the 1984 book Female Desire written by Rosalind Coward. In it, she wrote, “Cooking food and presenting it beautifully is an act of servitude. It is a way of expressing affection through a gift… That we should aspire to produce perfectly finished and presented food is a symbol of a willing and enjoyable participation in servicing others. Food pornography exactly sustains these meanings relating to the preparation of food. The kinds of picture used always repress the process of production of a meal. They are always beautifully lit, often touched up.” Since then, the term has come less to be associated with servitude and forbidden desires and more with just shared photos of a really good meal or maybe watching a chef prepare a gourmet dish that would be almost impossible to make in a home kitchen. The term ‘gastro-porn” was used even earlier, in a 1977 article about cookbooks published in the New York Review of Books. It just goes to show that nothing these days is truly that original.

9. Food porn makes you hungry

This one might be obvious, but looking at pictures of delicious food makes you hungry. Surprising, we know, but it’s true! There’s something about the perfect photo of a slice of pizza or a big juicy burger or a fully loaded sundae that makes our brains go “wow! We need to have that right now!” This phenomenon has been linked in at least one study to the production of ghrelin, which is a hunger-causing hormone naturally produced by the brain. According to a report from The Atlantic, Gabriella Petrick, a professor of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University, said “When we eat things, different parts of our brain light up in different ways. It’s not just taste—we evoke sight, we evoke hearing, we evoke lots of different [things] as our brain tries to construct what our food is.” That means that the old chef’s adage, “you eat with your eyes first” really rings true. Not only that, but every part of our senses can trigger hunger, whether it’s the visual aspect of watching someone cook or the auditory experience of hearing sizzling meat. And, of course, there are the classic olfactory senses, smell and taste, which can truly trigger a person’s hunger. Overall, food porn is just part of the whole picture, but it’s the visual stimulant that forces our bodies to prepare themselves for eating, which may be why food porn is so effective at making us crave something to eat. 

8. But sometimes it doesn’t 

On the other hand, food porn may do more to reduce our appetites than heighten them. We know, it seems like that kind of thing would be impossible. After all, as we mentioned before, that photo of a slice of pizza or a cheeseburger really get certain parts of your brain firing, ready to devour any food that stands in your way. However, what if you were to eat the exact same food that had just appeared in the photo you saw? According to one scientific study, the effect would actually be the opposite of what you might expect. In the 2011 study, titled “Satiation from Sensory Simulation: Evaluating Foods Decreases Enjoyment of Similar Foods,” researchers found that when their research subjects were presented with images of salty foods, they were less likely to be tempted by those same salty foods in real life. What happened was that the inverse gave the opposite effect, wherein subjects that were shown images of sweet foods tended to crave saltier ones. In another 2013 study conducted with mice, researchers found that if the brain was telling the body that it was full, then the response to certain triggers (in this case, a specific feeding area) was not as strong. What that means is that when we have had our fill of food, food porn does not have nearly the same effect on us.

7. It’s changing the way millennials eat

Who else but millennials could create the food porn craze that is so prevalent on social media today? The food porn hashtag on Instagram has hundreds of millions of tags, and it is growing every day. Eating is no longer just the practice of consuming food, it’s become a cultural phenomenon, one that invokes a sort of status symbol among millennials. “This is what I’m eating,” their photos seem to say, “look at the colors, the arrangement of the food, the perfect char on the meat. I have been elevated. Aren’t you jealous?” That’s really the message that modern food porn is sending to its audience, and it’s not that far off from what other photos on social media do. Rather than taking a photo of a luxurious vacation, millennials are sharing photos of what they got at the new barbecue place, or a platter of tacos or a really tall, swirly soft serve ice cream cone. In many ways, creating food porn has become almost an art form among millennials, with many different rules and guidelines for taking the perfect food photos. This phenomenon has even changed the way that food photography, which has classically tried to make everything look absolutely perfect, is being utilized to reach millennials (more on that later). Overall, millennials are the ones disseminating food porn photos faster than any other age group, and while they may not have invented the term, they certainly adopted it and spread it like wildfire.

6. Gives you the same feeling as shopping

We’ve all heard of the term “retail therapy.” The idea is that the act of shopping, of buying new things, whether it be a new jacket, pair of sneakers, electronics, video games, anything really, gives us an endorphin rush and makes us feel satisfied. Of course, that feeling can wear off quickly once you take a look at your credit card bill, and once you realize that you just bought a bunch of stuff that you really don’t need. The fact of the matter is that retail therapy does give a real, tangible feeling of happiness and satisfaction, much the same way that eating a good meal does. Food porn, in that way, gives people the same feeling of buying something they can keep in their closet. They spend a lot of money on an expensive meal, and then they photograph it as evidence that they did, in fact, buy this amazing “designer” dinner. Having that photo for posterity allows people the chance to show their friends and family what they got to eat over the weekend. As mentioned previously, food porn itself becomes a status symbol, one that represents the financial lengths someone has gone to in order to have the perfect meal. The photograph taken before diving into the meal is almost like the receipt. In that way, taking the perfect photo of that slice of pizza offers an exhilarating high for the consumer, but also gives something to the consumer’s audience. More than retail therapy, food porn is a shared experience where only one person is living it.

5. It’s changing how chefs cook

Food porn isn’t just changing how food is consumed, though. It’s also changing the way food is prepared and plated. More and more chefs around the world know that making a meal look good on the plate is the first step in getting a good response from their customers. To them, having their dish Instagrammed and tagged with the food porn hashtag is the ultimate honor, but beyond that, it’s just good advertising. The presentation has always been a big part of food, especially haute cuisine, but the aesthetic of food has expanded beyond the classic French bistro or restaurant and into places that serve more conventional fare. The presentation has become an essential part of eating, and there have even been scientific studies conducted in order to find the most optimal plating for food in order to garner a visceral response from diners. According to the study, conducted at Oxford University, diners prefer their food to be facing up, as in pointed away from them. For example, asparagus would be served with the tips facing away from the diner. On top of looking better, people also said they would be willing to pay more for dishes that were presented in this manner. Ultimately, how food is plated and arranged affects how people consume it, both visually and through eating. However, this can also go too far, with restaurants trying to up the photography potential of their food by serving it on all kinds of things other than plates (shoes, dog bowls, hubcaps, etc.) This is a mistake.

4. Food in motion looks even better

Photos of food are pretty great at setting off the primal parts of our brains that make us want to eat, but there’s actually more evidence to show that food in motion does an even better job at tempting our taste buds and setting off the part of our brains that wants to eat. Why is that? Well, part of it is just our primal evolutionary trait of noticing things that move. That allowed us to survive back when there were predators everywhere, and it’s a trait that remains to this day. We are more likely to be drawn to something that is in motion, particularly if that image is within our peripheral vision. If you see an ad out the corner of your eye that features a chocolate lava cake being cut open with a fork, dripping its gooey delicious center all over the plate, you are more likely to turn your head and look at the advertisement. Studies have also found that food in motion, particularly in advertising, looks fresher than food in a static image. This is most likely because we are perceiving the food as being prepared right at that moment, right in front of our eyes. This same phenomenon applies to static images as well, though. Researchers at Cornell University showed subjects a photo of a glass of orange juice and another photo of the juice being poured into the glass. The subjects overwhelmingly stated that the juice being poured looked fresher.

3. It promotes unhealthy food

It’s no secret that food porn is named as such because it is almost considered sinful, something that needs to be hidden. This is due to the fact that it sets off something in our brain that is a base desire, much like our need to procreate. Food is not sexy in the traditional sense, but it is triggering something in our brain in the same way as a photo of naked bodies. This might be the reason why unhealthy food seems to be so prevalent in food porn. After all, a plate of veggies, even if they are perfectly roasted and coated in some nice herbs and spices doesn’t set off the pleasure center in our brain in the same way as a greasy burger or a pile of fried chicken might. This could be a problem in the future, as the phenomenon of food porn appears to be promoting mostly unhealthy food. That’s not to say that it’s a terrible thing to eat a burger or a thick steak every once in a while, but then the predominant image of food becomes something that is unhealthy, suddenly the idea of balance is pushed to the back of our minds. We don’t care that a pile of fried chicken is really bad for us, that photo makes it look absolutely irresistible. we have to have it, and never mind the cost to our arteries. 

2. It has become an industry

It’s no secret that food porn is the driving force behind what people are consuming, and no one knows this better than advertisers. More and more, the focus has moved to how the food looks in a photo, and less how it appears in a restaurant or even how it tastes overall. Food photography has always been a huge part of advertising, but food porn itself has suddenly become an industry unto itself. There are countless Instagram accounts that make their money simply by taking photos of the food from local restaurants, showing off giant portions and photogenic plates of fried chicken, french fries, and burgers. Food porn has suddenly become the best way to advertise your wares. Forget paying for television advertising or even an ad on YouTube that people are most likely to skip anyway. Invite one of these food bloggers to your restaurant and have them take a photo of one of your signature dishes. In some cases, that photo will now have reached hundreds of thousands of people who wanted to look at photos of food anyway. Not only that, but if your food is tagged with #foodporn, you’re ultimately reaching the tens of millions of people who follow that hashtag on Instagram. Not a bad way to tell people about your restaurant, and ultimately all it might cost you is a free meal for a food blogger plus a nominal fee that would still be cheaper than buying advertising time on a local television station and saves you any production costs of making that advertisement.

1. It is changing food photography

Food photography has always been an art form. It takes a lot of meticulous planning, staging, and trickery to make food look delicious in an advertisement, which often leaves the actual food coated in things like shoe polish, lipstick, and other non-edible items. Things like glue are used to represent milk, while grill lines are carefully drawn on one at a time. All of these used to be industry secrets, but with the age of the internet spreading information, suddenly the jig was up. People were aware of how food is dressed up for photos and ends up looking nothing like it. Nowadays, people want food to look realistic in advertisements, even if it means the food looks a little bit uglier. Food porn has changed the way food is photographed, and some might say not for the better. If you look at McDonald’s website, for example, the burgers look a little sloppier than they used to. That’s because instead of using the old food photography tricks that they used to, McDonald’s has realized that it pays off more to carefully arrange the ingredients so that they are more photogenic. No longer are burgers painted with food coloring or ketchup and mustard added in strategic positions with syringes. Now what we see in most food advertisements is what we get. That’s not to say that food photography has died off completely,m but just that food porn has greatly affected the way we consume images of food, particularly in terms of how real we want it to look.

More in Food

To Top