When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to describe his obscenity test in 1964, he replied, “I’ll know when I see it.” And for the past decade, the same could be said for food porn.
The term “food pornography” was likely coined by feminist critic Rosalind Coward in her 1984 book Female Desire. She wrote that cooking and presenting food is often an act of servitude and signals a “pleasant participation in service to others.”
“Food porn supports these very meanings in relation to food preparation,” Coward wrote. “The images used always suppress the process of creating a meal. They are always beautifully lit, often retouched.”
Over time, particularly in the age of social media, the meaning of the phrase has flattened — it has largely shed its association with a survey of domestic workers, conjuring up images of decadent slices of chocolate cake dripping with glittery chocolate syrup, or of triple-stacked ones Cheeseburgers dripping with cheddar. Food Porn became a comically large chunk of butter that melted on the contours of a giant stack of pancakes and a spiced ribeye coated in gooey barbecue sauce; it became “Cheese Pulls” and “Yolk Porn”. It became the slow-motion video I recorded of me gently pressing the tines of a fork into the yellow center of a fried egg, set to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” which I ended up removing from Instagram because my mom told me said it was shameful.
But something has changed.
Canned fish are “hot girl food” (like oatmeal and buttered toast). Beautiful, beautiful girls love soup. And a Negroni sbagliato with Prosecco has drawn drinkers across the country. The aesthetic of food porn has shifted, which coincides with – or perhaps is being driven by – a shift in which food is considered “sexy.”
In 2010, Food Porn Daily site creator Amanda Simpson told The Daily Meal that food porn is classified as “anything that makes me drool.” A few months later, Urban Dictionary provided this definition: “Taking delicious pictures of delicious food and sharing them as status updates on various social media sites, enticing those who aren’t even currently hungry to grab a meal hard to do.”
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These definitions of “food porn” tie into an even earlier term, “gastro porn,” which the late journalist Alexander Cockburn described as using the words “excitement” and “unreachable,” apparently mimicking a significant part of the appeal of real pornography. The sex you see in most mainstream pornography can often be conveniently defined as performance; In many cases there are even costumes, acrobatics and narrative imagination to support this production.
In many ways, food porn has traditionally emulated this template of arousing desire through performative fantasy. A quick search of the hashtag #foodporn on Instagram returns 292,896,962 results, most of which don’t depict the types of food most of us have every day: an entire tablescape covered in nachos, a hoagie, that Appears to be made out of nacho cheese and fries covered in pork sponge, impossibly tall pies. Many are labeled with a variation of the question “Smash or pass?”
In a culture that values thinness and promotes deprivation as a virtue, food porn of this sort offers a kind of gustatory voyeurism.
However, as noted in Signe Rousseau’s “Food ‘Porn’ in Media,” published in 2014 as part of the “Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics,” the connotation of “food porn” is often that of guilt or permissible enjoyment of the term can also (sometimes simultaneously) negatively connote foods that are considered “bad” and should be avoided. In a culture that values thinness and promotes deprivation as a virtue, food porn of this sort offers a kind of taste voyeurism.
As Molly O’Neill wrote in 2003, “Given the dissonance between food fantasies and everyday food, the birth of food porn was all but inevitable.”
While this new genre of food porn — cans of expensive sardines, beans sprinkled with citrus, bubbly cocktails — may seem demure or even sexless compared to its predecessor, it simply plays into a different kind of fantasy, one heavily shaped by the pandemic.
In early 2020, many people felt both destabilized and desexualized due to monotony and isolation. Harling Ross put it succinctly for fashion magazine Man Repeller: “I don’t know how else to put it but… I miss feeling hot.” She wrote:
My three main activities are sleeping, working, eating and re-watching Game of Thrones (currently in season four, thanks for following this journey). I haven’t worn pants without an elastic waistband in weeks. The word “eyeliner” might as well sound like “googoogeeksejkak” – ie forgive me? … The two most recent photos in my phone show a massive tangle in my hair that I choose to ignore and a piece of quiche I ate cold at 3:25 because I was too lazy to eat it microwave it. Not hot – literally.
Seemingly to counter this, there was a particular time during the first wave of the pandemic when mundane domestic activities and products that evoke a certain casual cool were romanticized. It was out to gawk at an absurdly decadent meal prepared at the restaurant (or influencer). When I popped open a can of sardines wrapped in olive oil, she was in.
As Bettina Makalintal reported for VICE in 2021, canned fish has seen a huge surge in popularity amid the pandemic. Partly this was for convenience; The pandemic caused us all to reconsider the types of food we kept in our pantries. But Makalintal argues that an equally important part of the equation is the pewter’s cultural remodeling.
As she wrote, Caroline Goldfarb, co-founder of trendy canned fish company Fishwife, called it the “ultimate hot girl food” in a 2021 interview with Nylon. “There’s no food that gets you hotter than canned fish,” she said. “Clearly. Do you know a hot girl who doesn’t thrive on protein? Not me.”
It was out to gawk at an absurdly decadent meal prepared at the restaurant (or influencer). When I popped open a can of sardines wrapped in olive oil, she was in.
“One risk of spending time on social media in the post-Megan Thee Stallion world is describing everything as an extension of ‘hot girl s**t,'” Makalintal wrote. “As many people have written on the subject, a ‘Hot Girl Summer’ and the ‘Hot Girl’ descriptor are now more than indicators of attractiveness, but an invocation of confidence and ownership of one’s place in the world.”
She continued, “‘Hot girl s**t’ is both something anyone can do and something anyone can aspire to.”
And as such, “hot girl food” really can and could be anything, though much of it parallels current wellness trends — as Goldfarb’s comment suggests — and is guided by a desire for more authenticity (or at least the illusion of authenticity). . This is also reflected in the changing aesthetic of food media in general, a shift described as “lo-fi eating” by Zoe Suen in February 2022.
“Online, the plates on my Instagram feed — taken by chefs, home cooks, food stylists or diners — look a lot lo-fi,” Suen wrote for AnOther. “The photos themselves also shifted gears from bright, high-contrast bird’s-eye views to seemingly unfiltered images full of negative space.”
This paradigm “is a reaction to the moment that came before it,” Laila Gohar, a New York-based artist, told Suen. Gohar’s own art consists of carefully stacked fruit, “boob mochi” and carved butter. “Gohar says people are craving a low-key, calming approach post-pandemic,” Suen wrote.
Even some of the quirkier food trends of 2022 emanate from this place. Aperol squirts, for example, speak to an ambitious desire to take a holiday after years of being in and out of lockdown, as well as an increased cultural interest in low-alcohol drinks.
“A group of passionate connoisseurs, including the NYT, dubbed this drink a ubiquitous internet trend that had to die as quickly as it began. The pandemic should be the final nail in the coffin,” said David Den, a winemaker and distiller. said Paste. “But with well-being at the forefront of our consciousness [and] a desperate itch to soak [up] Sun, Aperol hit the sweet spot (again) – a budget drink that can keep up with the long talks without the glitter and over-the-top intoxication.
It’s a more subtle seduction, but a seduction nonetheless. It will be interesting to see what temptations the year 2023 will bring.
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