Those of a food-loving disposition, look away now.

Is this a post-watershed article? Don’t worry, despite its misleading title, we’re not talking as risqué as you might think.

That’s a shame… No, we’re going to talk about the origin and evolution of the once elusive and highly popular phrase, food porn.

So it’s not some kinky pastime? That depends on whether you think spending hours scrolling, daydreaming and lusting over images of food is kinky or not.

People do that? Of course! Haven’t you seen how great a plate of food or a stack of brownies looks if photographed properly, and the rush of pleasure you can get from it?

Isn’t the point of photos to show you how it should turn out? That too. If you look at early recipes like 80s cookbooks, it’s clear the priority was not to ‘sexualise’ food, but to show it for what it was. These photos were a slave to still life shots, unnatural lighting and dark backgrounds. Australian food stylist and writer Donna Hay is repeatedly credited for turning this around though, bringing natural light, depth of field and a ‘less is more’ approach to food styling – making food look effortlessly more appealing, and therefore opening up a lot more creativity in how to photograph food.

Good on her. But why refer to it as porn? Not to say this is the origin of its existence, but the link was examined in depth by porn stills photographer Barbara Nitke and journalist Frederick Kaufman in his article Debbie Does Salad: The Food Network at the Frontier of Pornography, back in 2005.

And what did they find? Nitke tells Kaufman that food porn, or gastroporn as Kaufman refers to it, “addresses the most basic human needs and functions, idealizing and degrading them at the same time.” And after the finished dish, Kaufman describes how the cook and the on-screen guest played out the tasting: “Eventually, Tyler and the housewife would go cheek to cheek, lean forward, open their mouths, taste the chicken and rice, and melt into a flushed-face, simultaneous food swoon. When the inevitable sequence finally rolled, the editor kept looping their wet mouths and rapt faces as they pushed forkful after forkful of arroz con pollo past their lips, chewed, and swallowed – and pushed and chewed and swallowed again and again.”

Stop it, I’m getting hot under the collar! It’s right on the money, and shows that sex really does sell. According to photographer Helen Grace Ventura Thompson, the term ‘gastroporn’ was coined by female nude photographer Michael Boys. Food porn enjoyed a boom beyond glossy magazines shoots when Marks & Spencer launched its advertising campaign, “It’s not just food…” in 2006.

And what did that entail, exactly? Food porn to the max. Close-ups and slow motion shots brimming with fleshy, oozing, tumbling, sticky, steaming food, all accompanied by a sultry voiceover and bow-chicka-wow-wow music.

What did everyone make of that? Most lapped it up (literally) as M&S said sales of their hot chocolate puddings shot up by 288%, and its panna cotta by a whopping 1207%. Of course it did spark a few spoofs as well.

What’s happened since then to make it the thing everyone’s talking about? Well social media for one – namely Twitter and Instagram where news feeds are full of probably delicious food. But there are entire websites dedicated to helping you kill time in work, plan highly sexual plates of food, or to just feel a rush. Food isn’t just about eating anymore, we’re also consuming it digitally (118 million results for food porn on Google today).

 

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