Food Porn, Instagram & the Desire to (Over)Share

Food Porn, Instagram & the Desire to (Over)Share – from the mouth of one as guilty as everyone else

Marie Claire SA features an article on Food Porn, Instagram & the Desire to (Over)Share (October 2013) and they asked me a few questions. This prompted my own research and you can read my full answers to Tabitha Lasley below.

What’s your opinion on posting food pics on Instagram?

oct 2013

oct 2013

The term ‘food porn’ is contentious and saucy and is currently accepted to mean glorious, visually stimulating images of food, often unattainable by the average cook. When the term was first recorded, attributed to Michael F Jacobson of The Centre for Science in the Public Interest, the aim was to pit unhealthy, and ‘junk food’, also a term he is said to have coined, as food porn, versus healthy, sensible food choices. The idea was that these calorie dense, and often nutritionally empty foods were so far removed from real food, that they were deemed to be pornographic. Pornography is defined as the depiction of behaviours that cause sexual excitement. Going to the extreme of labelling food as sensuous but off-bounds poses a problem, in my opinion. You’re essentially expecting people to accept that it looks luscious but be strong enough to move away. Today, both pornography and food porn have become accepted in the mainstream and foods that are considered lust-worthy are not necessarily the type that would send you to the cardiologist’s office. 

Have you noticed any particular trends in ‘food porn’ recently? What sort of images/meals/ingredients are being instragrammed, pinned etc?cocktail mauritius

Breakfast fruit display

Breakfast fruit display

As Food and the Fabulous I spend my time seeking food in food-culture dense destinations or making and eating it. So I am not policing the boards to check on the latest ‘trends’. What I have noticed though from the images I post or accounts I follow is that the visuals that appeal most to people are well lit, tight-shots and surprisingly simple: truffle scrabbled eggs, bacon is not moving from that pedestal of glory, melted chocolate and caramel, steam rising on a bowl of pho, even a grilled chicken breast drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with herbs. In the latter case, the obvious grill marks appeal to the senses and evoke the charred taste. Perhaps there is a tap-in to the memory bank here as well – nostalgia about braais with friends etc.

What do you think of certain restaurants’ recent decisions to ban people photographing their food? Do you agree that it detracts from diners’ enjoyment of their food?

I spent months researching social media as used by chefs, bloggers and the food world in Europe for an article on the same topic and this ban came about just before publication. I think it’s ridiculous and far removed from the reality of a generation that have become mobile documenters and commenters. Having said that if I want to eat at your restaurant badly enough, I’ll do what you say.
seafood on bed of palm heart salad, Mauritius

seafood on bed of palm heart salad, Mauritius

Are there any websites/blogs that show pictures of healthy food? Or do the most popular pictures/ frequently shared recipes tend to be of high-fat, calorie-heavy gastronomy?

The outright answer is yes, there are many appealing healthy food sites.
I think the definition of food porn as Jacobson envisioned it, an evil to be smote for the sake of our good health, has long evolved. Food porn depicts both the triple chocolate and the lean chicken. The focus is on appealing to the senses and even to stimulating a conversation about a destination e.g fresh spingrolls shot on a dingy low table on a Hanoi sidewalk. The responses I get then become conversations about memories of Vietnam or whichever other destination. It’s become something more in my experience.
choc cookies with smoked salt

choc cookies with smoked salt

Do you think ‘food porn’ creates an external pressure to eat the ‘right’ foods (whether ‘right’ means fashionable/healthy/expensive) that wasn’t there before? Do you think it has changed people’s eating habits? 

Let’s look at the people who are checking these sites and pinterest boards out. They represent a teeny minority. So in terms of changing habits, we need to look at numbers and is this significant enough to consider it change. I concede that if you open up a site at 11 am and see a decadent slice of black forest cake it could stimulate a need for one. It has with me. The healthy food movements (and some rather whack ones too) have garnered support due to full-blown social media campaigns and getting members to encourage and recruit others, and not with the posting of food images alone.
Re expensive and ‘ethical’ ingredients, I think in Cape Town in particular, it has become a status symbol amongst the upwardly mobile to flaunt coffee cups ‘to go’ of the right beans and hang out at over-priced markets. There’s something very wrong when the images of good food go hand in hand with smugness.
grilled pork, Vietnamese style

grilled pork, Vietnamese style

Do you think the photographing and sharing of food can have any health benefits (eg: letting you keep track of your portion sizes, preventing ‘food amnesia’, encouraging you to broaden your palette and try new ingredients)

 

There are a number of friends I follow who follow obsessively healthy diets and seeing those images do sometimes inspire me to prepare something similar.  I always bring back food ingredients from travels and get questions about where to buy similar here or about the taste – I hope that this inspires others to be more adventurous with the food they cook and gives them confidence to try new things.  
Fruit colour wheel. market in Sapanca

Fruit colour wheel. market in Sapanca, Turkey

 

Why do you think we’re so hooked on sharing what we’re eating? Is it just another form of online one-upmanship (eg: ‘checking into’ a famous restaurant) or has technology ignited a genuine interest in food?

I have wrestled with this question a lot. I am a notorious food documenter and know full-well how annoying this can be. I tend not to do it with friends (unless they insist) or colleagues but my husband (and travel partner) is long suffering in this regard. I think the availability of new tech such as Instagram and Vine video (my favourite) on smartphones has made sharing easy, demands on the spot creativity and if you curate it well, contains a community of like-minded travellers and eaters who are curious and greedy. Documenting what I eat, and prepare, invites Food and the Fabulous followers along on the journey. I hope to inspire people to enjoy similar experiences by sharing these ‘tips’ on social media. If it is about one-upmanship, I’m not playing that game,

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By |2017-04-07T17:18:20+00:00October 5th, 2013|Featured Articles, Food, Portfolio, Social Media & Gagets|4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Hein October 6, 2013 at 9:47 am - Reply

    People are sharing everything these days via social media (and there is a reason why it is called social media). There are endless feeds dedicated to sunsets, babies, pugs and “selfies” so I can’t figure out why food gets singled out. (How about Tabitha asking a few shrinks about all the selfies on Instagram…)

    For as many people for whom food is something they have to eat to survive are as many people for whom food is linked to a way of experiencing life, how & where they travel and a form of artistic expression and enjoyment.

    Do I want to look at an endless stream of badly taken photos of bad food? No. Do I want to be inspired, intrigued and amused? Yes! And I will seek out those people who will provide the imagery that resonates with me as much I will avoid the bad stuff.

    I believe more and more are getting inspired to look at food differently and to think about food. And the more people think about food the more they will think about where it comes from and what their (ethical) choices are when consuming it.

    I don’t really have a problem with establishments banning people from photographing food – as with anything else you have to respect the people around you. There are a few meals I wish I’d been able to photograph but I still enjoyed the meal and have that memory.

    Interestingly the most popular post on my blog (and most shared photograph) is the healthiest recipe.

    • Ishay October 6, 2013 at 12:24 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing your well detailed thoughts on food porn. That word! I bet there have been studies and articles on the rampant rise of the selfie. And the endless cat and baby pics too. Perhaps it’s art, escapism, a different way to hold a conversation when we share images of the food we enjoy. Maybe the time has come for us to accept that the old dinner table rules have been forced into an evolution? Some would never agree, I know…

  2. […] to photograph food and never to get on any soapbox but I was drawn to respond on Twitter to a post “Food Porn, Instagram & the Desire to (Over)Share”  by my friend Ishay where she was asked some questions for an article in Marie Claire SA and her own […]

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