Food for Thought: The addictiveness of food porn

Dive into the cultural, political, and personal significance of food

0
478
Person in thinking pose with a thought bubble overhead featuring an illustration of a ramen bowl with “send noods” on it
Food porn isn’t limited to social media. ILLUSTRATION: Alyssa Umbal / The Peak

By: Sara Wong, Arts & Culture Editor

Content warning: discussion of eating disorders.

Currently, #foodporn has 279 million posts on Instagram. What does that mean, besides the fact that foodies like to put out a lot of content? Food porn isn’t just a trend. The act of glamourizing dishes has been used for decades by marketing agencies to tempt consumers. From glistening hamburger patties to oozing egg yolks, food is inherently sexy.

Similarly, depictions of preparing and eating food are often made provocative. Remember Salt Bae? Or Kraft’s risqué “send noods” promotion? You can also find examples in classic literature! Writing about the Iliad, scholar Michele M. Sordi notes “the emphasis on eating food in the Iliad focuses our attention on the body, on the restoration of vigor, and the replenishing of ambition for kleos [glory].” While the story is about the Trojan War, Sordi’s observation touches on a universal experience — to eat is to nourish our bodies; the relationship between food and physicality is intrinsic.

Comparing food porn to actual porn can be fun, but it’s important to recognize its negative social impact as well. Like its human-centred counterpart, food porn presents an idealized model that can lead to unrealistic expectations. In pursuit of a milkshake with the super thick consistency shown in fast food commercials? Food stylists reveal the ads actually use dyed mashed potatoes or a mixture of shortening and confectioner’s sugar — definitely not something you want to suck on. 

Food porn continues to become more sensational with the prevalence of social media. While some of this content promotes nutritious meals (one of my favourites is @chez.jorge — an Instagram influencer creating vegan takes on pan-Asian dishes), a vast majority of food porn normalizes unhealthy eating habits. 

Studies have shown that food ads on social media can be linked to increased risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes among young adults. There are also studies providing evidence on how platforms like Facebook and Instagram can “influence maladaptive (ie, nonpathological) eating disorders,” such as anorexia.

In both cases, researchers suggest the influx of influencers and other celebrities in food advertising exacerbates negative relationships with food. Content creators are like the pimps of the food porn industry.

As a food influencer myself, I’m cautious about what goes into my posts (I’m not trying to be a pimp, please don’t come at me). I aim to be as transparent as possible. The less editing I have to do, the better. If something is sponsored, I make sure to indicate that; and I always provide honest feedback. I also detail whether or not everything being pictured is eaten by me or multiple people. Until I joined the foodie world, I honestly thought influencers were crushing fried chicken combos and boxes of artisanal cinnamon buns on their own. 

All this is to say: take what you see on Instagram with a grain of salt. Food porn can be amusing, but it’s important to remain cautious of our relationships with food and how overeating or undereating is ingrained in our day-to-day lives.