Friday, April 20, 2018

9 Examples of Food Porn Discrimination

I test cookbooks on a fairly regular basis. I am offered cookbooks through Amazon Vine or I am sent them directly by publishers or authors. I probably average a cookbook once every two months. That's likely less than blogs which focus on cookbook testing but since I'm generally not given funds to buy ingredients or the ingredients to test out the recipes, I really can't afford to be trying out new recipes every single week. It is my economic reality that limits what I can review either for reviews on online bookstores, for publisher or author blogs, and of course for my primary blog, The Chocolate Cult. I often think "Can I afford to test these recipes?" or "What can I find on sale that might let me test these recipes?" Then I realized, my economic considerations are minor compared to many others. Today I want to share my thoughts about what I'm calling Food Porn Discrimination.

So many people love to look at food that the concept of "food porn" was developed. The idea of "food pornography" seems to date by to the 1978 Frank Chin story "Railroad Standard Time" while "food pornography" was expanded upon by Rosalind Coward in her 1984 book Female Desire.  The basic idea is that food and sexual desire are connected. Of course seeing any type of desire as sexual has a much longer history in the Western World.

Today, we generally use the terms "food pornography" or "food porn" to refer to the great love people show online for shared photos of food (made or bought) and the focus on using such photos in media. Indeed, staging is very common at all levels of food photography from the average person taking a quick pic in a dark restaurant to the publishing of a cookbook spending thousands to have the images just so for the recipes or to accompany text.

I pay attention to the photography myself for The Chocolate Cult or my account on Instagram even though I won't spend money to get that image because I'm not selling products directly to anyone.


There isn't anything wrong with these beautiful images of food. Studies have shown that humans and animals in general may be drawn to lovely displays or bright colors of food. This is true for what we see right in front of us, in a still photograph, or a video we watch. 1, 2, and 3.

With internet access becoming more and more affordable, it becomes possible for the masses to share in the desire of food. However, with the loss of certain federal rules about the Internet we may be about to see a deep divide in terms of what people can access online. But that divide has been part of food porn for a while now with some online recipe sites or magazine requiring a subscription to get full access. There are a lot of free recipe sites out there and companies who sell food generally put out their sites for free, so you can get a lot of decent food porn for nothing or very little.

Print cookbooks are another matter. I have friends who collect cookbooks and one of our writers for this blog is a food historian. The type and number of images in cookbooks has skyrocketed. Recently I shared two books that I'm slowly working my way through to review with a friend of mine. She immediately said "This is food porn. This is, too." Books cost money and with so many cookbooks now trying to have a photo for very recipe they can be very pricy. You can try your public library if you are lucky enough to have access to one but of course you can't keep those (or you shouldn't). If you want to buy them, be willing to spend between $25 and $50 on average.

If you want vintage cookbooks these can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars! Yikes!

Ebooks might seem like a good alternative if price is an issue. However many ebooks now cost the same as a paperback book and most cookbooks come out in a hardcover format. Sometimes I will accept an ecookbook but the quality is very hit and miss and so much of the layout is dependent upon the program the publisher used for the book. If it is for a Kindle, you have to use a Kindle for example. Even then some of the ecookbooks I've looked at on their proper devices have failed to line up the photo of a recipe properly and it just looks weird or even distasteful. Distasteful is the last thing you want in your food porn.

The photos in many cookbooks or professional online sites are lovely but can I get my attempts at those recipes to look like that? Usually not.

Sometimes this is a matter of recipe quality. The more cookbook testing I do, the easier it is for me to spot a poorly written recipe. But sometimes you don't realize that some detail is missing until it all goes bad. At other times the disappointment comes from your skills or your circumstances.

Beyond making food, your food porn desires may be a struggle because what you or a loved one sees and wants may not be available to you for a variety of reasons.

Food porn should make you feel good not horrible. The entire point of pornography of any type was to get return consumers afterall and who honestly wants to go back to have their self-esteem stomped without some pleasurable pay off?

Let's look at some of the reasons I believe that there is a bias in the world of food porn.


Examples of Food Porn Discrimination

Image #3
1. You have not had the time or money to get the training required to make a recipe.

Schools are still teaching home economics even though the demise of this is bemoaned in a number of articles over the past few years. The number of courses taught and at what grade depends on the location of your schools. Formal classes to teach cooking dates back at at least the 19th century in the USA. None of these are free, not really, even if you personally aren't paying a fee, the money probably comes out of your taxes. So if you live in a school system that is poor or too urban, you may not have had a chance to learn. Not just that but honestly how many of you who did take home economics in junior high or high school have kept up the skills that you learned? (Image #3: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14580149208/)

Let's say that you can't remember what you learned or you simply didn't learn that in school, getting the training as an adult isn't going to a taxes paid for proposition. Sure you might be able to find them at the community college or a program at your town does every year or every half year but again that will cost money. Beyond money it costs time. For many people barely making ends meet, they have neither time nor money and thus the skills needed to produce the food they admire.

2. You have not had the money to buy the gadgets and small appliances used in the recipes.

Some items are small and relatively inexpensive but many times when I'm looking through a cookbook or recipes online a tool will be mentioned that I don't have. Do I run out and find it? Hell, no! But many cookbooks include lists of where you can find all those gadgets and tools just in case you want to. Sometimes it isn't a matter of want but ability. Here on The Chocolate Cult I am sent such items from time to time so over the years I have been able to expand the recipes I can try based on having more tools at my disposal but I still run into the next problem.

3. You do not have the money to have a kitchen big enough to store all those gadgets and appliances used in recipes.

I subscribe to a housing porn email list because I love to dream about houses that my parents couldn't have afforded and which I am unlikely to be able to afford. The amount of kitchen you can get for your buck varies a great deal. You don't just need countertops to work on, I use my dining room table for a lot of things, but you do need places to store everything. That means drawers, shelves, cabinets, and even freezers and refrigerators. If your refrigerator-freezer unit can basically hold a few cubic feet of items, you aren't make large sheet cakes or storing food you found on sale in the freezer.

4. You do not have the time to spend on all the steps of the food prep for a recipe.

This gets us back to the problem in #1 -- Time. Recently I've been working on some cookbook reviews that really hit me with how much time is involved. Actually hands on work might be only an hour or two (and that could be a problem for some of you) but the amount of time I have to schedule the steps over can span anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. These are basically weekend recipes but a lot of folks work weekends or have other things they'd like to do rather than make a loaf of bread or a casserole. If you do, you are probably a stay-at-home spouse in an upper middle class home.  Less than 30% of American women (and far fewer men) fit into the stay-at-home part of this equation and a good chunk of those are not upper middle class but instead simply can't afford to pay for childcare until their kids are much older.

5. You may have children and/or pets that would make some of those food prep steps challenging if not impossible.

Now imagine that you personally do have that much time that you can plan out and see through the steps. What if you have kids or pets? Is there a safe place to store your sourdough starter without a risk of it getting knocked down? Will you have enough quiet to make that souffle? What about stirring constantly for 10 minutes or 20 minutes or longer? There's a reason why fancy dishes and time consuming courses were created in the kitchens of the wealthy. They had servants or slaves (or both) who had nothing else to do other than focus on that stovetop, the oven, or that countertop unless they wanted to be punished or not be paid.

6. You may not have time to go shopping for some of the ingredients either because of your work schedule or the distance to the types of shops where you can buy such products.

What if you are single, childless/petless, and you do have the resources like the money and time to put into recipes you might still face a struggle to find the ingredients Perhaps you live in a food desert where your store options are limited. This isn't just a problem for poor urban communities either. Rural communities are finding that grocery stores are moving out or being displaced by massive chains. Will you be able to find that particular type of olive a recipe calls for? What about a certain percentage of chocolate? How sure are you of your skills to substitute?

Yes, with grocery delivery services and places like Amazon or speciality shops online you can get get a lot more ingredients that you might be able to find in your hometown stores.

7. You may not have the money to spend on some of the ingredients even if you can find them.

You find the ingredients you need to recreate that lovely dish you saw on Instagram. Can you afford to order them? Will you be home when the mail carrier arrives? Not only do you pay for the food but you pay for the shipping. You might think that you shipping in free but you have to buy a certain amount or pay an annual membership fee. Those requirements do limit who can use these services.

8. You don't have the money to waste on food should the recipe not be fully vetted before it appears online or in a cookbook.

I grew up in a working class family. While some of you may have heard of the "eat what's on your plate because there are children starving in X" or perhaps you saw campaigns that urged food care as the one that was waged in during WWI in the USA as per the poster to the right.

I heard "if you put it on your plate you must eat it." Why? If I didn't want it, my mother would save it for another meal either another dinner or a lunch or even breakfast, possibly even a lunchbox. But once it was on my plate, once I'd touched it, was it safe to save? They were poor but not so poor that she was willing to take that risk. However if she tried a recipe and it didn't work, we all just sucked it up and at it anyway no matter how many meals it might take.

I still do that. I'm loathe to throw out food.

Collectively Americans waste more food than any other nation in the world. Individually this can average out to 30% of the calories we buy wasted. Think of how much money that might be? Some of us simply cannot justify tossing out that loaf of bread that didn't turn out right or that can of special mushrooms we bought when it turns out no one liked that recipe but one person.

This is one reason I share my failures and successes on The Chocolate Cult. I want you all to know that I'm a real person with real economic concerns and I'm certainly no chef!

9. You don't have money to purchase something as lovely to show your affection or respect for someone even after they have expressed a clear interest in that item.

Perhaps you know you can't cook that wonderful dish you saw or that your lover or kid told you about. You can always buy it, right? That depends who what you see.

If a see an image from a restaurant in our neighborhood or from a shop near us that is within our budget, sure I can hop out and get that. If it's for a special occasion, I m likely to order it or get it for a person I care about.

But what if it is a fancy meal at a restaurant halfway around the world? Do I feel bad about that or can I just enjoy the image? I hope most of us can just enjoy the image but that might always be the case.

Hopefully most of us aren't in the types of relationships where our partner/kids/family would berate us for not being able to buy that fancy food but again that isn't always the case.

Food is necessary to live but it is also very tightly connected to our self-image and the image others of about us.

Is there a way out of this food porn discrimination? Leave a comment with your ideas.

2 comments:

Dragonwriter said...

Because if eating issues, my food porn is pretty well limited to looking at the pictures. I enjoy that. I do not enjoy dealing with the actual food.

TammyJo Eckhart said...

I can just enjoy a lot of food porn by looking at it, too.

Food allergies make everything so complex, even just eating out can be a challenge, but when I make recipes, so many ingredients limit who can help me eat them.

Thanks for the comment, Dragonwriter! I hope you keep reading and commenting.

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