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The Psychology of Food Porn

By: Lucia Dela Cruz, PhD, RGCThe Psychology of Food Porn

When hunger strikes, what do you usually do to satiate your desire to eat? How do you choose the food that will satisfy your cravings? Given the options, which would you prefer—the suggested “high protein meal” attractively displayed along the road or a simple, well-balanced meal that awaits you at home?

To ring up sales, most fast food chains and fancy restaurants tend to put up billboards that feature big, bold, and colorful pictures of burgers, pasta, fries, chicken that seem to silently call out every passerby to “EAT ME!” These big, bold colorful images of enticing meals are popularly known as “food porn.”

Food porn is defined as the glamorized spectacular visual presentation of cooking or eating in advertisements, infomercials, cooking shows or other visual media.  It is also used to refer to a variety of foods that stir our desire to eat despite the fact that they contain a high fat and calorie content. The term “food porn” has been used in food photography since the late 1980’s but was coined as “gastroporn” by Michael Boys, a food and female nude photographer. This term described sensually provocative and intentionally alluring imagery in cookery books and how the imagery appeals to basic carnal desires.

Foods wonderfully shown through photography are stimuli which are received by our senses and carried as messages to our brains. These images as stimuli are then interpreted by the brain based on our previous knowledge and experiences. If a particular stimulus is an image of a delectable club house sandwich which in the past had already satisfied us, our brain will give a very positive interpretation of such stimulus. Though conscientiously, we know that more vegetables are better than an all-meat sandwich, it is the pleasurable experience that brings us to choose the latter. The colorful, satiating image of this food stimulates our appreciation which becomes the appetizer that motivates us to ask for more. Thus, a not-so- healthy nutrition intake is a welcome excuse for our passion for such sensory enjoyments.

The psychology is simple: glorious food image conditioned the minds of the consumers. Just like a good looking guy or gal who can make everyone’s head turns when he/she passes by, a colorful, mouth-watering food photography motivates hungry people to try how it tastes. The objective is also quite simple as food pornography aims to reinforce the feelings of those people who experienced so much gratification in the food they take and usually compared such experience with sexual pleasure.

Food has long assumed a role in our society beyond filling empty stomachs – it permeates many facets of our life. Our food choice is shaped by our socio-cultural context as well as through our own cognitive appraisals. Conversely, in consuming food that suits our gusto we reach beyond its primary nutritional function and portray much about our own culture and style within the societal context. As the old saying goes among old food enthusiasts, the way the food looks tells the kind of tastes it has. Even the kind of smells it creates during the cooking process explains that food consumption is connected to attraction. Most of us find nice looking things pleasurable, thus patronizing food pornography could be the product of our desires to consume edible stuff that are pleasantly attractive.

On the part of the business industry, profit is the obvious reason why the food should be glamorized, exaggerated, magnified and made extremely attractive. It is a formidable marketing opportunity for a restaurant given that its patrons effectively become its ambassadors. Hence, food porn is a proof of clear connivance between the restaurant owners and their chefs through the creative skills of professional photographers.

Although the food imagery presented through advertisement is generally not the healthiest, still there are some dishes that contain nutritional value. There are big, prestigious restaurants that utilized food pornography to publicize their original recipes. And when recipes originated from chefs and owners of famous fine-dining bistros, there is a guarantee of nutritious yet more expensive food. These food experts would likewise resort to food pornography to promote their products across regions. This proves that the art of food porn will always be the goldmine for sales and marketing strategies.

The way we perceive food has vastly changed throughout the centuries. In the ancient times, animals which served as food were considered sacred. The Greeks in particular prohibited the slaughtering of these animals except for food utilization. Consumption of these creatures allowed them to maintain healthy bodies and physical strengths which they need for battles. That is why food animals were not supposed to be used as “guinea pigs” for laboratory experiments and for any similar reasons. If food porn is already present during those times, pictures of fried fowl species, and decorated thighs and heads of swine and cows would have been considered an exploitation of these sacred animals. This may sound ridiculous but the idea of “respect” given by the earlier inhabitants can be seen as a sign of gratitude.

Nonetheless, culture had to change along with the people. And with it came the new perception on food when Aristotle unhesitatingly used animals for experiments and advancement of medical knowledge. Had it not been for his ingenuity, the succeeding generations would not have been able to learn the scientific way of prevention and cure for the various diseases and illnesses.

Food pornography is a product of life’s evolution and we only need to find ways to put it in the context of a healthy diet. For instance, nutritious food can also be gastronomically promoted. Instead of focusing merely on satiation through the attractiveness of foodstuff with high sugar and calories, why not whip up a creatively prepared veggie salads and fruits as alternatives? Food porn experts can also introduce the use of bitter gorge or ampalaya as their subject through a variety of attractive presentations. This way, they can encourage the consumers to give it a try since only a few of us appreciate the nutritional value of ampalaya.

Food porn is obviously a phenomenon and how it has influenced us will be practically seen in this lifetime.

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