#Foodporn: You are what you eat

Article published on Oct. 13, 2014
Article published on Oct. 13, 2014

Anybody who’s ever tasted Granny’s roast dinner or Mum’s homemade chocolate cake knows that food can be pretty cool. But what’s so interesting about uploading and looking at photos with the hashtag #foodporn that have been snapped on our own smartphones? Is this just the biggest joke on the internet or is there perhaps a genuine cultural phenomenon behind it?

If you still think that food porn’s got something to do with sex, you’ve probably been locked away in the pantry for the last few years. The hashtag #foodporn is every bit as popular as its big brother #selfie. On the website foodpornindex.com, the figures showing how often the hashtag has been used are so high that they make you dizzy, and you too are sure to have done it. You too are sure to have taken a picture of your steak, ice cream or glass of beer to post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. But why? 

Do you just want to remind yourself what you’ve eaten in order to monitor your eating habits? Do you want to show off? Or have you actually got an eating disorder

Where does #foodporn come from?

The term was first included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1991, at a time when the great internet boom was just getting out of the starting blocks. And, strictly speaking, food porn is not purely an internet phenomenon after all. It began much earlier, when an increasing amount of glossy photos were placed in early 1960s cookbooks, the look of the food became more and more important and the actual food less so. Out of that, a real market was born for cookbooks, cooking shows and baking products.

So food porn actually comes from advertising, and the first food pornos we saw were brought to us by Jamie Oliver and Co. The idea behind it originally was the interest in marrying food and lifestyle, in order to make food products look more attractive, because…“sex sells!" The more we associate food with an event, where it’s not just considered a source of sustenance, the more food will get sold. Its move to social media and the distribution it receives there is a purely logical step following its distribution on television and in magazines, because now you can not only look at food porn, but also make it yourself – and wherever you are. As a result, food porn photos have gradually gone from being high-end photographs to fast-food porn snapshots.

Why do we need #foodporn?

Cultural expert Molly O’Neill states that food has also been burdened by society’s health and fitness craze since the 1980s. Eating has become increasingly less about a simple source of sustenance; it’s also a leisure activity for us. And we want to celebrate it like an event. Looking at food is therefore becoming more and more like a substitute for something which we don’t allow ourselves in real life. Gastronomic voyeurism is vicarious satisfaction for us; instead of actually eating the hot fudge sundae, we’d rather satisfy ourselves by looking at pictures of it. We secretly dream of being the one who took the picture and envy them. And that’s why we make #foodporn: We want to show off a bit with the event of eating. And at the same time, by showing what we’re eating, we’re not only revealing that we’re epicureans with lots of fun and free time, but also that we’re financially able to afford it. After all, we’re not just eating anything; a £25 steak has the same effect as a Chanel handbag, champagne is the Porsche Cayenne of drinks, und we’re certainly among the upper-class of the #foodporn amateurs. You just are what you eat!

How did this #foodporn overdose come about? Everyone can join in! For example, 90 photos are tagged #foodporn on Instagram every minute – a trend increasing by the second. The popularity of #foodporn seems logical: Everyone has to eat and your libido for food never dies, staying the same whatever your age. It’s for everyone and it’s harmless – the complete opposite of its big brother #porn. And it’s ultimately just likely to be another internet trend which will disappear again sometime.