You really don’t want to over-analyze some cliches. For instance, if ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ that just means I’m working WAY harder than I need to on this book–all told, I’m at about thirty thousand words, so you’re telling me I could have simply taken thirty pictures to make my point? Hell, I could put thirty pictures in a little novelty book and sell it in a rack by the register at Walgreen’s.
I recently realized that our camera has a special setting for ‘food,’ which tells me there are far too many people writing about food these days. Not sure what the setting does, exactly, but I’m sure, without using it, my pictures of food would all look like…well, I don’t want to imagine what the photographic consequences would be. But though I might take the occasional suggestive shot of a skillet meal, what I do could never be considered ‘food porn.’
Unfortunately, just typing that phrase and publishing it online means that anyone who searches for the word ‘porn’ could, if they scroll down far enough, find my website. Then again, there may be people actually searching for ‘food porn’ — you know, your hardcore fans of “9 1/2 Weeks,” and people who enjoy committing unspeakable acts with gourds.
The term food porn was coined in 1984 in the book “Female Desire,” and the author claimed, “Cooking food and presenting it beautifully is an act of servitude…a symbol of a willing participation in servicing others.” Now granted, I only took one Women’s Studies class in college, but I think that’s a little extreme. I also think food photography can be a little over-the-top. I’m just sayin’, it’s not porn.
Some commonly used food terms don’t help — succulent…decadent…simmering…oozing……drizzling. Sounds like excerpts from a letter to Penthouse. But no matter how you define it, pictures of food do not qualify as porn. Here’s a test–would you be mortified if your mom walked in on you looking at a a picture of food?’ “Honey–I thought you blocked the Food Network in Bobby’s room! The boy’s DVR is full of ‘Iron Chef’ episodes! He’s watching people make…a chiffonade!”
The term may be new, but food porn has been around for centuries. C’mon, that describes half of the ‘still-lifes’ in any museum! Take a look at this medieval obscenity, courtesy of Cristoforo Munari (1667-1720) –
'Vasellame di terracotta, zucca, verza, spalla di maiale e piatto con coltello Piatti,'
which I believe translates as "Still Life With Unfortunately-Placed Cabbage"
I know–that’s ballsy, right? Or how ’bout this Monet from 1864, which is nothing but shameless exploitation and pandering –
note how Monet objectifies his subject, treating a piece of meat as if it were just "a piece of meat"
I imagine that what’s considered food porn varies depending on where you live. Maybe in the Ukraine, it’s a soft-focus image of a bowl of borscht. Maybe, in parts of the Deep South, a cellphone picture of a stick of butter is pornographic — “Yeah, baby–I need that emulsification…gimme that bad cholesterol!” Incidentally, that may be the first time in the history of the written word that ‘pornographic’ and ‘emulsification’ have appeared in the same paragraph.
Having read more than my share of food blathering (there are only so many ways you can describe a tasty meal, people), I want to offer some suggestions to anyone out there considering getting all ‘bloggy’ about food…
- If you’re writing about food, use words that at least, in some tiny, tangential way, relate to FOOD. Very few salads are actually ‘ethereal’ (celestial; heavenly; of or pertaining to the upper regions of space), and you need to stop calling things ‘TOOTHSOME.’ That’s like ‘American Idol’ judges saying something is ‘pitchy’– it’s not an real term!
- No matter how well your duck confit turned out, do not write that you had a ‘foodgasm.’ I enjoy food. I’ve had some amazing meals in my life. None of them have been as good as sex. If you are in fact having ‘foodgasms,’ you need to see your doctor.
- Enough with the EXTREME CLOSEUPS! It’s the photographic equivalent of YELLING! If I want to experience the ‘essence’ of a dish, I’ll cook the freaking dish. I don’t need to see a picture that makes me feel like I’ve been miniaturized and trapped inside a freakishly large bowl of risotto. No matter how ‘rustic’ or ‘artisanal’ it is.
I like to take pictures of things that that I write about, but I’m still learning. As you can see in this one…
The Girlfriend typically takes the pictures, which I guess makes her my on-staff ‘food stylist’ (Hey–I’m a job creator!”) That’s as it should be, since I tend to take pictures like the next two
They both give you some idea of the dishes (“He clearly wanted to emphasize…brown”) but they don’t exactly make you drool.
We usually only shoot things that turned out well, but there have been exceptions. I’ll leave you with this shot, which I asked her to take, so that I can, on short notice, remind her of the Tragic Tale of the Burnt Peas, the next time she offers to take over the cooking.