Years ago, the term food porn primarily referred to those glossy spreads of salaciously styled meals in culinary magazines or chef-authored cookbooks.
The food itself almost seemed to take a back seat to the implications that one could not possibly enjoy a meal unless it was as artfully arranged as that displayed between the covers. As entertaining as it might be to flippantly peruse the pages of the latest foodie publications, all of this imposed perfection has the detrimental effect of discouraging home cooks from actually cooking anything, by setting them up for failure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought twice about trying a recipe (on the rare occasion I use one) because the accompanying photographs left me with an uneasy sense of dread, knowing that whatever I made would never look like this. To that end, I don’t subscribe to many foodie magazines anymore, whereas at one time I couldn’t move around my tiny apartment without tripping over a stack of Gourmet, Saveur, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, etc. Now I tend to focus on magazines with a purpose that is more substantial than superficial or skin deep, like Edible Toronto.
Plus, now I have the internet when I need a fix of some food porn…
First there were sites like FoodPorn, then came Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Photograzing, and countless others. The community-driven visual potluck (as Tastespotting calls itself) is page upon page of softly lit, flawlessly portioned food, each photo portraying fare that is more preciously unattainable than the last. On several occasions I’ve submitted content to Tastespotting and Foodgawker, only to have the editors inform me that my food is not appealing enough. While I suppose that charcuterie’s heyday has not yet hit its apex of popularity, I still think that my photos had some merit. It’s nice to know that society’s consistent across the board now in judging food solely on it’s looks, as we do with just about everything (and everyone) else (sic). Though I still keep tabs on a few of these sites today, I find that instead of being a place to share all manner of food photography, they’ve become an exercise in unrealistic one-upsmanship.
They say that you eat with your eyes first, and to a certain extent I agree. However, throughout history there have been many dishes and even whole cuisines whose appeal goes far beyond their rustically plebian presentations. One dish in particular that comes to mind is the Italian dessert brutti ma buoni, which roughly translates to ugly, but good. The meringue-like cookies, which are typically chock full of pinenuts, hazelnuts, almonds and orange zest, might not have the visual fireworks of a New York Black And White, but they are quietly tasteful, and still pretty darn good. And truly, if we only concerned ourselves with ingesting “pretty” food, we wouldn’t have sludge like Taco Bell, now would we? As with people and all things in nature, just because something isn’t beautiful, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. A well-prepared veal cutlet on a bun is a delicious treat, but in most cases is nothing to look at. There’s no reason that visual blahness should invalidate its culinary significance. At the end of the day, taste should be the overriding priniciple that we are striving to achieve.