When food porn got boring

Oops, I think I just made one of those clickbait titles. But what else do you call the demise of the thing that’s gotten everyone salivating up till now?

It started with the announcement that (the generally excellent) Lucky Peach is folding after their final issue is published in May. Confession: I have a subscription (though my pile does not include the elusive first copy that apparently sells for upwards of $175), and my first thought was will I get my money back for the issues I won’t be getting? ☹️

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Glorifying gluttony

If being a “foodie” means enjoying reading about what other people get to eat – often in some of the best restaurants in the world – then I will reluctantly admit to being one. (If it just means being obnoxiously obsessed with food, then no. Definitely not!)

But when such an account begins with the line ‘Last night, I vomited in a great restaurant‘, and goes to on to list a menu of glorious-sounding food punctuated by burps and an ultimate reversal of fortune, then I think I draw the line between pleasure and disgust.

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Porn, the SFW edition

porn

Earlier this year I was delighted to be asked to contribute a short piece for the then-upcoming MAD4 on the topic of this year’s symposium: ‘What is Cooking?’

My take was (unsurprisingly) on some of ways food television influences the way we think about cooking and eating, including that pesky question of “food porn”. Since the good people at MAD have made it available, feel free to go and have a read. (And if you’re interested in food television generally, Chris Cosentino’s much-lauded talk is also worth a watch. But then so is most of the other stuff that’s been posted – let’s just say I’m in extremely good company there.)

The food porn thing does come up again and again, with varying degrees of usefulness.* But perhaps the most logical conclusion of a cultural obsession with food and sex is the porn star who turns his, ahem, gaze, to food. Exhibit A: “James Deen Loves Food“.

And then I’d recommend two interesting interviews with James Deen on the topics of food and sex: on Go Fork Yourself (!) with Andrew Zimmern, and with the slightly more irreverent folks at Eating Disorder. Both good fun.

Or we could just let Charlie Brooker have the last word.

*Anyone with an academic interest in these matters might want to check out my entry on “food porn in media” for Springer’s Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics.

On food porn and pseudoscience

Here’s Steven Poole’s response to the inevitable “food porn” talk that Nigella’s caramel-covered face generated in December last year:

‘The fact that food-talk slips so easily these days into sex-talk might be interpreted as part of the more generalised pornification of everything; but I think it represents a different trend: the foodification of everything. Food is the vehicle through which we are now invited to take not only our erotic thrills but also our spiritual nourishment (count the number of cookbook “bibles” and purple paeans to the personal-growth aspects of stuffing yourself in memoirs such as Eat, Pray, Love), and even our education in history (the fad for food “archaeology”, cooking peculiar dishes from centuries-old recipes) or science (which Jamie Oliver says pupils can learn about through enforced cooking lessons). Food is now the grease-smeared lens through which we want to view the world. It’s an infantile ambition. A baby learns about the environment by putting things in its mouth. Are we all babies now?’

He concludes by asking ‘What if we began to care a little more about what we put into our minds than what we put into our mouths?’

Good question. And speaking of which, here is Poole more recently in the New Statesman withYour brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks’:

‘An intellectual pestilence is upon us. Shop shelves groan with books purporting to explain, through snazzy brain-imaging studies, not only how thoughts and emotions function, but how politics and religion work, and what the correct answers are to age-old philosophical controversies. The dazzling real achievements of brain research are routinely pressed into service for questions they were never designed to answer. This is the plague of neuroscientism – aka neurobabble, neurobollocks, or neurotrash – and it’s everywhere.

… Happily, a new branch of the neuroscienceexplains everything genre may be created at any time by the simple expedient of adding the prefix “neuro” to whatever you are talking about. Thus, “neuroeconomics” is the latest in a long line of rhetorical attempts to sell the dismal science as a hard one; “molecular gastronomy” has now been trumped in the scientised gluttony stakes by “neurogastronomy”; students of Republican and Democratic brains are doing “neuropolitics”; literature academics practise “neurocriticism”. There is “neurotheology”, “neuromagic” (according to Sleights of Mind, an amusing book about how conjurors exploit perceptual bias) and even “neuromarketing”. Hoping it’s not too late to jump on the bandwagon, I have decided to announce that I, too, am skilled in the newly minted fields of neuroprocrastination and neuroflâneurship.’

It’s a good rant. I’ll look forward to reading his forthcoming You Aren’t What You Eat.