I was reading an interesting and informative blog article over at Precision Nutrition called “All about Food Porn.” The author, Ryan Andrews, shares how we can be “tempted” to eat after viewing food pictures (whether in magazines, food blogs or in advertising). He defends the use of the word “food porn” in reference to food pictures saying, “Porn presents a world where everything is better than reality. Porn packages up a part of life into a shiny, visually appealing, easily consumed fantasy package.”
He points out that what we see is what we want (in other words, the visual cues we surround ourselves with are what we want in the end). He also points out that dieters or those restricting calories in some way are more vulnerable to food images. I think the author's point is that when we surround ourselves with visual cues about eating, we can end up overeating.
This is an interesting topic to me since I am a food writer and take pictures of food on a consistent basis. But I do so to a very niche crowd of those interested in “nourishing” or nutrient dense foods on my personal blog.
It's also interesting to me personally because of my own journey to better health — a journey that still continues.
I wanted to respond to the article with three thoughts. (I don’t disagree with the majority of his article; I'm simply looking at some of the same issues from a different angle.)
A well-nourished body is less susceptible to craving food
A common thread in the dieting or health food community is to avoid having candy or junk food in the house. This is good advice. However, I don’t think that we should leave the more important question out of the equation, which is “Why don’t we have control over our eating habits?” My husband and I have lived with a wide variety of candy bars in our house on a daily basis — including my personal favorite. But we don’t eat them. The candy bars are for our piano students. (I know, isn’t that terrible? We give candy to our students! I’ve been putting some thought into this practice lately, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
Do my husband and I, who both enjoyed candy a lot in our childhood – especially me — just have super self-control?
We just don’t really care whether we eat it. Granted, my husband has here and there had a mini candy bar, but generally speaking we have it around all the time and don’t give it a thought. I was much more addicted to sugar in the past, and after I gave my diet an overhaul and made sure that I included healthy fats, produce, whole grains, and ample protein, I found that I simply didn’t crave sugar much. Lately, we’ve been getting our sweets mostly from fruit, and enjoy a dessert about once a week. It works for us.
I know it isn’t always that simple for everyone. But the point I want to make is that when you don't get the nutrition your body needs, you are going to be much more susceptible to unhealthy foods.
Italian Sausage and Lentil Soup from "Everyday Nourishing Food"
Healthy food can be sexy.
The second thought I had was more from my perception as an amateur food photographer. I never gave much thought to the beauty of food until I started taking pictures of it. Once again, this is a completely personal story, but I find that I don’t appreciate much of the natural beauty around me on a daily basis, and I suspect that many of us don’t — and this includes food. Food is beautiful, but we don’t often see that beauty but instead mindlessly gobble our food down in front of the computer screen or TV.
My conclusion as a cookbook author and food photographer is that we often need help in seeing the simple beauty of a ripe fruit, a delicately flavored pasta dish, or softly cooked eggs. Healthy foods can be incredibly “sexy,” if you will, we just have allowed big companies and their advertising to program us to think that certain foods are the only foods worth having.
Ryan states, “And few people would really call lentils or a hunk of chicken sexy.” And I disagree with that. They can be incredibly yummy, beautiful, and yes, even sexy.
If we are going to talk about “food porn” (as much as I hate the term, personally) I think that we need a slightly different definition. To me, food porn is making cheap thrills attractive and desirable instead of making desirable delicious foods that love you back your whole life.
Yes, that Butterfinger will give you cheap, calorie-rich culinary passion, but that beautiful bowl of al dente lentils topped with a herby garlic sauce, drizzled with fresh olive oil, with rich and flavorful Parmesan cheese shaved on top, and served over slightly bitter, slightly sweet baby salad greens is not only beautiful, but it loves you back, and stays with you much longer.
If food blogs are encouraging a passion for empty calorie foods, perhaps the problem is that you are following the wrong blogs. A blog that I love is 101cookbooks.com. This vegetarian blog has very yummy recipes that are sexy, beautiful, and use whole food ingredients.
Mexican Avocado and Egg Salad Sandwich from "Everyday Nourishing Food"
We should think about food, just in the right way.
My third point is this. America doesn’t need to spend less time thinking about food generally. They need to spend more time cultivating a palate that enjoys the rich abundance of the naturally delicious foods around us. The food blogs I enjoy most do just this with their “food porn” pictures, a term I don’t think they deserve, as they encourage loving foods that will stand in you good stead for years to come.
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