#foodporn – trending for over 500 years

Food porn is the glamourised or spectacular visual presentation of cooking or eating. Typically images feature foods that are high in fat and calories, exotic dishes that arouse a desire to eat or the glorification of food as a substitute for sex.

The term was first coined by feminist critic Rosalind Coward in her 1984 book Female Desire, but #foodporn is now one of the most commonly trending hashtags on Instagram.

….artists tended to paint glorified, extravagant meals based on desire rather than reality […] not representative of a typical diet.

It’s interesting to note then that our obsession with looking at tasty, exotic food is nothing new. A recent analysis undertaken by Cornell University researchers looked at the food content of paintings over the last 500 years. They found that artists tended to paint glorified, extravagant meals based on desire rather than reality. Paintings tended to feature shellfish and exotic fruit, and were not representative of a typical diet.

Section of Jasper Geeraerts’s “Pronk Still Life with Lobster”

For the study, published in SageOpen, researchers selected 750 European and American food paintings from the past 500 years, and focused particularly on 140 paintings of family meals.

Across the spectrum of paintings, 76% of all the meals depicted included fruits, but only 19% contained vegetables. Over 54% showed bread and pastries and 39% contained meat. Salt was the most commonly depicted seasoning and cheese the most common dairy product.

IMG_2313 copy
The authors attempt at foodporn, although lemons are no longer exotic to our shops or gardens, so maybe this is #foodpoor instead.

The most commonly painted vegetable was an artichoke, the most common fruit was a lemon, and the most common meat was shellfish, usually lobster. Overall, shellfish were depicted in 22% of paintings despite being rather uncommon.

According to the authors, these paintings featured food that was either aspirational—rare or hard to afford—or foods painters thought would make the paintings most aesthetically pleasing.

So it’s confirmed, our love affair with visually appealing, decadent, or status foods is nothing new.

Published by Prof Andy Lowe

Prof Andy Lowe is a British-Australian scientist and expert in plants and trees, particularly the management of genetic, biological and ecosystem resources. He has discovered lost forests, championed to eliminate illegally logged timber in global supply chains, served the United Nation’s Office of Drugs and Crime and is a lead author of the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – Land Degradation and Restoration report. He has helped secure a quarter of a billion dollars worth of research funding in his field and is an experienced and respected executive leader, board member, as well as mid-career mentor. Andy is a passionate science communicator, he has been Scientist in Residence at The Australian Financial Review and the Advertiser and is a regular author, speaker and podcast host.

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