Temptation and seduction have in recent years taken an epicurean turn, with ‘food porn’ emerging as a global trend driven by social media.
‘Food porn’ quite simply refers to mouth-watering photos of food posted online for others to lust after, and with over 18 million posts in the #foodporn Instagram tag, it’s clearly more than just a fringe obsession. Of the 37 categories on Pinterest, Food and Drink is reportedly the most popular, with 11% of all pins coming under the group.
And it’s social media platforms like Instagram – as well as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest – that have facilitated the explosion of this trend. Bloggers devote entire websites to sumptuous food photography and readers swarm to them by the thousands. (Food Porn Daily is just one example of this. Their tagline: click, drool, repeat.)
Add that to the perpetual popularity of TV chefs and cooking shows, and it’s pretty clear we’ve all got a strong preoccupation with food.
But is it such a bad thing? Well, according to Dr Oz, American surgeon-turned-TV-personality, this seemingly innocent obsession with delectable food snaps may be “glamorising junk food” and in turn impacting on our waistlines.
It seems like a rather sweeping statement, but Oz argues there’s more to it than dubious pop psychology. It all comes back, he says, to the ‘hunger’ hormone ghrelin. When we see a delectable picture of food, our stomachs supposedly secrete this hormone, which interacts with the brain’s hypothalamus and induces sensations of hunger – or at least the desire to eat. Ghrelin is a relatively new discovery, and requires much more extensive research before it can be fully understood, but we do know that ghrelin levels tend to be high before a meal and low after a meal. Therefore, says Oz, it’s fair to assume that images of ‘food porn’ may induce impromptu baking/cooking, and thus eating sessions.
An interesting study published in the Journal Appetite last year seems to lend credence to this argument. The study sought to investigate the link between watching food-related television, and the amount and type of food eaten subsequently. A group of 80 students were divided into two groups, one of which watched a 10 minute clip of a food related program, while the other watched a nature program. After this, all participants were led to a room containing different foods, including healthier options like carrots, as well as chocolates and cheesy snacks. Notably, those who watched the cooking program were significantly more likely to gravitate towards the ‘junk foods’ than those who had watched the nature program.
So what does this mean? Could watching cooking shows and indulging in the guilty pleasure of ‘food porn’ be linked to over-eating and less than ideal food choices?
Well, maybe there’s some correlation. From personal experience, though, much of the food porn I lust after and pore over for inspiration isn’t particularly unhealthy at all. As the interest in food has taken off in social media, so too has the interest in cooking and sharing recipes for delicious, healthy food (hence the hashtag #cleaneating). Much of the foodspiration I encounter online is more about creating healthy versions of not-so-healthy recipes.
My feeling is that food brings pleasure and joy. If indulging in a bit of ‘food porn’ encourages this, there has to be something positive going on.
But you might want to watch your consumption. Researchers from a US University suggest that viewing too many photos of food may actually dull the enjoyment you get from eating food, due to “sensory boredom”. In order to test this theory, half of a group of participants were shown pictures of salty snacks, while the other half were shown sweet snacks. After this, they all were given salty peanuts to eat. Funnily enough, those that had been looking at salty foods were less satisfied with their peanuts, suggesting that their viewing had left them “satiated on the specific sensory experience of saltiness”.
N.B. For some healthy, Dietitian Approved food porn, head on over to Healthy Aperture, the first website to exclusively showcase the best healthy food imagery, courtesy of many talented food bloggers.