Do You Objectify Your Food? Here’s Why That’s a Problem

Look around you. There’s food everywhere. Glamorized food. Sexy food. Food that makes you drool. Food that speaks to some primal, internal part of you.

There’s food on the Internet, on the television, there’s probably a photo of a perfectly cooked dish of exotic ingredients popping up on your Instagram feed as you read this. Or at the very least, some latte art.

But with all this attention on food (I’d go so far as to say, obsession with food), we’re still spending less time in the kitchen. We’re still eating poorly. There are still millions of people who go hungry.

I enjoyed reading a recent interview with Alton Brown, the Food Network’s famous chef personality in which he spoke to the spiritual act of serving food. “There is more to the act of sharing food with one another than simply saying ‘Here is some food.’ I do believe that there is a spiritual act in breaking bread and sitting down and being thankful. The pornification of food takes away the importance of sharing it with one another and instead focuses only on the food.”

This idea of “pornification” stuck with me. It’s true: in today’s modern world we objectify food like never before. We choose food porn over actual food. We remove food from its natural habitat – a farm, a table – and make it as sexy and appealing as we possibly can. We joke about the absurdity of putting cakes on rosemary nests and cropping out people to make the food look more visually appealing, and yet we all still keep doing it, perpetuating an image of food that has absolutely nothing to do with what food is for: nourishing us.

While part of the global population is busy watching celebrity chef shows, buying the latest cookbook that they will never use, and debating on what garnish would be more cutting edge – kale or cilantro? – most of the rest of the world can’t even put enough food on the table. Even in our own country we deal with a severe hunger problem. And if they’re not hungry, then there’s the other end of the scale: obesity. Our food makes us sick, and with our conventional methods, we destroy the world in making it.

Maybe our objectification of food, and the proliferation of food porn, is actually at the root of some of our food-related problems.

I choose the word “objectification” on purpose. The ramifications of objectifying food are of course not the same as our culture’s severe objectification of women. But there are certainly similarities to be found.

The objectification of women exacerbates an unrealistic expectation of what a woman should look like.

The objectification of women leads to eating disorders.

The objectification of women helps with huge corporate profit; why else do you see so much advertisement with scantily clad women?

Unrealistic expectations, eating disorders, corporate profit… sound like anything the food world deals with on a regular basis?

The more we objectify food the more detached from it we become. We are detached from the process of growing food, and the work that growing requires, and from the people who grow our food, knowing little, if anything about their everyday livelihoods. We are detached from what food actually looks like; we throw away a perfectly good peach because it isn’t “perfect” looking. We are detached from the real flavor of food. We are detached from seasons.

We’re also detached from the work that is required to prepare food. It’s easy to look at a stylized photo of food. That you can do in a matter of seconds. Put a home-cooked meal on the table? That’s going to take a bit longer.

We have this sexy image of food that’s entirely removed from reality, and entirely unattainable. Sort of like the body image that we as women are told we should try to achieve. Women are photoshopped and so is food. And if it’s not photoshopped, it at least got a fancy outfit of twine and herb sprigs to wear.

We get rid of the dirty, messy stuff. The real stuff. We see a mixing bowl and a spotless counter and nothing else. We see a serving bowl in the middle of a table, maybe a hand reaching casually for it, but no people to eat it, no community. And have you ever seen anyone sharing a great photo of compost? No, but compost is an amazing and beautiful thing. Maybe if we got a little more used to seeing it we could better deal with our problem of food waste.

Brown is absolutely right. There is more to food than just the food. It is about the process, it is about the time put into producing the food and the time put into cooking it. It is about gathering together, food the building block of community.

The more that we objectify food the more neurotic about eating we become. We subscribe to diets that require fancy tools. We choose one ingredient over another, simply because it has a better marketing campaign behind it. We carefully pick and choose what we want for dinner, forgetting that it’s the season and proximity that really should be dictating what’s on our plates.

Talking about food and promoting healthy habits is a part of helping to change the system–to ensure that everyone has access to sustainably produced, real food. But we could all do with a little less objectification.

Originally published on EcoSalon

Image: Charlotte

Comments 3

  1. Jollia

    that’s a very interesting and thought provoking idea to raise.
    it’s true that we are obsessed with food porn, or.. the pornification of food.

    althought I think you can look at it both ways.
    food porn evokes good feelings about food. it can be used as a medium to promote the desire and appetite for healthy foods that are otherwise neglected from our diet.

    on the other hand, food porn, as you say, objectifies food and detaches us from the core need for food. it detaches us from the roots of where our food comes from, those who grow and harvest it.

    I’m an optimistic and I’d like to think that food porn and the “objectification of food” is how modern society celebrates food. If only we can also celebrate all the other components that helps us get food on our tables: the farmers, the soil, the animals on the farm, those we share a meal with at the dinner table every night.

    If this is food porn and what it stands for, then I’m all for food porn!

    • Anna Brones

      Jollia- excellent thoughts! Couldn’t agree more with this sentiment: “If only we can also celebrate all the other components that helps us get food on our tables: the farmers, the soil, the animals on the farm, those we share a meal with at the dinner table every night.” So, more farm, soil and compost photos please! 🙂

  2. Cassie

    OH. MY. GOD. I see the connections. Food porn creates envy, may trigger eating disorders (oh, she can eat more than me but stay thin….she eats less than me and is thinner than me, maybe I should eat less than her), and this obsession to get the latest superfoods and to put so much effort in taking ONE picture. It can really lead to a lot of problems! That’s why I prefer videos that are real and raw!

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