For the eighth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Locavore, the newest restaurant at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2014."
The term "food porn" was popularized with the onset of social media and people’s obsession with photographing savory-looking food items, but it originated years before Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Feminist critic Rosalind Coward is credited with coining the term in her 1984 book, "Female Desire," and it became commonly used in England in the 1990s due to a TV cooking show called "Two Fat Ladies."
Famous film food scenes – like the fruity, milky sex mess during "9 1/2 Weeks" – also furthered the term which has come to mean a variety of different things.
Sometimes "food porn" is used to describe exotic or visually appealing dishes, but it can also suggest replacing sex for food or food with a very high calorie or fat content. Often, tantalizing food items – or plates of food – are photographed, shared on social media and sometimes with the hastag "#foodporn."
OnMilwaukee.com food writer Lori Fredrich lays out the visual impact of the term in her description.
"Food porn is that food photo with the perfect lighting. It’s the burger with the cheese that’s slowly dripping down the side of the bun. The dessert that’s so pretty you almost wouldn’t want to eat it. The vibrant platter of vegetables that are so colorful, so fresh, that you can’t stop staring at them," says Fredrich.
"Food porn is a spectacular visual depiction. It’s food as art – beautiful, idealistic, sometimes unrealistic art. It’s food that has been glamorized. Food that catches your eye and evokes a physical reaction. Has it been photoshopped? Airbrushed? Digitally enhanced? Probably, but we don’t care. Because it still makes us hungry."
However, even though the term continues to appear in traditional media and social media, many people who work in the food industry aren’t biting.
Richard Kerhin, owner of Richard’s Cafe, takes issue with the use of the word "porn" for a couple of reasons.
"If there happens to be food in the background of an actual porn film, then that is food porn," says Kerhin. "If you want to use the word ‘porn’ – which for me connotes a very seedy, somewhat embarrassing industry – with food, you're really not doing good food justice. And I’m assuming that we're talking about really good food here."
For Kevin Sloan, the executive chef for The Pabst Theater Group, trendy food words have an expiration date – and most of them spoil quickly.
"The term never really stuck for me. I may have used it once or twice a while back but when you’re a chef, most buzzwords in the food world get tiresome very fast," he says. "Having said that I love to see a good food pic as much as the next guy. My cooking partner put a photo of some Brussel sprouts on my Facebook page the other day and I've been looking at it ever since."
What people find attractive or appealing in food is just as subjective as what people are attracted to in a mate.
"I just know it when I see it," says Sloan.
Call it whatever you want, but for food industry professional and photographer Tom Julio, food is about taste. Period.
"The taste buds are the only ruling authority on the matter here. Smoked porkbelly wrapped in cast iron fried bacon, layered with black truffle shavings while sitting atop true Southern cheesy grits smothered in red eye gravy with a few raw quail eggs on top – that’s about as close to a visual menage a trois as you can get in your mouth," says Julio. "Of course, one must also capture said moments prior to devouring the erotic tasting with a camera and then share among friends on social media, thus adding to the voyeuristic and exhibitionist aspects of encapsulating the whole ‘food porn’ experience."
Finally, Kyle Cherek, the host of "Wisconsin Foodie" TV show, sums it up with his feelings on "food porn."
"I never really cared for it. As porn contrives and objectifies intimacy, then yeah, we've allowed ‘food porn’ to do the same. The more food media, which I am a part of, seeks the ‘porn’ of the thing, we miss out the pleasure of the thing," says Cherek. "I like what Carlin Petrini, the founder of Slow Food said about underwear and prosciutto. ‘We'll wear underwear with someone else's name on it, so that it helps us feel more sexy, yet when we eat a slice of prosciutto, it becomes part of you. You feel it in the truest sense. What's more intimate than that?’"
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.