Mei-Mei grasped the warm, firm dumpling in her trembling fingers and brought it to her
Before she tasted it, she inhaled its strong fragrance to appreciate its power.
She licked her lips in anticipation, then secretly let her tongue explore the
folds of its flesh.
Unable to resist any longer, she nibbled lightly at the dough and her mouth was suddenly filled with
a salty, slightly sour sauce. . .
Yes, I hope you like my lovely but somewhat tawdry example of food porn – the written or graphic description of food with deliberate sensual or sexual overtones. Contrary to most people’s assumption, food porn wasn’t invented by Madison Avenue. It is centuries old and can be found in serious literature from early Chinese poetry to Emil Zola. The graphic representation of food as sex is also ancient, but has been brought to new heights in recent years by digital imagery. The purpose of food porn in all its forms is and has always been to compare and associate two of life’s great pleasures – food and sex.
The association of food and sex beyond literature and graphic representation is a science unto itself. There are thousands of foods, substances and herbal combinations that people have used to increase sexual performance and satisfaction over the millennia. From Aztec chocolate and Egyptian blue lotus and honey to Indian asafetida and Chinese licorice – cultures around the world have looked to food to enhance their sexual enjoyment. Modern science has confirmed that some of these substances could indeed act as aphrodisiacs, for example, Egyptian blue lotus have phosphodiesterase inhibitors similar to those used in Viagra.
I confess that food porn has long been a cheshire pleasure of mine and am writing to defend it from the coalition of moralists and gluttons who have been perverting the definition to disgust rather than delight viewers and readers. Instead of reveling the sensual depiction of food as we have done for millennia, the term food porn is increasingly being used to describe excessive food such as overstuffed sandwiches, five pound pizzas and the competitive eating of greasy, food-like constructions.
Instead of the evocative description of a peach as rendered by DH Lawrence:
Why so velvety, why so voluptuous heavy . . .
Why the groove?
Why the lovely bivalve roundness?
Why the ripple down the sphere?
Why the suggestion of incision?
People are using the term food porn more and more to describe “Fat Bitch” sandwiches such as this one. To those of you not in the know, a Fat Bitch consists of an sandwich roll, cheesesteak, chicken fingers, french fries, mozzarella cheese sticks, mayonaisse, ketchup, lettuce and tomato (sometimes it also has marinara sauce as well).
Fat Bitch Sandwich
The Fat Bitch also has friends, one of which is the pound and a half Fat Lion, which consists of cheesesteak, hamburger, chicken fingers, bacon, gyro meat, mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers. Another friend is the Fat Mojo which features two cheese burgers, two mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, bacon, eggs, mayonnaise and ketchup.
When character Dave Lister ate things like his famous fried egg, cheese, chili and chutney sandwich on the Red Dwarf television show, most of us laughed – especially when his roommate Rimmer declared that eating the sandwich was a cross between giving birth and bowel surgery, but excessive sandwiches are another food trend that is all too real. There is now a franchise called Sandwich University that aims to bring these sandwiches to a college campus near you. The most alarming thing to me about these sandwiches isn’t the offensive taste of combining all of these junk foods in one package, it isn’t the health risks posed by eating food like this too frequently, it’s that the trend has spread far beyond drunk or hungover, hungry and near broke college kids. It’s that people who can afford better (and who should know better) are also eating these things too.
Several years ago, when I first saw the term food porn used to describe these sandwiches and other excessive eating, I thought it was a misuse of the term on the part of the author of the article. Since then however, the association between the two seems increasingly common. I find this offensive, not only because as a lover of good food and wine, I find food like the Fat Mojo offensive, but as a lover of classic food porn, I don’t want images and depictions of food that disgusts me as part of the food porn oeuvre.
Well, fans of the sensual and deliberately sexual description of food – I say it’s high time to reclaim food porn as something positive. I will grant that food porn as I think of it is a bit peculiar and not for all tastes, but I refuse to let the term be co-opted by those out there commenting (usually negatively) on excessive food and competitive eating. There is nothing wrong with the sensual depiction of food whether it is to use food imagery to describe the beauty of a loved one as in Zhao Luanluan’s 8th Century poem The Sandalwood Mouth:
The cup in her mouth slightly moves her cherry lips
A gentle cough sends out the fragrance of jasmine . . .
With teeth even and as white as melon seeds, she is fragrant like a pomegranate. . .
or to food and cooking being used to deftly describe a sexual relationship as in The Illiad:
. . . Achilles carved,
then sliced the meat well and forked it upon the spits.
Meanwhile, Patroclus, like a God in firelight,
made the hearth blaze up . . .
In these verses, food is revered as beautiful, powerful and worthy of the place that we reserve for it in our cultures and on our tables around the world. Let us not degrade and insult the elements of food porn in these works by allowing the definition to slip to include descriptions of the Fat Mojo. Food is powerful, and something so simple as eating a pomegranate has alternatively, over the ages, been described as a crime worthy of divine punishment – as when Eve consumes one, or an act that can make a man invincible as when Isfandiyar ate his. (All words except cited verse by Laura Kelley. Photo of the Blue Lotus and the Fat Bitch borrowed from Google images).