Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gastroporn (Food Porn) & Materiality Introduction

Exploring the evolution of material-based food marketing media to immaterial digital representations of food (better known as Food Porn or Gastroporn), our introduction begins with three overarching themes:

Food, Media and Materiality.

In this exhibition, these themes were chosen to represent the contrast between 'traditional' food marketing mediums premised on interactions with the material food world and the dematerialized content of digital food known
aesthetically and anesthetically as "food porn".

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Food porn
is a provocative term variously applied to a spectacular visual presentation of cooking or eating in advertisements, infomercials, cooking shows or other visual media, foods boasting a high fat and calorie content, exotic dishes that arouse a desire to eat or the glorification of food as a substitute for sex. "Food porn" specifically refers to food photography and styling that presents food glamorously or provocatively, as in glamour photography or pornographic photography (Wikipedia "Food Porn").

Traditional food marketing mediums (through mainly visual representations) in discussion are external modes by which food communicated its most basic purposes and interactions: growing, manufacturing, cooking, eating, drinking,
buying, selling, etc. From the beginning, food marketing and advertising is premised on the existence of an actual food to consume. Each of the listed actions is solely tied to the materiality that food has an actual object in society. Food in its past marketing forms can serve as a material medium and the first half of the collection displayed above in the "Food Porn & Materiality" time-line is assimilated into this media artifact(pseudo-representative of food media archeology) .

As a contrast, the current digital forms of food media and ‘food porn’ has
amputated itself from its material heritage. Using McLuhan’s "The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis" as a primary source of research, we'll try to discover why we've become so detached that now all that remains is food media making media for media's sake. In turn, we ourselves have become numb and disconnected from the original purpose of the media. The new food media is a dematerialized media, often manufactured digitally only to be consumed digitally. This exhibit's food blog-like structure is to mirror that argument. As McLuhan puts it in "The Gadget Lover", we are numb to its effects because the media merely reflects onto itself (McLuhan 63). Within this exhibit, we also touch on multi-modal research topics of media materiality such as aesthetics, mass production, the senses, and cultural symbols.

Why food media materiality and not just food materiality?
I chose this research application because whereas food/calories cannot be simultaneously shared between two people and its often perishable, the marketing mediums have higher longevity and bigger cultural implications.

Food, from Rural to Industrious

A painting about life on the fields. Image Source:
"God gives all birds their food but does not drop it into their nests" - Danish Proverb

The romantic harvest scene painted above exemplifies when hard and utilizable materials were important in food production and how "there used to be an interplay between food and the man/thing relationship" (Scharer 13). The most striking notion of the painting is that of
food production
as labor--"the fact that we must eat is a fact of life situated so primitively and elementarily in the development of our life-values that it is unquestionably shared by each individual with every other one" (Simmel 116 in Food).
This scene is a rural starting point as we enter the unfolding episode of food as pleasure influenced by the activities of industry (product differentiation, the global marketplace, the printing press, photography, marketing, etc.). This depiction of past material culture shows us the cognitive, behavioral, aesthetic, and sensory experience that was pre-industrial food production. There were no million-dollar advertising budgets, factory lines, or television networks--only families with farms, their hands and tools. Food was survival and farming and hunting was the norm. Like many elements of culture, food was influenced by world events such as motorized technology, printing revolutions, and a move unto abundance. Emphasis was moved from rationing and survival to consumer choice, capitalism, and an ever-expanding range of food products.

Food became more pleasurable and gratifying than laborious and handicapping. Food became more of a joy.

Punch Candy depicting an expressive couple. Image Source: Getty Images &
The industrial revolution can be conceived as one of the first steps towards building a more convenient food society. Mass productions melted away difficulties of farming, hunting, and gathering. Cities arose and it was easier to think of food as an everyday object (a thing) rather than a necessity. The same could be said for liquor, water, and other refreshments.
An ad for Perrier sparkling water. Image Source:

Inspirational Ads and Agents

New York, advertising and food capital. Image Source:
"Material is not actually culture but its product," as it is in man's nature to create and utilize tools (Schlereth 4). Advertising must also be considered a product of and a vehicle for our past and present material cultures. For our discussion , we must consider and evaluate how much of advertising materiality is 'real':
Cereals Manufacturing Co. Advertisement. Image Source: Getty &
The late 1880's New York cereal company ad reflects ideas of culture and materiality that might or might not be existent anymore. Romanticized, the ad tries to 'source' its product origins back to the rural upbringings of food. By drastically highlighting the obvious through a signature logo and scene, the company believes that this 'rootness' is able to attract new customers.

Modern Advertising
Pretentiously, a tag-line and ad display is meant to inspire us. Advertisements are material symbols hoping to influence and draw out "outward signs and symbols of particular ideas in mind" (Schlereth 1). Advertising drives consumption of goods, services, and media. Advertising is a billion-dollar industry built to satisfy our material "needs". As a media content provider, symbol adopter, and culture creator, advertising agencies have employed everything they can to elicit responses to serve us more products. Advertisers want consumers to agree with their ads and spend money on advertised products.
One of many Coca-Cola ads in existence. Image Source:
Like advertising and pornography, food is a billion-dollar year-round industry built on the manipulation of the human experience. This is what makes them such great bedfellows. Advertisers have known that 'sex sells' long before there were any scientific market researchers. Two of the essentials to life, advertisers did not take long to apply them together. They associated sex and food before it became scientific fact that people reacted the same to great food as they did to great sexual interactions.

Food Paradigm Shift

Diving Girl Apples Poster. Image Source:

Pepsi Raw Magazine Ad. Image Source:
From Market to Trademark
New varieties of food came only after technological, restaurant industry, and economic developments.
Early in American culture, "Few people went to restaurants—only rich people, and the restaurants were formal and fussy. People cooked, everyone did, because you had to eat, but it was meat and potatoes. Even fish was exotic. It had a Friday stigma."(Buford 1). Only after the Industrial Revolution did food develop into a global culture appreciated by people of all economic levels and ages. As the economy became more powerful, American restaurants began to diversely range from affordable ($) to the incredibly expensive ($). On the domestic front, millions of products were added to the shelves each year. Global food goliaths like Tyson foods, McDonald's, Coca-cola, Quaker Oats, and Pepsi emerged. Very soon, indulgence didn't mean a large home-cooked meal of meat and potatoes--it meant biting into a Diving Girl Apple; it meant sipping a Pepsi Raw.

Food has become a mega-culture driven by media and advertising. Billions of dollars are spent each year making new 'delicacies,' fads, trends, and trademarked products. To support itself, food is made sexy and readily available,
"the machine world reciprocates man's love by expediting his wishes and desires namely in providing him with wealth" (McLuhan 69). Society wanted more food 'wealth' to satisfying cravings and advertisers were making money from it by latching on to each new technology and food product. Three-dimensional replicas and projections of delicious meals bombarded society in the every form...magazine food photographs...and then food TV ads like this 1991 Sizzler commercial:


Notice the body's appearance on the ads designed for viewing between the 1960s and the present. A viewer automatically associates him- or herself with the person(s) in the ad. Brown emphasizes "you might say, then, that this visualizing medium at once materializes and dematerializes the human body" (Brown 50). As Ewen further points out, there has been a shift in advertising's use of the body. Packaging, advertising, and product design are employing more and more disembodied images (Ewen 85). Even though it is not always shown, the body is always suggested in the all ads.

Phantom Bits and Bites
Interaction and materiality are delineated from the visuals with the ads--you only need to see the product to know what you are supposed to do with it. Tapping our visual psyche, food ads no longer have to show us realistic uses for their products--they are not bound by materiality. For example, this bottle of SKYY vodka might be used as a pole in this ad, but a viewer of the image automatically knows that the liquor is meant for consumption. The bottle being taken out of context and used for another use is a metaphorical device used by food advertising all the time.
Legs straddling a vodka bottle in a magazine ad. Image Source:
The body is just decoration in the ad. The bottle is the bigger and the true object of attention--desire. We can remove the legs and body entirely from the picture, and our imaginations would re-materialize a proper use for the product for us. We've been well-conditioned to associate the pleasure of eating to food porn. The more food media, the more ‘food porn’--and the more food media becomes an amputation from its original self and its material heritage. The new food mediums (food blogs, food albums, Facebook pics, Twitpics) are de-materialized food mediums.
Carl's Jr. Burger Ad. Image Source:
To illustrate our point on body amputation and the (de- and re-) materialization of food, take this burger--an effective ad that merely suggests an Carl's Jr. menu item. It's a printed image (now digitalized) that makes a person want to interact with the material as if it were a real burger on the plate. When removing the body from within these ads, we start to see what Ewen calls "a consciously depersonalized corporate iconography, one which evinces the aura of technical perfection (Ewen 214). The material real form of the burger is almost never as good as the advertisement. The burger is perfect, dematerialized into a digital file, Photoshopped, optimized, and then printed on glossy paper or a shiny computer screen for consumption. A perfect immaterial version of its original, imperfect material counterpart. No matter how unreal, we do consume the burger--just not physically. We don't even leave the chair and we get a certain fill from the media image. We are starring with the burger when we see it. What McLuhan's "Gadget Lover" outlined, we ourselves have become numb and disconnected from the original purpose of the media and its message. There is no material connection to food to the consumer. As McLuhan puts it, we are numb to its effects and no longer feel the need to seek out the material part of food as it has become a 'purer' media entertainment that merely reflects onto to itself (McLuhan 65). This has a lot to do with our society's acceptance of doesn't squint around on its own except in a metaphoric sense; it mediates between our eyes and the sites of space that it helps us experience as sights (Schlereth 2). Food, like pornography, is consumed like Pavlov's bell for pleasure. This also explains the current American obsession with The Food Network.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Faking It on Food TV

Food Network 'star' Giada De Laurentiis. Image Source:

Buford talks about the mystification of The Food Network and cooking shows, "people have always liked to watch others prepare food—a social activity fundamental to the human race—and the network’s programming has depicted little else: the happy narrative of the raw to the cooked, the oldest story line in history"(Buford 1). According to Kaufmann's studies on 'gastroporn,' most Food Network viewers are not cooks or lovers of food, just spectators (see his video in the media section). Arguably, Food Network was made for the numbed audience, disembodied, "Any invention or technology is an extension or self-amputation of our physical bodies, and such extension also demands new ratios or new equilibriums among the other organs and extensions of the body. There is, for example, no way of refusing to comply with the new sense ratios or sense "closure" evoked by the TV image"(McLuhan 67). Our senses are dominated by the visual, but food TV takes it over the top with moving, sexual visuals and sound. Taste is overthrown by this new food medium of food porn:

According to Cockburn's treatise on "Gastroporn," it is almost impossible to cook like they describe in cookbooks and cooking shows (Cockburn 1). The medium enables a self-fulfilling prophecy, "cable made the Food Network possible" as the new forms of food porn was not constantly available on your average TV station (Buford 1). The Food Network was more risky, fancier, new, and needed to catch the consumer's attention,"the point is to get very close to what you are filming, so close that you can see an ingredient’s “pores” (“You should believe the dish is in your living room”), which then triggers some kind of Neanderthal reflex...if you’re flicking from channel to channel and come upon food that has been shot in this way, you will be hardwired as a human being to stop, look, and bring it back to your cave"(Buford 1). The Food Network is sensational, sexual, and brilliant. All the content (the shows and the stars) on the Food Network is just an ad for itself, many of its products far out of reach to an average viewer: "Never in our history as a species have we been so ignorant about our food. And it is revealing about our culture that, in the face of such widespread ignorance about a human being’s most essential function—the ability to feed itself—there is now a network broadcasting into ninety million American homes, entertaining people with shows about making coleslaw" (Buford 1). Other stations like Bravo have food porn such as Top Chef. Food ads, as a percentage of total ads on television have peaked at 48% and average at 34%(based on Australian survey, Hill and Radimer, 1997). There is no escaping the prevalence of food porn and food ads on the TV.


Kim Cattrall of Sex in the City fame is the spokesmodel in this Breyer's Ice Cream ad.
Image Source: (conveniently named)

Even with what's been said about the non-consumption of material goods as result of the Food Network and food porn ads, there remains a need to eat. Food no longer comes from the fields or orchards, we are extremely disconnected from our sources of food. We also have a paradox of choice when it comes to food consumption. With supermarkets and mega-marts, our food culture has spurned our conversion from buying on a need-to-need basis to a land of excess consumption. All in the name of 'economies of scale,' we buy more and more because are presented with so many choices:
A supermarket. Image Source:
With mass production and the rise of competition, food products needed a way to differentiate themselves using marketing and advertising. One of the quickest routes to satisfaction is consumption (Ewen 103). Food can provide both pleasure and or comfort As McLuhan puts it, a universal answer to all needs. "whereas pleasure is a counter-irritant (e.g., sports, entertainment, and alcohol), comfort is the removal of irritants. Both pleasure and comfort are strategies of equilibrium for the central nervous system" (McLuhan 65). McLuhan indirectly equates our need to consume as an equilibrium for our senses. Advertisers can uniquely approach both needs using sexual advertising - with signs for pleasure and for comfort:

Did you know that Coca-Cola offers over 450 brands?
Image Source:

Lobster benedict at a NYC brunchspot Essex (also of Sex in the City fame)
The more media we consume, the more ‘food porn’ we digest--and the more food media becomes amputated from its original self and its material heritage. The new food mediums (food blogs, food albums, Facebook pics, Twitpics) are de-materialized mediums. There is no material connection to a physical food to the viewer.As McLuhan puts it, we are numb to its effects and no longer feel the need to seek out the material part of food as it has become a 'purer' media entertainment that merely reflects onto to itself (McLuhan 65). This has a lot to do with our society's acceptance of doesn't squint around on its own except in a metaphoric sense; it mediates between our eyes and the sites of space that it helps us experience as sights (Schlereth 2).

"Virtually no one on the planet is untouched by the dominance of these techno-economic systems"(Nakamura and Haraway). We are bombarded by technology and marketing, "seeing the different types creates the desire to try them all...therein lies food marketers' greatest weapon: Offer people greater options, and they will consume more" (Stacey 1). Food is all about options.

Internet ad for Groupon trying to entice users to buy a food meal. Image Source: Ad Server

America is a consumer culture. America is also a food and capitalist culture. "The underlying premise is that objects made or modified by humans, consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, reflect the belief patterns of individuals who made, commissioned, purchased, or used them, and, by extension, the belief patterns of the larger society to which they belonged...Material culture is that segment of man's physical environment which is purposely shaped by him according to culturally dictated plans" (Schlereth 12-13 ).


A Facebook food album.
A Social Definition of Gastroporn: "Simply, it's just so to make food sound all very appealing, erotic and sexy. Surely, anything "appealing, erotic and sexy" would tweak your curiosity and senses, no? Anything gastropornic relates to the sensuality of the food. Like one which may be described as "orgasamically" yummy..."( The new material technologies and modes of social sharing has enabled food porn to grow at exponential rates. The Facebook food album is now a common sight on many profiles. In many ways, how the picture is shot and looks is more important than any description, "style becomes a compensation for the substance that mass produces and markets it" (Ewen 103).

Two Magazines using the exact same food porn styling. Image Source:
To reiterate, among the hundreds of roles that food marketing can play, 'food porn' is a subsection that focuses on the attractive immaterial object that that cannot be actually consumed or re-materialized:
A Burger King Ad Whopper vs. a real Whopper. Image Source:
Thank you.