The Absolutely Spectacular Rise of Online Food Porn

The Rise of Online Food Porn
You wouldn't be caught dead looking at porn, but you think nothing of mass-emailing the picture of S'mores from the weekend - even though the purpose of each is the same. Where did this come from? Why, the internet of course.
Food porn - you know you love it. Whose day hasn't been interrupted by a closeup of sticky sweet brownies covered in just-barely-melted ice cream? Who hasn't been bombarded with artistic shots of cupcakes and cookies and elaborate fondant-covered cakes? Who can resist the lure of food?

Food porn is definitely a thing, and it is catching on like fire - it may even be more popular (amongst particular social sets, anyway) than actual porn. According to Helen Grace Ventura Thompson of "The Foodie Bugle", a 2011 Google search for the term yielded 744,000 results - that same search in 2012 brought back 18,100,000 results. So yeah, we love our food.
What Defines Food Porn?
Food porn is the new generation of food photography. Food porn, like regular porn, is meant to titillate, not merely illustrate. It may be artistic, but its primary aim is to arouse your senses and cue an actual physical reaction. Sure, you could just snap a well-lit photo of an apple to show someone an apple, or you could play with angles, positioning, light and shadow to illustrate just how sweet and juicy an apple is. It's the difference between seeing an object and experiencing that object second hand, through a two-dimensional media.

Food porn is to food photography what regular porn is to medical photography.
Mobile photography
Styling
Like regular porn, food porn doesn't happen accidentally. The food is manipulated to accentuate its best assets, like the steam rising off of a freshly baked muffin, partially unwrapped, with a few crumbs off to the side. A cool fruit salad might play up color while showing a bit of frost or bloom to illustrate the freshness and just how darn refreshing it would be on a hot day. This is all styling.

Food stylists have been plying their trade and dipping into their bag of tricks since people began photographing food, but it's different with food porn. The food used in traditional food photography is usually inedible - strawberries touched up with red lipstick, bread sprayed with varnish for shine, milk mixed with glue for extra whiteness - the goal was to take the most beautiful picture, period.

With food porn, the food itself is undoctored - and that's what's so titillating. It conveys the sense that you could reach right through the screen and take a bite. It's also where food porn diverges from regular porn - flaws are celebrated, and sometimes introduced on purpose. Did your bread come out a bit crumbly on one side? Fine - take a closeup there to show the contrast between the inside crumb and outside glaze. Where a traditional food stylist would angle the crumbly bit away from the camera, the food porn stylist accentuates it to make it more accessible.
Cook decorating plate
Italian cheesecake
Who Does This?
It's unclear exactly where food porn began. It appeared way back in the 1980s in the pages of glossy gourmet magazines, but it didn't have a name - it was more to convey the beauty of the food than illustrate the result of the recipe, but it gained traction somewhere along the way. The spread of the internet is when we began seeing "homegrown" amateur food porn. Soon everyone had a food blog, and the more successful bloggers got rather good with a camera - food blog traffic depends just as much upon the quality of the photographs as it does on the recipes or quality of writing.

There are entire curated aggregate sites dedicated to food porn - take a gander at Food Gawker or Tastespotting and try not to waste an entire afternoon. Or you could cruise through tumblr and flikr and Pinterest to see varying degrees of amateur work. Quality ranges from badly-lit top-down phone shots to intricately and expertly-arranged portraits - everyone thinks they're a food photographer, but only a few of them are right.
Chocolate mousse
Looks Delicious, but... Why?
There are many reasons behind food porn, from advertising to garnering blog traffic, but nobody is quite sure why it became as popular as it did. The rise of food porn coincided with the decline of home cooking, so perhaps we seek out that which we can't have for ourselves. Or maybe everyone tries their hand at it because access to a kitchen, a camera and a few ingredients is the only requirement.

Maybe because it's a highly expressive art form that anyone can teach themselves with practice - or maybe it's just because we love food and we love beauty, and combining the two proves to be an irresistible combination.
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