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“Food Porn” — Food for Thought

I learned a new term yesterday when I read Nina Burleigh’s Op-Ed, “Food Porn Won’t Fill an Empty Stomach,” in the Los Angeles Times. She describes how her family is hooked on television programs starring Chef Gordon Ramsay. But she has moral qualms about it, asking if this is akin to the “food porn” that Rosalind Coward described in her 1984 book Female Desire. Burleigh writes:

I find Chef Gordon Ramsay’s culinary boot-camp shtick as mesmerizing as my children do. But I’m also a little queasy about the fact that our 9- and 13-year-old kids are die-hard fans of this particular form of entertainment at a time when 1 in 4 American kids and nearly 50 million Americans of all ages live in what the government calls “food insecure households.”

She goes on:

The rise of our cultural obsession with the behind-the-scenes intricacies of glamorized food preparation, and the ubiquity of perfectly plated dishes on television, seems to have coincided rather neatly with the national dive into economic disaster and mass hunger. Food pantries can barely keep up with demand, and hungry, down-on-their-luck families wait in dingy public service agency offices across America, filling out forms for unemployment, WIC and welfare, while the screen on the wall is more likely than not instructing them about drizzling virgin olive oil on julienned peppers.

The Feeding Americawebsite supports Burleigh’s stated concerns. Proper nutrition is vital to a child’s healthy growth and development. Childhood hunger hampers a child’s ability to learn because hungry children have difficulty concentrating in school. Without proper nutrition, a child’s immune system is weakened, which means the child is more vulnerable to sickness and infections. Experts also warn that food insecurity threatens mental health because children and adults who lack proper nutrition are more prone to anxiety, depression, and aggression. The term “food insecurity” means that a person does not know where they will find their next meal. These statistics are particularly troubling:

  • More than 20% of the child population in 37 states and D.C. lived in food insecure households in 2010. The District of Columbia (30.7%), Oregon and Arizona (both 29.0%) had the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food.
  • In 2010, the top five states with the highest rate of food insecure children under 18 are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, & Florida.
  • Among members of Feeding America, 74 percent of pantries, 65 percent of kitchens, and 54 percent of shelters reported that there had been an increase since 2006 in the number of clients who come to their emergency food program sites.
Burleigh’s analysis hits home for me. While I have never watched a Gordon Ramsey show, my family enjoys watching Iron Chef and have bought a few cookbooks by Iron Chef Bobby Flay. In fact, we’ve been using Bobby Flay’s Grill It! cookbook a lot lately. Who knew that chipotle chiles in adobo could be so easy to puree and so fun to add to a range of sauces for grilled veggies and meats? But of course, I too have a heavy heart when I consider the millions of children who go to bed with an empty stomach as my 2-year old tells me she doesn’t want her noodles and asks for more applesauce instead. She’s too young to hear me lecture about wasting food and certainly too young to understand what solidarity with hungry children would mean. But I’m not. And while many celebrity chefs do try to raise awareness about food insecurity on their shows (at least occasionally), this of course is not enough. The problems that lead to food insecurity for millions of Americans are complex, and related to the hot-button political issues my colleagues have been focusing on for weeks. The government has a role to play, as do charitable organizations and individual Christians. But next time I feel sucked into watching a riveting program on the Food Network, I’ll think of the term “food porn” and wonder if there isn’t a better way to spend my time.

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Very appropriate and timely article. Did we not find it obscene to celebrate Cheeseburger Day in the US this week when a national report about US obesity rates came out!!

  2. What a great article, thanks. The phrase “food porn” is catchy indeed, and the word smith in me applauds the cleverness.

    The use of the word “porn”, with all the negative judgment implications, caused me to wonder if we Catholics aren’t sometimes a bit hooked on the secret pleasures of guilt porn.

    (He sneakily said as he blatantly stole another writer’s hook, bringing to his Catholic face a guilty look.)

    Perhaps we can celebrate our favorite Chef Show, while we watch it with some homeless folks we’ve invited over for dinner?

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