Why we love food porn

Turns out, we like food porn for the same reason we like such things as the art of Tom of Finland and certain parts of Dolly Parton. There's a big connection between the way we're attracted to exaggerated sexual characteristics, and the way we're attracted to exaggerated food characteristics.

In a post at Smart Planet, Christopher Mims explains this phenomenon, called supernormal stimuli:

Pioneered in field studies by the ethologists Tinbergen and Lorenz, supernormal stimuli is any phenomenon in which the features of an object — be it a parent, mate, or food — are exaggerated to make an animal respond more strongly to them. In her 2010 book Supernormal stimuli: how primal urges overran their evolutionary purpose, Deirdre Barrett explored the ways in which movie makers, advertisers and fast food companies exaggerate the parts of things we already like in order to hijack our emotions and cravings.

Baby chicks presented with parents with exaggerated versions of the features they’re homing in on — the color of a parent’s beak, say — will respond more strongly to an exaggerated, but artificial, version of their parent than to the real thing. In the same way, humans home in on versions of reality in which the most enticing features are enhanced. In food, that’s texture, color, and anything else we associate with nutrient density, mouth feel and general deliciousness.

That video might not actually be safe for work, by the way.Video Link

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  1. The advantage is that with food porn you’re actually objectifying an object, food, instead of a person. 

    And food won’t ever mind if you make it do something you saw in a picture. 

    But you can still be disappointed when you try the thing you saw in the video and it doesn’t turn out as well.

  2. that’s a nice lookin pate en croute you got there.  keep meaning to make one, maybe that’s what i’ll have for thanksgiving.

  3. Dolly Parton’s super-normal parts are indeed awesome.  She’s quite honest about it though and admits that they’re wigs.

  4. most boudin noir i’ve had has just been kinda nasty (but the same could be said that most sausages i’ve had have been kinda nasty), but i had one two years ago in a town called Goring outside of the UK that was outstanding.  it’s probably the easiest sausage to go mealy and break, but when done correctly is mind blowing.

    oh, and deep fried headcheese is equally amazing.  so. much. awesome. flavor.

  5. I hope this isn’t too much of a derail, but:  I love it as much as anyone, but the Bourdain/Iron Chef high-end (yes, even A.B.’s street food from distant locales is “high end” in a way) porn is in an indirect way related to crap like Guy Fieri and Man Vs. Food, even though they represent polar opposites of the place food occupies in life.  It’s like the difference between a second honeymoon with your wife and spending a sleepless weekend in a Motel 6 with an eightball and a stack of Max Harcore DVDs.  Boudain and his ilk have a multifacted appreciation of food as art, experience, as well as fundamental necessity of life; Fieri’s gang represent food through a distorted lens of American abundance. Who cares where this burger meat came from or how good it actually is because there is a SHIT-TON of it! We must be pretty flush to have a twelve-pound cheeseburger! They don’t have this in Somalia!

    I feel some preachiness coming on so I’ll stop here, except to say that is by far the best looking headcheese I have ever seen.

  6. I’m hungry!

    I absolutely _love_ the way Anthony Bourdain presents his shows. He truly has a love and appreciation for food and the art of making food, and he really makes me excited about all the food he presents. Oh, and yes… he does make good food porn!

  7. Didn’t Deirdre Barrett also claim some scientists support nuclear energy because it was a supernormal stimulus? (Never mind that, out here in the real world, nuclear energy has been as boring as any other energy source since the mid 1960s.) Now, it makes sense to claim that a Hershey bar is a supernormal stimulus for instincts to eat ripe berries and fatty nuts. It makes sense to claim that pornography is a supernormal stimulus for an instinct to marry a woman at the lifetime peak of fertility. It even makes a little bit of sense to claim that Las Vegas is a supernormal stimulus for an instinct to try to hunt dangerous but lucrative animals. I can’t think of any caveman activity that would produce an instinct for mathematical physics, unless we find a way to translate cave paintings into equations.

    A possible line of research: Are theories similar to Ms. Barrett’s a supernormal stimulus of the instinct to make up rumors about rival tribes?

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