Why I Don’t Use The Term “Food P–n”
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(Quick note: I apologize in advance for the dashes. Apparently if I spell out the p-word, this site can get tagged for a parental advisory on Google. And I’d much prefer to get the point across and keep this listed as a family-friendly site. Thanks!)
So…it’s no secret that I love taking photos of food. I love cooking food, and styling it, and breathing in those yummy smells as I come in for that close-up. I love sharing those photos of food, and blogging about them online. I love oohing and ahhhing over other people’s photos of food. I love that food photography has even turned into a full-time job for me these past few years.
But I have to admit, I do not love the term “food p–n”.
It’s nothing I’ve ever made a big deal about, and it’s not a term I’ll ever judge others for using. As someone who makes a living in the food photography world, I “get” it. I get why the term originated. I get why it’s such an effective buzz word. I get why it is ubiquitous online, especially now that every phone has a camera and food photos (both the appetizing and not-so-appetizing) are literally flooding the internet and social media. I also get that, for the most part, most people probably see the term as totally harmless.
But even after hearing the term for years, I still cringe a bit when I hear it. And I just don’t dig it. It’s not really because of any religious reasons, not because I’m “naive”, not because I’m trying to make it into a bigger deal than it is. I simply feel like we could find a better word. A smarter word. A more accurate word that describes food for what it is. And a word that doesn’t glamorize or normalize or give props to an industry that it is not.
When I googled “food p–n” last night, 636 million results came up. But I couldn’t seem to find a single one that talked about it from this angle, so I thought it might be worth a blog post. I have no doubt there will be many of you who disagree with me, but hear me out?
What is “food p–n”?
First of all, if you haven’t ever heard the term before, lucky you because I feel like I come across it constantly. Like, every day.
I think it’s safe to say that the term means different things to different people. Wikipedia’s take on it is that “food p–n is a glamorized 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 s-x. Food p–n often takes the form of food photography and styling that presents food provocatively, in a similar way to glamour photography or p–nographic photography.”
My definition? I’d summarize it by saying people either use the term more positively to describe food media and styling they totally love. Or they use it negatively to describe food media, either because they dislike a specific photo or they dislike the (maybe excessive) number of photos a person might post. I’ve read that many restauranteurs have even started banning “food p–n” photography at restaurants, because they’re tired of customers taking terrible photos of their beautiful food. (I’m curious how that has gone over…) And then of course, there are the literalists out there who try to style food to actually look like p–n. No joke.
It seems that for most people, though, it’s just a way to describe food that looks really good that they really want to eat.
So what’s the prob?
Again, I’m not speaking for anyone else but myself here.
The problem I have is simply that food is not p–n. And while I support what the food industry represents (well, at least most of the time), I firmly do not support what the p–n industry represents, for 1000 different reasons that I won’t detail out here. Because lest anyone ever forget, the p–n industry is that — a multi-billion dollar industry. An industry that most often operates in the shadows. An industry known for rampant abuse. An industry that strips men and women from the amazing, beautiful, meaningful, and full context of who they are, and instead minimizes them to become an “object” of lust or affection. An industry that makes bank on objectifying people.
People are so much more than that.
So much more.
So while I can put two and two together and “understand” how the leap is made to call food “p–n” — taking beautiful food photography or styling out of its normal context and turning it into an object of lust or affection or what have you — I also believe that food is so much more than that. Or maybe more accurately, it’s less than that.
Basically, I think that food should just be food!
No more, no less. Just food.
So, what IS food?
If you ask me, food is an absolutely extraordinary thing in and of itself. I mean, I’m totally that girl who regularly finds herself speechless when standing in the middle of the farmers market beholding the literal rainbow of produce all around me. Or when catching a heavenly whiff of sesame oil. Or when sitting down to a beautiful homemade bowl of soup prepared by a friend. Or when watching my pup jump a mile high for a slice of bacon. Or even just googling “asparagus recipes” this week and seeing that 27 million results came up. 27 million, people. I work with food every single day, and the wonder of it still never ceases to blow my mind.
And what’s more incredible? This is the stuff that has been created to nourish us. We literally cannot live without food. And if you ask me, we hit the jackpot. Because instead of manna or some tasteless bleh that could have been created as food, our world has been designed with this incredible bounty of ingredients that we get to co-creatively mix and match, and cook, and steam, and saute, and roast, and grill, and broil, and then taste and eat to give us sustenance. Food is a mega gift, and it is meant to nourish and be enjoyed.
But you know what, it’s also just that. It’s food.
I think the times we get in trouble with food are when we make it more or less than that, as I mentioned above. Those are the times when we do in fact “lust” over food, or spend an inordinate amount of our budget on food, or be snobby about food, or give it more importance than it’s worth. Or by contrast, the times when we minimize the value of food, or do not eat food that’s nourishing, or take it for granted. There are so many things in life that are like this. Taken out of their proper context, they can become unhealthy. But in moderation and gratitude, they rock.
So…a better option?
Actually, I’m going to put this one back on you.
Get creative! #FoodLove…#FoodCrush…#FoodCraving…#YUM…the hashtag sky is the limit. And as far as food adjectives go, there are hundreds of words out there you can use to describe that decadent hot fudge sundae. Or that perfectly fresh and juicy pineapple. Or that delicious Mexi mac and cheese that’s coming on the blog tomorrow. (Yes, I was told at a blogging conference that food bloggers shouldn’t use the word “delicious”, but I’m a rebel. Mwahaha.) Humanity has been talking about food since the beginning of time, and we can continue to do so without sexualizing it. In fact, I tend to think it’s much more appetizing if we don’t.
So anyway, bottom line.
I am all for people craving good food. And making good food. And sharing good food. And going out for good food. And photographing good food. Because there’s a ton of it out there, and it is totally meant to be celebrated.
I just vote that instead of associating food with an industry that it is not, let’s celebrate the miracle of food it for what it is.
Darn good, that is. :)
Thanks for tuning in for my little op-ed. Back to recipes tomorrow.
And for the record, tiny tangent — I’m also one of those people who’s all for friends posting food photos on social media. I often hear people complaining about the overabundance of food photos on Instagram, but you guys, that may simply be that food is one of the easiest things in life to photograph! An awesome conversation may be awesome, but hard to photograph. An awesome burger? Easy click. So if you love the food you’re eating and want to send it out into the social media sphere, I’ll be that friend to happily “like” or +1 ya. And if you’re one of those who could go the rest of your life without seeing another food photo on social media, I totally get if you unfollow me on Instagram.) ;)
Thank you, thank you for this post!! Well said.
I don’t like that term either simply because of its association to porn… I looked up the work just see if there were any other meanings and there aren’t. I thought maybe I was being a bit sensitive but it makes me cringe every time I hear or see it. There’s a great site called “word p*&I love learning new words but gave that site and fb page up.
So glad to know I’m not the only one who feels this way about that word. Thanks Ali :-)
Bravo Ali! I love how you so clearly explain your feelings on the term. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all really thought through what we said in this way?
Thank you for this. I see that word and it makes me sick. Even jokingly used it reminds me of a sick, sick industry that thrives on demoralizing people. I had no idea why anyone would even think to use that with food which is a blessing and is a nourishing object – and you can’t say that anything about the P–N industry is nourishing.
I wholeheartedly agree! AND I think people take pictures of things they want to remember…places, people, events…and FOOD, of course! How would it go over to tell people to stop posting vacation photos or pics of their kids? Hmm… :)
Love this post, you expressed your thoughts so well!
Ali, I’m so happy you decided to write this post! You’re amazing, lady! A-m-a-z-i-n-g!
Love this post Ali. We truly end of desensitising ourself to the word and the negativity behind what the word itself actually means and we CAN do better. Thank you for bringing this to light!
Ali, I couldn’t agree with you more. The first time I came across the term “food p-n” I was scared to death to even look at the image it was associated with. When I realized what this term actually meant to he common food loving guy or gal, I was just uncomfortable and disappointed. For one – I don’t support the p-n industry AT ALL and hate it for everything that it is. And secondly- I’m the kind of person who doesn’t cuss or swear simply because we have a vast vocabulary and I think that most of the time using those types of words simply shows a level of laziness. We have scads of other words to describe your anger/excitement/passion/whatever, don’t default to one or two cuss words to get your point across for e-ver-y-thing. So when I come across the term food p-n, I just think, really? We can do better than that.
Thanks for your thoughts, as a food blogger in the middle of a foodie-lovers world, I am thrilled to find I’m not alone!
Oh and one more thing – P-n tears families apart, food brings families together. How can those two things EVER be related.
Love what you said and yes 100% yes!!! love your hashtag too. I wonder if food bloggers started standing up against that hastag would the industry stop using it. It needs to go! Food is not P**N
This is one of my favorite posts that I’ve ever read, from you or any other blogger. I agree 100%, and definitely agree with the fact that we can use a “SMARTER” word to describe our delicious and beautiful food. Thank you for putting this opinion out there. You’re awesome :)
Ali, I LOVE this. I’ve been uncomfortable with the term for a long time, but could never quite put into words why. One of the things I often think about it is how many people have been seriously hurt by the porn industry. I mean, marriages have been destroyed by pornography. Why would we want to equate something as good and glorious and awesome as food with something that has been so harmful for so many people?
I couldn’t agree with you more. When the word that describes something so vile as what p–nography is, is used to describe a beautiful thing like cooking and food, it looks like you’re glorifying the sex industry and the demoralization of what p–n really is. It is addictive and destructive and dirty in every way. Food is a gift, which many don’t get to enjoy because they are too poor to ever have tasted 1/20 of the stuff we have been blessed to try. Sex is also a gift, from God, to be enjoyed in a marriage, not in front of video cameras for all eyes to see. These two things should not be described in the same sentence. With all the new words being made up, please come up with something new to describe the beauty of food!
Dear Ali, I had never heard the term “food p–n before and to me it’s just wrong to use “food” and p–n” in the same breath. I do not cook (my husband is the chef of the family), but I appreciate what food represents: good food is an expression of love, caring, sharing, family, friends. Food is a way to open up your heart and home and p–n has nothing to do with any of that!
Amen. Speak it! Love! I too cringe when this word is used to describe yummy delicious food! I get a whole different unpleasant even nauseating picture in my mind. So anywho! Thanks for sharing. XO
Brilliant, Ali. And definitely needed to be said. I’ve never said the phrase before, but then a few weeks ago, someone said it and it stuck with me. I admit I’ve been saying it lately. Must stop.
Thanks for this :)
Totally agreed! Thanks for speaking up :)
So well said. I had a PR request the other day that included the term and an entire website built around it for a brand. I was stunned that it has become so commonplace that brands were using it as part of marketing efforts.
You bring up some excellent points here and I agree, a photo of food doesn’t seem as appetizing when associated with p–n when you really think about it and we should definitely encourage use of other, more appropriate hashtags.
However, I will play devil’s advocate.
Yes, the porn industry is often exploitative, but so is the music industry, the film industry and the fashion industry, among others. Exploitation is everywhere in one form or another. Also, many if not most porn actors enter the industry willingly and enjoy their work. It may be hard to believe for people with ‘regular’ careers but it’s true. I guess what I’m trying to say is, p–n is not all horrible and can play an important part in people’s lives (for example, those who are confused about their sexuality or those who are disabled and cannot have sex in real life). It’s wrong to write it off entirely.
I realize I may have made myself sound like some p–n activist here but I am not. Actually, I studied gender in college and took a whole course on p–n. It was fascinating and truly opened my eyes on the subject, as I also used to write it off as a horrible thing.
Nonetheless, thank you for expressing your views. This is a great op-ed :)
Good points & well-said, Sasha.
I agree with you completely, Ali. I am always surprised (and a little disturbed) by the number of people that throw that term around. To me, there is such a disconnect between those two words that it seems strange to use them together at all. Plus, I’ve got kids!
I completely agree! The term makes me cringe, and while I don’t HATE it, it does bother me. It makes me feel like my photos are in some way “dirty” and that’s definitely NOT what I’m going for! Wonderful post – I hope it makes others think about the terminology they use.
Ali, I couldn’t agree with you more! I’ve always found the term “strange” and depending on my mood, a little offensive! My personal opinion. And THANK YOU for being brave enough to speak about this and share your opinion. Looks like there are a lot of people that agree with you!
I like #yum because it uses fewer characters. my mum suggested and I also like the word “scrumptious”
You’ve very neatly summed up my distaste for the phrase that has become so popular. Hopefully the novelty wears off and we’ll all go back to just enjoying our food.
LOVE LOVE LOVE this! I feel the exact same way about the ‘food p–n’ craze. Something about it just rubs me the wrong way, and you’ve done such a good job here of articulating exactly how I feel about it! Thank you for such a thought provoking, insightful post!
Love this post Ali! You said it exactly right!!!
Great post. I can’t help but cringe a little very time I hear/read the term. I like #foodlove — it just sounds and feels so much better!
The term should only be allowed to apply to baked goods; cookies and such. Well, that’s what a picture of a cookie is to me anyway. =p
Yes. 1,000 times yes! I agree with everything you said and the reasons why you dislike the term. I’ve been cringing since day one I hear the term and I’m not a prude about these things. I just think it gives a negative image to food – that we should feel guilty about eating something. No just no. Digging #FoodLove or #FoodCrush.
I love that you wrote this article! I agree 100% and have purposely never liked/commented on/tweeted/reblogged anything with that term because of the affiliation it represents. Let’s start a movement with a new term to explain the perfection on a plate, the amazing beauty of fresh produce, the utter deliciousness, and the wafting aromas around us!
Amen! Excellent summary especially here: An industry that makes bank on objectifying people. People are so much more than that.
Quoted for truth.
I thought I am the only one feeling the same way about food p–n. For me i find the word “p–n” a bit offensive. I will group it together with other crude, lewd words which are often the forbidden words in my family. Therefore, this word will not appear in my blog, pinterest, facebook and instagram. I will remove the word “p–n” before sharing that interesting photo that contains it.
What a great perspective! The word “p–n” immediately makes me think of something food has never represented for me – i do not understand the association at all. You’re writing on what food truly is was beautiful. I couldn’t help but smile when i read about the scent of sesame oil, yum! For me, food is love. I do not love p–n, so why would i want such a word near glorious food?!
Yawn. Too long didn’t read
Oh my gosh! It completley agree. I cannot stand that term. Like you, I can understand how the term originated and I also ‘get’ it but seriously? Food is beautiful, with gorgeous colours, an array of textures and aromas that tease your taste buds and leave your mouth watering.
And I feel the term food p#rn cheapens that experience.
Thank you a million times for this article. I love you. I am sure I would if I knew you. Thank you for stating what was also in my mind about the phrase food p—.
Now back to your lovely recipes.
We’re on the same wavelength! I cringe every time I see food described that way :)
Well said. I, too, have always been uncomfortable with that phrase. It somehow debases food and makes it salacious. Think about it: p–n is intended to draw you in, to capture you, to take away your self-control, and then to bind your thoughts and actions and make you a slave. Is that really how we want to label food? Food can become an addiction, yes, but mostly it is viewed as something that is meaningful, something that can be shared openly with people of all ages, something that can express so many emotions and intents. Food is communal. P–n focuses solely on self gratification; it is self-centered and isolating.
So your point is that porn is gratuitous images that objectify the subject in order to entice the viewer that you don’t like, and that food porn is gratuitous images that objectify the subject in order to entice the viewer that you do like. The only difference is in your preference.
There are people in the porn industry who would take offense at the term for the reverse of your argument. They enjoy celebrating their sexual expression but some find our culture’s glorification of food to be distasteful. You can’t call people who choose to do something you don’t like victims, less than they can say you yourself are wasting your life glorifying your own preferences.
I also don’t love the term, but like you am not offended by others using it, I just find that I never use ir myself. Thanks for this post and putting into words much of how I feel.
I just found your blog (yay!) and this post (yay!) I want to thank you for this post, your thought process about this and the porn industry is very smart and informed. I don’t want to read all the comments but I’m sure you got tons of them being offended about you criticizing porn and calling you a prude/accusing you of not supporting ”sex liberation”. So I wanted to drop by and offer some encouragement :)
Thank you for this! I have been so offended by the recent show added to FYI called food p–n…..! I guess I understand the reasons of naming it that way but really???? p–n is what it is and…… It has hurt so many people and families!!!! Growing up I was never taught how to cook. Everything I have learned has been from cooking shows. It has become a mother daughter thing in our home. We watch food network all the time but recently started to watch man vs. Child on FYI because my children are so excited about being in the kitchen………we have had to stop because of offensive commercials! I watch these shows with my young girls (ages 11 and 7)……. ?????? The last thing I want is the word p–n blazing through their minds!!!!
Yes. ‘Food porn’ makes me unhungry. ‘Word porn’ also equally detestable.
I don’t like that word either. I’m on a running site and people always post “shoe p*rn”. ick. Pictures of their new shoes. I really dislike the terminology.
Thank you SO much for this. I hate the term as well and am really offended by it. No one ever says (I hope) “I want to f**k this macaroni” or “I want to rape this steak tartare” yet for some reason it’s acceptable to so many to compare food to pornography, an industry where those things regularly occur.
Thanks for calling it out – like you said, use of this term is not only offensive but it shows a real lack of creativity in using language.
I know you wrote this forever ago, but I just came across it and – THANK YOU! A million times over, thank you! I am so tired of seeing the p–n word associated with food. I agree that there are so many other options to use in hashtags. People need to get creative and be classy and stop using that word.
Thank you ! I despise this term and find it vulgar and just tasteless
Thank you! Thank you! I love this post. I know this was posted long ago, but it sums up my feelings exactly! And I love your hashtag ideas.
Thank you for these comments. I totally agree.