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Why I Don’t Use The Term “Food P–n”

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Why I Don't Use The Term "Food P--n" |

(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.)  ;)

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105 comments on “Why I Don’t Use The Term “Food P–n””

  1. Love the article and totally agree. Hate the word.

    To make sure Google doesn’t block you: You missed one “p-word” in teh So what’s the prob? part.

    “The problem I have is simply that food is not…”

  2. Bravo, Ali!
    I admire your ability to tell it like it is. I’ve been suckered and peer pressured into using the term to describe my improving food photography, and frankly, I hate it. I’d rather have people have a crush on it. #FoodieCrush

  3. Hi Ali, I just had to reply and say that I agree with you 110%!! And I’m so glad you brought it up. I too am a fellow food lover or ‘foodie’ as they say but I do not like this term either. It’s pushing it too far. It’s one thing to love and appreciate food, it’s another to lust after it, and using this term conjures up terrible imagery. I think this industry definately objectifies and uses people and has turned a beautiful thing into something ugly. I don’t like the word and I don’t like what it represents and I’m so glad you feel the same way. Brilliant post!

  4. So glad I know you! Thank you.

  5. I am SO glad you posted this. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for being brave and tackling this subject, Ali!

  6. AMEN SISTA! I am so with you and. Been following you ever since I got breakfast with Jon and Dana in KC but I’ve never commented. Keep it up you inspire me every day!

  7. You are so good with words! Very well written and well said. And I could not possibly agree more.

  8. You know how I feel about this. So glad you posted it!

  9. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who cringes when she sees that hashtag! Thanks for writing this post. It was very well put and I couldn’t agree more! Cheers!

  10. Yes yes yes!! I hate that the word has become so normalized now and associated with a very good thing (food) when it is really a very horrible thing.

  11. SO agree! Great post- thanks for sharing :)

  12. Love, Love, love this. Thank you for sharing and putting this out there so that we can start to expand our vocabulary into something more than the degrading word that has been chosen. Well said.

  13. Fantastic post Ali! Couldn’t agree more…

  14. I just decided you need to write a book. I’m sure you hear that daily but I wanted to put it out there. :-)

  15. I couldn’t agree more! I also cringe when I hear this word and thought I was the only one. Thank you so much for this post. Loved everything about it.

  16. Great post. I so agree.

  17. I disagree, mostly as I see it used in the spirit of a joke. I totally understand where you are coming from and I get it. But I think mostly people that really love food and think of it as a great pleasure tend to equate it with other things that cause us pleasure like sex. By using the term no one is supporting the porn industry. But I totally respect your opinion and won’t use the term on your page.

  18. Nice post, Ali. I read this article recently that you might find interesting. A slightly different perspective, but similar outcome.

  19. I get speechless at farmers markets too. We are two sides of the same coin. I grow it, you cook it!

  20. Completely agree with you Ali! I love taking pictures of my food and by taking pictures of my food I think I’m beginning to improve my photography ability :)
    I have no idea what hashtag we should use instead, but I will definitely be illuminating food p-n from my vocabulary. #foodlove #YUM

  21. I love every single little word that you typed in this entire post! I hate, totally despise that “FoodP” term! It sounds dirty to me and it’s just awkward! (in my opinion)

  22. Hi Ali, thank you for putting into words what I’ve been thinking for years! Every time I hear the term it makes me cringe.

  23. What a great post… I love the idea of #FoodCrush! The term food p**n kind of creeps me out, honestly.

  24. I’m with you on this. It’s not a phrase I use just because I don’t see food that way. I see it as tasty and sweet and crunchy and sticky. That’s how I learned to write in school and use descriptive words for things I see. Food p— is such a huge umbrella of food that I just can’t use it to describe what I see or feel or taste…I’m blah blahing now right? :) Great post.

  25. Thanks for being courageous with this post, Ali. Couldn’t agree more. “People are so much more than that,” says so much. We take it lightly and laugh, but quite honestly, it’s not a laughable subject. I respect everyones opinions, as I know you do, too, but I’m really glad that you posted this. It may shed light on “casual talk” to those who’ve never thought about associating this term with the industry. So proud of you!

  26. Interesting blog post. I thought I was just an oddball because I too dislike those words. It’s over used and annoying to me. Combining food and p–n makes no sense to me. I love food, I don’t love porn. Food is, generally, very tasty, whereas p–n is degrading and abusive to women and children.

  27. I AGREE WITH YOU 100%!!! Blessings to you!!

  28. This made me alternatively laugh & yell “yes!” (well, yell it in my head anyway since I was reading in public). I am very much that girl who is awed by colorful produce & whose friends are sick of her saying “how amazing is it that nature just made this awesome _____!” You captured the sentiment so well.

  29. You are absolutely right Ali. The term is cringe worthy and is too casually used in a jokey way. I much prefer your cheerful alternatives. Thanks for all the delicious recipes and upbeat posts you provide us readers. Keep on cooking!

  30. Agreed. Just like when they say p*rn star- I want to add a comment that the person is not a star.

  31. Ali, I could not agree more. I really have never liked the term, nor do I ever use it. As a trained chef, and baker, in school we never used that term. I am not sure why we didn’t use it, but I am sure glad we avoided it. I am glad you wrote this!

  32. Possibly my favorite post to date (and I’ve had a LOT of faves from you!!). You are fabulous…keep up the amazing work and keep the #foodromance coming our way (romance is SO much better than that P word)

  33. I could not agree with you more!Thanks for sharing!

  34. Well said! I’ve always been uncomfortable with that expression too.

  35. Absolutely agree!!!! Thanks for the wonderful post! :)

  36. Well said – I agree! I don’t think people who use it in food world are trying to support or promote the industry, but I do think that if we use certain terms lightly, we begin to desensitize ourselves and future generations.

  37. This all makes so much sense to me! I am definitely going to make a conscious effort to using a different term whenever I think about saying food p-n! Thank you for having the intelligence and courage to write this amazing post!

  38. Thank you Ali!!! The term also makes me cringe. I know that most people who use the term do so innocently or in fun. I dislike the term for the reasons that you listed and many more!

  39. The food world is one more place where sex does not belong. I couldn’t agree more. I have never used that term and never will… Great post!!

  40. I wish I could “Like” every comment on this thread – agreed with everyone and you Ali! great article, you really expressed the whole issue very nicely.

  41. You’re correct that food is food. But representations of food, that look beautiful but which you cannot have, because it’s a representation, is like porn. That’s sex you can’t have. You just have the representation of the sex. And House Porn.. that’s a representation of something you can’t have.. because it’s in the photo. You can have the photo, but not the actual thing. Someone else has it. You can create it in person, by installing that bathroom, or making that pie, or whatever, but porn is the word for things that represent, but for which you can only get access to the representation of it, likely lots of representations of many of that item.

    When people say: house porn, or food porn, they are describing that representation, which is often a lot more than you would consume if it were in person (you only have so many bathrooms, not the hundreds of different bathrooms represented in bathroom porn.. and they all look perfect and unreal because they are styled and lit, verses you bathroom that is likely imperfect, even if it’s very beautiful.)

  42. Wow – great article. I wholeheartedly agree with what you said. When I hear the term food p–n I cringe. I’m actually a bit offended by it – thanks for writing such a thoughtful post.
    PS I love seeing and taking food pictures!

  43. I took a cooking class where the Chef described Food P–n more like an immediate gratification – like going through the drive-thru, wolfing down a few of tacos and maybe even feeling guilty about it.

    I liked that description much more than of just a beautiful picture of food. I think there’s a difference. ;-)

  44. Oh i loooooved this post. I too hate the term ‘food p-n’ and an immediate scowl comes on my face when I hear/see someone using it! Thanks for writing this beautiful overview!

  45. I’m totally with you on this! I always love your perspective and your willingness to put it out there!

  46. How about using the term “food nirvana” instead? Sounds much better to me. What do you think?

  47. absolutely. positively. in love with this post and all it stands for. so crazy-funny- this week i posted to instagram and started to hash-tag #foodp-n, and i couldn’t bring myself to type it. for all the same reasons you share. this is beautifully, wisely written, witty and truthful and tasteful. thank you, ali – you’ve got a more loyal-than-ever reader. and a kindred spirit. with your permission, i’ll probably link back. :) angela at dancing with my father

  48. I can’t even tell you how much I love this and agree with you!! And I didn’t read through all of the comments, but one person nailed it for me, too – it’s the fact that we are desensitizing ourselves from the word. Thank you for writing this!!

  49. Thank you, Ali. I love this. To compare something meant to nourish you to something meant to debase, is just not something that happens in my brain. I love your explanation! P.S. I’d hate to be described as a p__nographer.

  50. Thank you, thank you for this post!! Well said.