Don’t Play with Your Food: How “Food Porn” Devalues Our Relationship with What We Eat

Authors: Ritika Agarwal, Noel Baham, Theodore Berkson, Benjamin Chambers, Zachary Chien, Britni Chon, Justin Eng, Alyssa Gutrich, Matthew Helfond, Kristi Hong, Marissa Macdonald, Kimiko May, Shannon Mayer, Isaac Mcquillen, Gabriel Noonan, Alison Pietrykowski, Sara Ryugo, Annabelle Van Schravendijk, Gabrielle Weininger

“Cage Free” or “Free Range” Chickens
A “Free Range” Chicken in a Fancy New York Restaurant

Introduction

As a Critical Thinking and Writing class of nineteen freshman students at Santa Clara University, we worked together to examine the effects that the aesthetic portrayal of food has on our culture today.  Currently in our second quarter studying in depth the benefits and harm caused by innovations in the food industry, we have collaborated here to examine the issue of “Food Porn.”

The Authors at Santa Clara University
The Authors at Santa Clara University

We are concerned with the false perceptions that exist in the food industry, and have found that most American consumers are unaware of not only what they are eating, but the meanings behind the glossy pictures, advertisements, television shows, cereal boxes, and grocery store aisles.  Large food companies often lie, cheat and steal about everything from the nutritional content of the their food to the taste to the usage of chemicals.  Underneath the pretty pictures, we have found blood, misery, and deep corruption.  It seems that, even with food, entertainment is often first on our list of priorities.

Gordon Ramsay of “MasterChef”

Fans of the Food Network and shows like MasterChef argue that they have grown close to food by learning and emulating their favorite celebrity chefs. Some suggest that seeing all of these deliciously divine dishes spurs greater interest in the culinary arts.  Because Americans want large quantities of delicious food at a cheap price, manufacturers take shortcuts in order to achieve mass production, and the entertainment industry is quick to capitalize on this excess. Meanwhile, those who hold fast to their culinary traditions scoff at the average American diet, and seek to break the mold with new food movements that are desperate in their attempts to reestablish the connections Americans have to their food.

However, while the average person’s interest in food entertainment has obviously increased, most Americans have no idea where their food comes from.  With new culinary movements like molecular gastronomy, the shady dealings and lack of transparency of the cooperate meat producers, and the popularization and glamorization of food through the Food Network and “Food Porn,” it is clear that Americans have become dangerously out of touch with the origins and meanings of their main source of sustenance: food.

A Hunger Artist: A Classic Story, a Contemporary Issue

We analyzed Franz Kafka’s short story, A Hunger Artist (1922) to see what connections we could draw between the story’s time, the 18th through early 20th centuries, and now. Though the story is fiction, it depicts a time in history where the absence of food could have an aesthetic meaning.  The main character, the Hunger Artist, fasts in a cage for the entertainment of his audiences.  His boss, the Impresario, manages the show and stops the Hunger Artist from fasting after forty days.  The Hunger Artist is often frustrated by his audiences’ lack of respect and interest in his art.  He feels that he could fast longer.  When the Hunger Artist dies alone and forgotten in his circus cage at the end of the story, he is replaced by a panther, whose vitality enthralls audiences.  

Whereas the Hunger Artist’s art was fasting, our art has become excess, gluttony, and surface-level beauty. We live in a world where the covers of magazines are graced with photo-shopped versions of models that define the standard of beauty; yet we also live in a culture that is selfish when it comes to money, food, and materials. Instead of moderation we tend towards either restraint or overindulgence, both of which create a lack of intimacy with our food.

Many Americans search for the next best thing, and this surely encompasses food. The Hunger Artist’s act of prolonged fasting was popular for a while, but then public interest shifted away from him and on to newer and more exciting things. This change in what is considered to be entertaining demonstrates how we too are constantly looking for greater and greater forms of stimulation and entertainment with few reservations about leaving the old behind. Many of our foods are processed, and even in the best case scenarios, like home-cooked meals and fancy restaurant fare, we often still don’t where the food comes from. In this sense, the shift in food culture has created a food system that is unhealthy and depraved.

Whereas the Hunger Artist found food to be unnecessary for his happiness, people today rely on this unhealthy and often artificial food system as a source of entertainment.  Food Porn and competitive cooking television shows have become the equivalent of a kind of propaganda for the industrial food system.

While the Hunger Artist fasts out of discipline, honor, and self-satisfaction for his art, so many of us in America overindulge for the opposite reasons.  The United States consumer is faced with the growth of food culture that is omnipresent, especially on television and the internet. We indulge in it just because.

Many of us have this belief that no matter how selfless one might seem, deep down that person holds strong concerns about him-or herself first and foremost. We are left wondering if the motivation for the Hunger Artist’s art has some kind of deep, selfless meaning or is only a ridiculous and selfish pursuit to gain attention through sensational means.  It is a question we can easily apply to the issue of “Food Porn” today.

Hunger Artist in Circus Cage

At its core, food exists as a form of sustenance for the human body. However, popular food culture has become more concerned with the presentation and experience of food rather than its nutritional value, sustainability, or the ethics of the system by which it’s produced. Many people appear to believe it is more important to have your food look presentable on your Instagram feed or Facebook timeline than to have it taste good, be a filling meal, or even feel satisfied that the means by which it got to you are ethical. Just like the Hunger Artist forgot that starving was a career, not a true lifestyle or art, food has become more of a cultural bragging point and beauty contest, and we have forgotten its core important as sustenance.  That loss has led to a horrific degradation of our food system, and even the food itself.

Genetically Modified Organisms: The Food Porn of Genes

GMOs from SeedsNow
Golden Rice Project

Many people have heard about GMOs, and most everyone has eaten them, but very few people have taken the initiative to discover what they are.   Even fewer people would associate GMOs with “Food Porn.”  “GMOs, or ‘genetically modified organisms,’ are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding” (“GMO Facts”). The food industry began to cultivate these plants to increase crop yields, develop a plant with greater resistance to disease and drought, and enhance the flavor of produce. Some have even been developed to have greater nutritional value, which has been beneficial for nations with a shortage of foods with adequate nutrients.

In countries with diets based heavily on rice, such as China, India, and Vietnam, those who cannot afford to have a balanced diet often go without β-carotene, which is a precursor of vitamin A. As a result, there is “…a marked incidence of blindness and susceptibility to disease, [which] leads to an increased incidence of premature death [in] small children” (“Golden Rice Project”). Remedying this problem seems quite easy to those who see the positive effects of GMOs. Professors Ingo Potrykus (formerly ETH Zurich) and Peter Beyer (University of Freiburg) are the inventors of a GM crop called golden rice. This crop is greater in nutritional value than standard white rice because the “…two genes [that] have been inserted into the rice genome by genetic engineering…restart the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway leading to the production and accumulation of β-carotene in the grains” (“Golden Rice Project”). Golden rice is identified by its yellow-orange color—the deeper the color, the more β-carotene in the crop. With this crop, it is estimated that the “…life of 25 percent of…children” who die due to malnutrition “…could be spared by providing them with diets that include crops biofortified with provitamin A” (“Golden Rice Project”). In this way, GMOs seem to have great potential to benefit the world, especially in locations with greater need for foods with sufficient nutrients.

“Pharmcorn”

However, genetically modified crops prove to be a perfect example regarding the deceptiveness of the food industry. These crops are advertised as assets to the health and welfare of the public, but the six major food companies own seventy percent of the world pesticide market and actively advertise and attempt to educate consumers about what they see as the positive impacts of their GM crops.  They completely neglect to mention their negative repercussions (Dempsey, Jeff). These can include allergic reactions in consumers due to the introduction of genes that are not normally found in the original plant (Kantor, Keith). GMOs have also been linked to the rise of antibiotic resistance, organ damage, nervous system disorders, and certain cancers, as well as contributing to the increase in the use of pesticides, which have found their way into ground water and air (Ettinger, Jill). Moreover, the GMOs produced are not even necessarily created for the supposed health benefits. Instead, plant researchers, including those of the United States Department of Agriculture, focus on whether the new crop “…is attractive, pleasing to eat, productive, and disease resistant” (Robinson, Jo).  As a result, many crops have been created without anyone “…ever measuring its phytonutrient content or its effect on blood sugar” (Robinson, Jo).

The unwillingness of major food companies to share even minimal information about the GMOs that are used to make their food products is exemplified by the adamant resistance against the GMO labelling ballot measure in Washington and California (Ludwig, Mike). Huge food companies and biotech firms, such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Monsanto spend millions of dollars in order to bring these initiatives down because they know that advertising the existence of GMOs in their products will be detrimental to their companies’ welfare (Ludwig, Mike). Because of the existence of GM crops, large food companies distance the consumer from his or her food. They prevent the consumer from understanding where his or her food comes from and how it is developed. This ultimately makes eating for the sake of eating a prevalent concept of modern food culture and diminishes the importance of the idea of eating for the sake of nourishment.

GMO’s have developed greatly over the past several decades, and have been a very controversial political topic. The movement in California to require labeling of GMO products was a recent major political event that attracted a great deal of attention. California Proposition 37 (2012) “requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways”(California Secretary of State). This would have effectively discontinued the practice of calling these modified products “natural.” Millions of people voted on the proposition, and it was defeated by less than 400,000 votes. The fact that this measure did not pass is an example of how little we have come to expect from our current food system. The food companies, including Monsanto, Campbell’s, and Coca-Cola have become so enamored with making profits that they are willing to cut corners with their production, as well as lie to consumers about what is really in their food.  How can people truly trust the food they eat if they do not even know what their food is made of or even where it comes from?

While focusing on making food as alluring as possible, we have ignored the detrimental health effects that GMO’s can have on the body. We have become so disconnected with our food that we do not recognize what it is doing to our health. According to research by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine in 2009, there are serious health risks associated with genetically modified food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system” (IRT). Tomatoes, corn, milk, rice, soy, and potatoes, are some of the most commonly genetically modified foods. These ingredients show up in a multitude of dishes we eat. Some FDA scientists have even stated that GMO’s “create unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems” (IRT). Now more than ever doctors are telling their patients to actively avoid GM foods because of the health risk that come with consuming them. Still, we continue to eat these foods with our only concern being how amazing we can make our food look.

“Frankenfood”

Competitive Cooking Shows: Entertaining or Harmful?

Some argue that the developments of the food industry have given us a different, more intimate relationship with our food.  With the advent of popular cooking shows, food has become a form of entertainment in addition to our sustenance. Fans of competitive cooking shows argue that viewers experience food in a different way than they normally would in their home or in a restaurant because these shows focus on the preparation and presentation of gourmet food.  Proponents of shows such as Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef  that the food on these shows is inspiration for home cooks to try something new.  Others say that it’s all in good fun–it’s entertainment and an art form. Who’s to say that competitive cooking shows don’t create a broader relationship with their viewers and food?  After all, the preparation of dishes is usually the focus, which gives the audience a chance to appreciate the process and ingredients involved in the construction of a meal, right?  It’s all about the food, isn’t it?

The Gordon Ramsay We All See

Unfortunately, it’s not all about the food. The reason these shows are so popular can be attributed more to the drama that defines them than to the cooking itself. There are not only cooking shows but cooking competitions spiced with drama and topped off with tears. Celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay star on shows like Hell’s Kitchen & MasterChef, cursing, criticizing and sometimes commending their chef contestants. Although Ramsay’s yelling is dramatic and entertaining, these kind of brutal interactions between head chefs and their trainees do not, in any way, emulate what goes on in our own kitchens. These shows do bring a focus to food and allow us to appreciate fine dining, but we idealize the act of preparing and eating food.

In Season 3 of MasterChef, Gordon Ramsay describes future winner Christine Ha’s apple pie as, “stunning. It’s a nice, crispy, dark brown color on the edge. The sugar… glazed the pastry and it looks as delicious as Frank’s” (Jackers). While he scrapes the top of the pie with a knife, he describes this pie as, “good and crusty.” Compliments are only dealt when the food is truly magnificent. While the creation of such delicious food is technically not impossible for the average cook, it leaves us striving for the “perfect” apple pie or a restaurant to satiate our most high-class desires.

(Gordon Ramsay from Series 5 of Hell’s Kitchen)

“Freegans” Scavenging for Wasted Food

In addition to the growing desires for perfect food from the perfect chef, the trash pile outside of these cooking shows’ kitchens are growing in size.  Behind the tasteful wonders that are created by cooking show contestants are piles of ingredients gone to waste. It seems in order to make visually appealing dishes and create an enticing show, a plethora of ingredients are used. During an interview with MasterChef’s Judge Graham Elliot, the interviewer exclaims, “Oh my word … look at the eggs in that pantry!” to which Judge Elliot laughingly replies, “It was well into the thousands” (Sprankles). We put in countless efforts (and ingredients) to make or eat that “”one perfect soft-boiled egg,” “one impeccable, sunny-side-up fried egg,” “one stunning, perfect poached egg” and “one absolutely phenomenal three…egg…omelet” (Sprankles). The problem lies in these phrases themselves; for every thousand eggs used in the show, we are left with only one egg that meets our satisfaction — just maybe. Just to visually please the audience, the camera pans onto thousands of gleaming white eggs to add to the intensity of the competition.

While Foodbank, an organization that strives to curb hunger in Australia, claims that “nothing goes to waste” because “anything that doesn’t make it onto the table finds its way to people in need”, the statement is negated by the scenes of splattered eggs on the tables and thrown out dishes (“Nothing Goes to Waste”).  This amount of waste that occurs in shows is despicable. Writer Annie Barrett says she could not eat another egg the next day after watching an episode in which hundreds of eggs were wasted (Barrett). Reports conclude that MasterChef ratings went down 4% after that showing (Taylor). Looks like Humpty-dumpty was not the only one who had a great fall. Yes, perhaps contestant Bri was able to make the “phenomenal” egg, but at what cost? As Barrett ironically writes, “who cares about money [and wasting food] when you’re on a billion dollar budget!” While cooking shows and competitions seem to draw a healthy focus to food and display the talent of cooks around the country, they manage to disregard the waste of food and idealize the product over the process.

The Allure of Food Porn

By Andrea Mary Marshall

There are parts of the social media sphere that allow us to see redemption in a world that is seemingly selfish. The “Food Porn Craze” in particular has become an international phenomenon, and Instagram and Twitter have allowed for the capturing of beauty in the appearance of food, turning it into billions of still frames of deliciousness. For those guilty of photographing their meal before tasting it for the first time, it is a, “genuine passion that [they] like to share with their friends” (Deresiewicz). However, for those other customers and employees of the restaurants where flashes are constantly illuminating the room, not only does it disrupt the ambiance, but it is a form of disrespect that the food is being left in front of the customer for minutes before it is eaten, which affects the overall taste and experience of the dish (Whitelocks).

(Do You Snap Your Food?)
(Gonzales)

The “food porn” craze has been taken a step too far, and those participating have lost themselves on the very end of the spectrum in an obsession with over-consumption and greed. When the “Foodie” movement was in full bloom during the 1990’s, it seemed like there was a glimmering air of hope for our food culture– there was the hope that we would have a newfound taste for food that could allow us to appreciate that food as art (Deresiewicz). However, we seem to have jumped past that appreciation for taste into a world of ideals, where it is “not that food has led to art, but that it has replaced it” (Deresiewicz). The appreciation for flavor and taste that many expected out of foodism has been overlooked, often even by people who care about food. Instead, quality and flavor has become only a “badge of membership in the higher classes” for the wrong reasons (Deresiewicz).

In urban American restaurants, consumers have become irritatingly obsessed with posting edited pictures of ones’ food on Instagram. Instagrammers, especially college students and young professionals, find a need to capture and share their food memories on social media. It is a common occurrence when eating out that at least one person will be found positioning their phone in search of the perfect angle and lighting right before they devour their meal. Rather than considering what constitutes his or her meal and the quality of the ingredients, most consumers care much more about the presentation of their food.

This obsession with our food being photogenic and appealing has a real impact on those responsible for producing it as well.  Many cooks spend actual time and effort attempting to make their food look seductive. In the case of food porn on the Internet and television, people’s livelihoods actually depend on the torching and glazing of once-fresh foods, all with the aim of making the food look unnaturally appetizing. Why? Because the culture of “food porn” is overly concerned with how exactly the food will appear on an Instagram feed. The irony here is evident.  People concern themselves with and pay money to change the appearance of food.  Shouldn’t this labor and money be put towards more critical efforts, especially considering the amount of people in the world who face misery and starvation?

Unnecessary Additives

(Artificially Colored Donut-like Pastries)

With the increasing obsession of favorable appearance and presentation, the introduction of artificial additives into most of the food that is purchased at the grocery store has added to the loss of intimacy between Americans and their food. By using artificial ingredients, additives, and dyes in most processed food products, food companies go out of their way to cover up the ingredients they are using in their products. There are hundreds of misleading labels on food packaging claiming that the product is all natural, healthy, has low fat content and so on.  Since many of the terms used are not strictly regulated, food companies can put exaggerations on their packaging and get away with it.

The Raw Material of Chicken Nuggets Before They are Separated, Dyed, and Cooked.

While very few people think that chicken nuggets are healthy, it still is shocking to see just how far away from chicken the raw material of chicken nuggets really is.  The pink stuff looks like ice cream or cotton candy.  If you asked a million people to identify it, nobody would say, “That’s chicken!”  Yet, we often focus on the extremes in the food industry to make our points.  We focus on fast food or processed junk food.  So, for a moment, let’s consider food that we often think of as healthy and natural.

Take Nature Valley granola bars, for example. Printed on many of their boxes and wrappers is a gold banner that reads “100% Natural.” There is no apparent reason to mistrust this company, so anyone could causally take their products off the shelf and think they are buying an all-natural food. However, printed on the back of the box that claims the product to be “100% Natural” is a list of ingredients that does not support that statement. Included in Nature Valley’s ingredient list are high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin. In order to synthesize these two ingredient, acids and enzymes are added to cornstarch in order to produce glucose and maltose. This product then goes through a process where the acids and enzymes are deactivated or removed from the ingredient. What is left over is the very concentrated and refined ingredient. According to Merriam-Webster, natural means “1. Existing in nature and not made or caused by people” or “2. Not having any extra substances or chemicals added.”  The process of creating ingredients such as high-maltose corn syrup and maltodextrin in no way resembles something natural. We challenge you to try to find high-maltose corn syrup or maltodextrin anywhere in nature.

“100% Natural”

Presentation vs. Taste: Which Will Prevail?

Because of the shift in value, from Van Gogh’s sparse table to the processed foods pictured below, the artistry of our food has become more about excess than simplicity.

Food Still Life by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Contemporary American Food Still Life by Nate Baranowski
(Food Dyes)

As humans, we naturally gravitate towards more vibrant, brighter foods. It is innate in us “to recognize foods containing usable energy or nutrition, the natural medicines found in food often appear in bright colors, and calorie-rich foods designed to appeal to primates. It is these colors that appeal to our built-in perceptions about the value of food” (Adams). Genetically we are attracted to brighter and more vivid foods thinking they will promote our health. Consequently, big companies are banking on our innate attraction by adding unhealthy additives, chemicals, and colors to the foods we eat. Companies are using artificial colors because when they make their foods more colorful, it turns on the light switch in our brains that says, “This is good stuff” (Adams). Chemicals are being added to food purely for monetary gain.

Griddled vegetables with charcoal oil. Photo credit: El Bulli

Restaurants have also utilized up-and-coming techniques such as molecular gastronomy, creating beautiful, albeit bizarre, dishes in order to keep up with current food trends. When it first appeared, molecular gastronomy was defined as “the scientific study of the chemical and physical processes” that occur within the kitchen (Molecular Gastronomy). However as the techniques progressed, and the popular culture took notice, this study of food evolved into a style of creative and artistic cooking that now focuses on forward-thinking advances in science and technology (Molecular Gastronomy) Although some top chefs and gourmands would like to distinguish between the study of cooking and the style of cooking, at this point in time, when your typical upper-class consumer mentions molecular gastronomy, you can assume they are talking about both. This technique and style has become extremely popular in the past decade due to its unexpected and avant-garde presentation of dishes. When you dine at a restaurant featuring molecular gastronomy, you can expect to experience lobster foams, fruit caviar, liquid nitrogen, hot ice cream, and many other bizarre phenomena as seen in the images below (Chin).

However, with its rising popularity comes increasing criticism. Many people, particularly those who support organic and locally grown foods, question the practice’s health impacts (Chin). While their concern about the ingredients used in molecular gastronomy is valid, the main problem is that this style focuses on making creative and beautiful dishes, so much so it has become its own art form. At first, the negative impacts of this may not be clear because art and beauty have always been valued. Unfortunately, when the industry injects art into our food, we begin to appreciate it for its look, not for its amazing ability to sustain and nourish life. As a result, we don’t focus on consuming food for nutritional purposes; we do so for the entertainment, which in turn causes unnecessary eating and undernourishment. Molecular gastronomy ultimately results in a decreased intimacy with our food, lack of gratefulness, and unhealthy eating habits.

(“Molecular gastronomy-aerated ice cream, free-dried polenta and me”)
(Rum Sheets)
Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck

Today, there are many restaurants that utilize molecular gastronomy in the preparation or decoration of their food. The Fat Duck, one of the best restaurants in England, is known for its menu of unusual dishes and tricks involving molecular gastronomy. Egg and bacon ice-cream; Alice in Wonderland inspired mock turtle soup, involving a fob watch dissolved in tea; and “the Sounds of the Sea,” involving an audio element are some of the dishes for which this restaurant is known (The Fat Duck Tasting Menu). Heston Blumenthal is the chef-owner of the legendary Fat Duck restaurant and is known as a molecular gastronomy culinary alchemist with an imaginative sense of food (Heston Blumenthal). In this restaurant, where the tasting menu (£130)  is the cheapest option available, reservations are made two calendar months in advance.

The Fat Duck uses liquid nitrogen in many cocktails and ice-creams, which have landed them in the limelight. Freezing the mousse with -320°F liquid nitrogen inside an ice bucket seems fascinating. A scent is sprayed in the air. It is quickly plated, covered with some green tea powder, and is ready to be munched. But what if the person enjoying this food ends up in the hospital going through a surgery to remove the perforated stomach? Sounds scary, doesn’t it? An eighteen year old girl had to go through all this because she had a cocktail in this restaurant which had liquid nitrogen (Newsfeed). Using liquid nitrogen in food has become a widespread practice for fancy restaurants, but the use this can be lethal. If we drank more than a few drops of liquid nitrogen, certainly a teaspoon, the liquid nitrogen would freeze, and become solid and brittle like glass. Imagine if that happened in the esophagus or the stomach. The liquid also quickly picks up heat, boils and becomes a gas, which could cause damage such as perforations or a stomach to burst. Such chemicals in food are highly dangerous to our health. The tricks used in molecular gastronomy are often fascinating, but are they worth using if they pose such potential health risks?

Salmon in Licorice Gel from Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck
Deep Fried Watermelon

Although molecular gastronomy now seems to be a well known form of creative cooking, art has been creeping up in almost every aspect of the food industry. In fact, food, cooking, and the presentation of dishes have actually begun to replace art in modern day culture (Deresiewicz). Today, people know more about gourmet food and top chefs than they do about artists (Deresiewicz). Similarly to molecular gastronomy, the problem with this shift in culture may not be immediately evident.

The Proud Farmer from “The Real Dirt on Farmer John.”

Restaurants such as Mogo’s Barbecue, a restaurant and food truck servicing the San Jose community, often feel that they can neglect the importance of quality ingredients because people will continue to eat their food as long as it looks gourmet and appetizing. Their reviews on Yelp! range from comments like, “AVOID AVOID! Ugh!” to “Crazy delicious!” The strange thing is that in the pictures accompanying both kinds of comments the food doesn’t look half bad (“Mogo’s…”). Mogo’s website makes the food look even better. The vibrant vegetables and juicy meat are shown on glass plates, making the meal look like something from a five star restaurant which is impressive, especially for a food truck. The aesthetic appeal of the food makes us forget about Photoshop and artificial dyes.

(MoGo’s Advertisement)
(Real MoGo’s Food)

We forget to consider where they get their meat, or how they cook it and keep it fresh in such a small truck. A disgusted customer recently posted a video of a burrito from Mogo’s that had maggots crawling around inside of it (“Something…”).

The Developing Industry’s Effects on the Environment

The average Americans’ typical food budget has influenced the developments of the food industry, but has done so with negative outcomes. People want tasty and delicious food, but the most profitable and easy way to do so is to use ingredients that are not beneficial to the environment. This innovation results in an unethical treatment of the environment. Corn is a major ingredient in processed foods and it is produced on a massive level.  Although it is easy and fast to grow corn in masses, it decreases the soil fertility and forces farmers to use more pesticides and chemicals to keep their crops growing.  Because there is no rotation amongst the crops on most corporate corn farms, the farmers are just trying to grow as much corn in as short of a time as possible. This increased use of pesticides and chemicals created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico affecting 8,543 miles (Denton).  The extent of damage to this area has made it impossible for any aquatic life to survive there. Because people in the United States are so blinded by their needs and desires for food production, they pay no attention the serious issues that the creation of this food is placing on the environment.

Bruce Eggler
“Super foods”

In our new culture of food porn even the way we refer to food is changing. So called super foods are in such high demand that they must be shipped and flown across the country and world, which increases the carbon footprint.  Foods such as corn that are used in almost all foods are located in a central location of the United States.  To provide all the states with corn, it takes an abundance of transportation, which includes planes and trucks.  This travel adds to the air and water pollution.  “Super foods” that are advertised as being super beneficial to everyone’s health include quinoa, acai berries, and goji berries.  Sarah Novak, a writer and wellness expert explains that these foods are not locally grown in the United States; they are grown in places like Bolivia, China, and South America (Novak).  Now transporting these foods to meet the demands of consumers is no easy task. Tons of planes are forced to fly from place to place just to keep consumers satisfied.  As these new “super foods” are the next big thing in the cooking world, it has attracted a copious amount of people who demand them.

What Can We Do Better? 

Food is sustenance. Food is culture. Food is social. Food is art.

Alice Waters, Founder of Chez Panisse

While the majority of the food industry is trending towards artful dishes and beautiful meals(at high price regardless of whether the food is quality), Alice Waters, owner of the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, focuses on pure and quality ingredients. It is by no means a new restaurant, as it was founded in 1971, and has been highly regarded for many years. She is not trying to get rich off of a health food movement. Rather, Waters believes that “food is precious”, and 85% of cooking is finding the ingredients. After that, you “let them be themselves”. Unlike the champions of molecular gastronomy, the dishes do not include sodium alginate, or xanthan gum. The dishes aren’t focused on looks.

Alice Waters focuses on great ingredients.

While other restaurant websites have countless photos, Chez Panisse’s does not. Its menu is simple and describes what the ingredients are and often where they come from. According to Waters, the source is very important: she says the real emphasis should be on the farmers, and has a good business relationship with every farmer she buys from. A relationship is important because “great food comes from great ingredients” from local food and well treated animals. A perfect example of her food philosophy, a philosophy she is trying to pass onto others, is a dessert dish at the restaurant, the seasonal fruit bowl. It is literally a bowl of fruit–simply the most perfectly ripe, seasonal, and delicious fruits alone in a bowl. The description of the current bowl is “A BOWL OF CHURCHILL-BRENNEIS ORCHARDS KISHU TANGERINES AND FLYING DISC RANCH BARHI DATES.” It describes exactly where the fruits are from, and that’s it. Waters said her attitude towards the fruit bowl was “Why not? Good fruit can be as delicious as any dessert.” Now that is simplicity, and pure, good food.

Waters has also started a program called Edible Schoolyard, where she has children plant and grow their own food, and eventually cook it. This is what she stands for: and should it not be what we all stand for? We should all want to know where our food comes from. However, through the years food has become about more than survival–but that change has caused us to forget the simple, most important parts of it. By all means, enjoy it as an art form and admire it, but as Alice Waters says, “Eat with intention.”

There are consequences of what we eat. We are not saying restaurants like Chez Panisse are the ultimate solution to caring more and knowing our food. This is an example of a mindset, of a success story of pure, good food. High end food doesn’t have to represent extravagant looks–the surface, after all, doesn’t represent the inside. The inside, the history, the care, the quality–that is what, above all, we should care about.

Quite frankly, we need to get our priorities straight. Many of us would rather make an easy trip to our local grocery store and buy cheap foods laced with preservatives than to locate a farmer’s market for produce that has a shorter shelf life. And financially, who cares what ingredients a restaurant uses if their dishes are filling and easy on the wallet?  The sad truth is, we’ve prioritized saving money over our health. But compared to other countries, America doesn’t spend that much money on food. In fact, the average American spends less money on food than people in any other country in the world. We spend a measly 7% of our income on food, whereas other developed countries range between 12% and 30% (Civil Eats). So even though we may think we don’t have the money to buy healthy food, this belief is far from the truth. If we want to feed ourselves the healthy food we deserve, we must make sacrifices, whether it’s spending more money or even cutting back on shopping.

Farmer’s Market

Another way to reestablish a more intimate relationship with your food is to shop at local farmers markets, which one can locate online at localharvest.org (“Real Food”). Farmers markets, unlike supermarkets, provide only the freshest produce that is in season. As the name suggests, local farmers sell their ripe produce directly to the customers from their farms, which means no shipping time, usage of ripening gas, or sitting in storage for weeks (“10 Reasons”). With these local offerings, consumers can speak directly to the farmers and discover exactly what went into producing the produce, resulting in a greater understanding of the food’s source. As one consumer puts it, “[The farmers and I] have a relationship. It gives us a greater connection with our environment, both the physical, natural environment and our social, economical environment” (Nutrition.gov). She appreciates the actual relationship she has with the farmer and the produce, and she feels comfortable knowing what the farmer did when producing the food, and why. Since local food does not require funds for transportation, the cost of food at a local farmers market is roughly the same as supermarket prices, and according to TheKitchn, farmers markets may actually be cheaper (Prasertong).

More still, the fruits and vegetables sold at farmers markets are often more nutritious than those sold at large supermarkets such as Safeway or Lucky’s. According to Jo Robinson’s Eating on the Wild Side, “we lost at least half the protective properties of our fruits and vegetables as well as much of their flavor” when we stopped eating locally grown food. The fruits and vegetables produced on farms are our closest ties to the more nutritious “wild” produce that Robinson discusses in her book, thus providing us the most nutrients we can now get (Robinson). For example, the more processed the eggs and the chickens they come from are, the more flavor is lost. Farmers markets eggs come from non-factory farm chickens, and will likely provide eggs that look like the bottom two in the below picture. Even though supermarkets currently dominate where we get our food, with these increasingly popular farmers markets, we can still get fresh and healthy food straight from the source: the farmers themselves.

(Egg Yolks)

 

Community Garden

In order to recover some of the lost intimacy with regards to our food, yet another solution could be to take a look back at a time when our relationship with food was simpler, yet more familiar. Community gardens are a modern segue to our ancestral past. They allow a large group of people to gain a closer relationship with food and learn more about the art of gardening. Hope for the future can be found in the fact that there exist nineteen community gardens in just San Jose and the surrounding areas alone (sanjoseca.gov). According to a study of New York City’s community gardens by the American Community Gardening Association, these gardens have the added benefit of increasing property values for homes that lie within a 1000 foot radius of the garden. The net tax benefit was estimated at one million dollars per garden. While community gardens may not be feasible for everyone, they certainly provide hope for the future of our relationship with food and could be a great place to start regaining our connection with it. While foams, colors and competitive cooking shows all add pleasure and variety to our world of food, they come along with a loss of knowledge about where our food comes from and what exactly we are eating. Food is no exception to the dangers of ignorance and unawareness and perhaps it’s time we take a closer look, get our hands dirty and regain the connection we once had with our food and its origins.

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Note about images: If the image does not have a parenthetical citation, it is linked to the source URL.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Play with Your Food: How “Food Porn” Devalues Our Relationship with What We Eat”

  1. Hi, I’m going to pin this article, if that’s okay. I’ve been thinking about stuff like this and you’ve articulated it very well.

    Like

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