The History of Food Porn: It’s More Than a Hashtag

“Bare, wet and with tender flesh exposed, I lay here without reservation. I am at the mercy of your insatiable stare, your eager touch—your so-called toys. Don’t be nervous. You’ve had your way with me before. Since then, you’ve dreamt incessantly of doing it again and again—admiring and stroking my supple skin. Only this time, it’s serious. I glisten from top to bottom—beads of sweat bursting from every pore. The love, the heat, the wine…thanks to you I’m a drunken, hot mess. And as much as you’d like this to be exclusive, you know I’m meant to be shared. That’s how it has to be—at least for now.”

I swear to you, this isn’t some sultry narration for an erotic story.  Not exactly.

Consider this inspiration drawn from my kitchen—the recent steamy backdrop for what I can assure you was strictly dinner!

Later that evening I amused myself writing this monologue—the words of not a woman, but if it could speak—a freshly tenderized organic chicken thigh. She whispers teasingly to her Master Chef, as she is poked, prodded, braised, filmed and photographed dripping in a rich sauce.

Not to make you blush (again), but she tasted amazing.

Food porn seems new doesn’t it? Well contrary to popular belief, it’s quite old. In fact, it comes in so many shades of grey, fifty doesn’t even cover it!

In the 70’s, the official term “food porn” was used to label foods unhealthy. Almost half a century later, social media gave birth to its hashtag. This accompanied by a frenzy of images and video has connected millions of people to a subject synonymous with pleasure, desirable esthetics and the forbidden.

Around the clock foodies are transported to a virtual fantasy land filled with exaggerated scenarios and visuals. And just like good old fashioned porn, some of its subjects are sadly unattainable and dangerously addictive. If exotic gastronomy turns you on, then you probably come undone over international delicacies— the kind only a few fortunate souls will ever get to experience. Have you tried Japanese Fugu? Authentic Indonesian Fendang? How about a taste of Paul Bocuse’s, Lièvre à la Royale? For the latter, I had to live vicariously through Anthony Bourdain (lucky bastard).

So where do you worship? Is it the Church of Churros, the Taco Tabernacle, House of Bacon, perhaps? Do you run with nutritionists, vegans and paleo diet fans? Ogle smoothie bowls and dream of coconut oil…on pans, maybe all over your body.

You think that’s kinky?

I say… PILGRIM!

Real food porn dating as far back as the 14th century—is chock full of flagrant artwork and saucy literature.

I was at university when Giovanni Boccaccio’s, Decameron fell into my lap. In one of its many tales, sex organs were disguised as vegetables. For example, choosing a lover, young or old, was compared to which end of a leek one preferred: the lovely white head or the long green tail. As Lady Gaga would say, innocent leeks are simply “Born This Way”. They were also the perfect choice for Master Alberto to make his “point”.

And because of that story, potato leek soup still makes me snicker. Whip out a cutting board, strategically position its main ingredients and ding dong…there it is!

For a hundred years, the metaphorical play of food and sex thrived, beginning in 16th century Renaissance and fizzing out in the early 17th century. The period was marked with change and turmoil within the Church including palpable tensions among social classes. New World exploration brought gourds, potatoes, tomatoes and other produce to Europe—seducing the masses with their gorgeously colorful exteriors, tender pulp and abundant seeds.  Thus they encouraged experimentation in the kitchen and in art. Some say the comedic, sexually charged and crude artistic works served to alleviate those social and religious tensions, especially for repressed clergymen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For proof, let us travel to Rome. Stunning frescoes in the Loggia di Psyche in Villa Farnesina are embellished with Raffaello’s narrative scenes of classical gods and goddesses. One such deity, Mercury, is surrounded by Giovanni da Udine’s fruit and vegetable garland—overflowing with overt sexual metaphors (1517-1518).

As pointed out overhead by clever Mercury, he has made a Priapus using a gourd and two eggplants for testicles. Priapus is a god of fertility, protector of fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia. In art, he is depicted with a permanent erection, making this fellow (forgive the pun) really hard to miss.  If you look closer, at the garland that is, a cluster of large figs reveals a rather juicy one—its flesh exposed and penetrated by the gourd.

G. B. della Porta, Phytognomonica, 1588

Flowers were also the target in many a suggestive body of work. In 1588, the illustrations of Giambattista Della Porta’s Phytognomica, compared various botanical species with human organs. Blush all you want, but the belief was that plants could heal the body parts they resemble. Take for instance the orchid, as illustrated here.

For more symbolic and suggestive imagery, there is nothing quite like lusty fruit and vegetables depicted in northern Italian peasant paintings and those of papal Rome. In Vincenzo Campi’s, La Fruttivendola, here we see an elegantly dressed woman with her bright coral necklaces seated amongst endless baskets of produce. The woman, said to represent Nature, has a open gourd at her side,  facing male figs of course. Fruit of the round, curvaceous type, like pears, apples, grapes, and apricots refer to the female. The man to the left however, is holding none other then a bouquet of leeks. Remember those guys? Also, note the placement of his pinky finger in his ear. According to old gestural language, this was clearly an erotic pass at Nature. Lastly, the distant scene on the right shows a man gathering fruit, throwing them down into a woman’s apron. In a nutshell, he just planted his seed. So clever this Campi fellow, right?

La Fruttivendola by Vincenzo Campi circa 1582

Now if fingering one’s ear doesn’t exactly do it for you, then how about an orgy? Caravaggio’s famous erotic painting, Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge, is said to involve just that. Centerstage, one long gourd seems prepared to “connect” with a curiously positioned round melon (and no, that’s not downward dog). We also have perfectly perky figs, succulent melons and a basket of fruit voyeurs in the upper left corner.

Still Life with Fruit on a Stone Ledge by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, circa 1605-1610

niccolo-frangipane-allegory-of-auturmn-civici-musei-e-gallerie-di-storia-e-arte-di-udine

Niccolò Frangipane, Allegory of Auturmn, Civici Musei e Gallerie di Storia e Arte di Udine.

And if fruit on fruit action still doesn’t quite satisfy, then how about the sinister interaction between fruit, innocent human and satyr? Niccolò Frangipane’s in-your-face sexual metaphors in the Allegoria dell’ Autunno, are not only racy but borderline creepy. Here we have the malicious expression of a satyr as he summons the erotic dreams of a young man, by placing his forefinger inside a split melon—all while handling a sausage in the other. Let me also point out the cherries within dangerously close proximity.

Wet dreams might have been aroused by the questionable activities of food and satyr but what about masturbation? There are numerous expressions, all food related, that describe such an act: slapping the salami and buttering the corn, just to name a few.

But since I started this post with chicken, I’m going to leave you with chicken—and quite possibly the origin of “choke the chicken”. Hope you enjoyed the history lesson!

Long live #foodporn!

Venditrice di Pollo- Vincenzo Campi circa 1580’s

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