The Best and Worst of Online Food Porn

A massive amount of online space is devoted to images of delicious food. Websites continue to crop up that deal with all manner of niche eating—bacon, veganism, cupcakes, kitchen kitsch—and allow every home cook to become a master chef, every armchair eater a critic, every PowerShot owner a food photographer.
 
Food porn—glistening fruit tarts brushed with apricot glaze, just-charred steak with a perfect pat of butter dripping down its side—turns something relatively mundane into a fetish, as if we’re seeking an idealized version of food that’s prettier, sexier, and more outrageous than what we’re going to get at home.
 
This dynamic even applies to sandwiches. “Everyone loves sandwiches,” says Jon Chonko, a graphic designer and the mastermind behind Scanwiches, a blog devoted to the scanned cross-sections of his daily meal. As a designer, Chonko was merely doing what designers do—that is, creating excellent images. “I started to consider the color palette and texture of a sandwich before I’d order it, not even thinking about taste,” he says. It doesn’t always work out. “One scan looked great, really tasty, but the sandwich was miserable,” he says, recalling a ham on wheat with mayo, mustard, Muenster, sprouts and carrots. “Beautiful sandwiches can be deceiving.”
 
All this beautiful imagery online has an alter ego. Last December, the restaurant blog Eater asked readers for nominations for “the worst food porn that exists on the entire Internet.” (Though whether that referred to the quality of the food or the photography is up for debate.) The ultimate winner, a photograph of a scatological brown glop, was identified as a Chinese preparation of shrimp with lobster sauce that had been posted to the “food porn” group on Flickr by its photographer and cook, Jeff Cushner of Allentown, Pennsylvania. “Not everything looks great by itself while it’s being cooked,” Cushner says, noting also that it tasted great.
 
The sensual disconnect—no taste or aroma comes through the screen—demands that a viewer react viscerally, relying on sight alone to determine worth. Here are three more of our favorite food sites.
 
This Is Why You’re Fat is a Tumblr page that assembles user-submitted images of America’s greasiest, cheesiest, meat-heavy, and oversized foods. Launched this past February, the site became a phenomenon so quickly that co-founders Jessica Amason and Richard Blakeley got a book deal in a matter of weeks. Here, the cheeseburger waffles and deep-fried pepperoni pizza are allowed “to speak for themselves,” says Amason, who explains that the original idea was to “make an anti–food porn site.” Indeed, most of the photos make no effort to mimic the slick photography of most food blogs and magazines. Instead, the photos depict the lethal dose of calories contained, for instance, in a cheesesteak sandwich stuffed with chicken fingers, french fries, and a mozzarella stick. Amason admits that the photo of a 9-Decker Filet-O-Fish prompted a surreptitious trip to McDonalds. Just like the site itself, “It was good and gross at the same time.”
 
Zach Brooks started Midtown Lunch in 2006 as a way to catalog the cheap and delicious options within a few blocks of his New York City office. At the end of every year, Brooks crafts a photo grid that compiles his daily lunchtime snapshots. The sight of all that food is hypnotic and at the same time sublime: All those beige carbs and lunchmeats form a compelling quilt of everyday eating.
 

 

The most amusingly macabre of these sites just might be Suicide Food, which collects instances in which signs and menus use animals that serve as mascots for their own human consumption. Most of these logos, flyers and signs are crudely executed, but the twisted appeal lies in a smiling gang of anthropomorphized pigs (in overalls, naturally) inviting you to eat them up at the BBQ joint.
 
Do you have a favorite to add?

 

 

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  1. Tastespotting and Foodgawker are interesting in small doses. (Small doses only because I find both depressing). The photos are nearly all submitted by bloggers and nearly all of them adhere to the same aesthetic. There are some strange conventions I’ve seen over and over again, like cookies or little cakes stacked and tied up with twine or ribbon. No one would ever serve them that way, presumably; it’s something that only people who photograph their desserts seem to do. And the descriptions often hew to old-fashioned ladymag style: hyperbolic (“the best ever”), or secretive but willing to share (“find out how . . .”), or vaguely conspiratorial competence (“elegant but so easy . . .”) or unadorned rah-rah (“try it today!”).

  2. Tastespotting and Foodgawker are interesting in small doses. (Small doses only because I find both depressing). The photos are nearly all submitted by bloggers and nearly all of them adhere to the same aesthetic. There are some strange conventions I’ve seen over and over again, like cookies or little cakes stacked and tied up with twine or ribbon. No one would ever serve them that way, presumably; it’s something that only people who photograph their desserts seem to do. And the descriptions often hew to old-fashioned ladymag style: hyperbolic (“the best ever”), or secretive but willing to share (“find out how . . .”), or vaguely conspiratorial competence (“elegant but so easy . . .”) or unadorned rah-rah (“try it today!”).

  3. Tastespotting and Foodgawker are interesting in small doses. (Small doses only because I find both depressing). The photos are nearly all submitted by bloggers and nearly all of them adhere to the same aesthetic. There are some strange conventions I’ve seen over and over again, like cookies or little cakes stacked and tied up with twine or ribbon. No one would ever serve them that way, presumably; it’s something that only people who photograph their desserts seem to do. And the descriptions often hew to old-fashioned ladymag style: hyperbolic (“the best ever”), or secretive but willing to share (“find out how . . .”), or vaguely conspiratorial competence (“elegant but so easy . . .”) or unadorned rah-rah (“try it today!”).