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Food Fetishism: Who is winning at the end?

Remember the last time you masturbated to a picture of a peach? To some people, that might not have been too long ago. The ideals of #foodporn tend to connect with the ideals of pornography involving food. It's kind of funny that in this day and age, we as a people have found pretty much anything to fab to, and less and less people are shocked by this transformation. This tends to play a role in how food is perceived in the bigger picture as well, regarding texture, taste, and even color and lighting.

According to Psychology Today, a fetish, or “Fetishistic disorder is an intense sexual attraction to objects or body parts not traditionally viewed as sexual, coupled with clinically significant distress or impairment.” Everything from a sexual attraction to feet to feeders falls under this spectrum. Since food can trigger addicting behavior in people, it is not shocking that it can create sexual attraction as well.

While human sexuality is a fascinating subject, in this case, we are not actually talking about the sexual fetish, but more of a societal fetish. We cannot stay away from good food, and have built cultures around culinary delights. However, nowadays, it seems more like we care more about food than much of anything else, and this isn't anything new. “Our love affair with visually appealing, decadent, or status foods is nothing new,” says Andrew Weislogel, who is a Curator of Earlier European American Art at Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art, “It was already well-established 500 years ago.”

For hundreds of years we have been taking pictures of, and painting pictures of rare and exotic foods. Even the painting of the last supper revolved around the painting of food. Many paintings of the past 500 years involved exotic and harder to get foods, with many showing breads and pastries and a full 71% showing fruits, according to a study posted to Sage Open.

For instance, shellfish rarely showed up in the diets of people until recently, but it is showcased in almost 22% of art pieces in the past 500 years. This shows that the artistic obsession to food seems mostly focused on food we don't consume in our everyday lives. The rarer the food, yet the most delicious (and albeit unhealthy) the food, the more likely there is that it would be painted.

This correlates well with ideas of #foodporn today, where instead of painting, people take pictures of their food to share online to legions of followers. People flock to places like Instagram to see pictures and videos of giant sandwiches and huge stacks of pancakes. In fact, due to this trend, there is a restaurant in Las Vegas known as the Heart Attack Grill, which is a hospital-themed restaurant that sells monstrously large sandwiches and other unhealthy and fried foods that people droll over.

Color plays a crucial part in how these foods are perceived, which is why picking the perfect Instagram filter can be the difference between a great picture and a mediocre one. According to a study written in the journal Flavor:

“To date, a large body of laboratory research has demonstrated that changing the hue or intensity/saturation of the colour of food and beverage items can exert a sometimes dramatic impact on the expectations, and hence on the subsequent experiences, of consumers (or participants in the lab). However, should the colour not match the taste, then the result may well be a negatively valenced disconfirmation of expectation. Food colours can have rather different meanings and hence give rise to differing expectations, in different age groups, not to mention in different cultures. Genetic differences, such as in a person’s taster status, can also modulate the psychological impact of food colour on flavour perception”

Background lighting seems to be an important determination in whether a food is seen favorably, and this has been shown since the first fruit was painted on canvas. Darker colors tend to elicit deeper feelings, which can make one have less of an appetite as opposed to brighter colors. Foods that are taken with flash on a camera are also far less appealing than food pictured under more natural lighting. The more natural-looking the food, the better it tends to fare on social media.

Now when it comes to the emotions surrounding food, many correlate overeating and gluttony with negative emotions. However, when it comes to #Foodporn, the emotions are much more positive than expected. Many of the hashtags connected to these pictures of edible delights are words like #love, #sogood, #happiness, #happy, and #good.

Also, according the Proceedings of the Tenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 2016), who studied over a million Instagram posts using the hashtag #Foodporn:

“Healthy hashtags are by far the best liked, having an average of 87.6 likes (median 51), compared to 68.2 (median 35) of unhealthy ones (similarly, 4.7 comments for healthy and 3.7 for unhealthy). In fact, the top posted and liked hashtags in our dataset include #eatclean, #fresh and #fitness...Indeed, the most popular Instagram users are those using the healthy hashtags, at an average of 3,426 followers, compared, for example, to 2,432 followers of users posting unhealthy hashtags”

So it seems that despite our love affair with food and constant need for gluttony, we are indeed more likely to enjoy looking at more healthy foods as opposed to unhealthy foods. But due to our innate psychology surrounding salty, sugary, and fattening food, it may be awhile before we can disconnect with our adoration of food as a reason to live.

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