Feeding an Addiction

I am a food voyeur who derives pleasure from watching others handle and prepare it. With dirty, messy details, I like talking about food with others, and will trade stories about the best dish I’ve ever had. I consume cable programming dedicated to it, subscribe to niche magazines focusing on it, and browse the Internet for images of it. I also pay for it, frequently. Whether it’s the cheap thrill off the street or the expensive dish in a fancy joint, I’m more than willing to open my wallet to satisfy my cravings as a food porn addict.

A food porn addict such as myself outranks a foodie in the area of gastrointestinal obsession because, instead of merely seeking out and appreciating a good meal, the addict has food on his mind far more often than he has it in his belly. The addict sees food as a form of entertainment that doesn’t even require participation or the pesky matter of actual sustenance.

As deviant as it may initially read, my life as an addict is not a lonely one. Truly it is an addiction I believe grips those fortunate enough to live in a first-world country with a desire to view food as more than simply a nutritional matter, or a means to silence a growling gut running on empty. It seems to me the food porn addict really emerged in the last six- to-ten years, as food became part of the pop-culture meal plan – and as urbanely urban denizens with some disposable income popularized the notion of seeking out quality consumables that contained fresh, local ingredients in hip, fusion recipes.

While I count myself in those ranks, I’ve recently become bored by the overexposed food porn that dominates television.

Like real porn, food porn has become a big business co-opted by corporations. The fetishizing of food is the sole purpose of Saveur Magazine a “classy” food porn publication begging for a centerfold. Moreso, corporate food porn is the bread and butter of reality-TV channels that have shows dedicated to cupcake wars, dessert challenges, cooking competitions, “extreme” meals, obscure regional favorites, and on and on. The Food Network, and to a lesser extent Bravo and TLC, have built empires of the edible so massive in size as to impress porn actor John Holmes.

Food porn has created stars out chefs. Much as Jenna Jameson became famous for using her specialized talents to bring sex out of the bedroom and onto the screen with graphic efficacy, so have Padma Lakshmi, Giada De Laurentiis, Tom Colicchio and Bobby Flay (to name but a few) become famous for using their “celebrity chef” talents to bring meal prep out of the kitchen. A visit to Colicchio or Flay’s restaurants in New York City are tourist destinations for the starstruck food porn addict, not unlike the AVN awards might be for that other porn enthusiast.

However, when porn becomes too hip, too mainstream even, it loses something of its appeal. That’s where we are now. Food Network has especially become like the Ron Jeremy of food porn; it’s likable enough, but it’s become so popular that it’s no longer sexy. Instead, it’s become like a familiar chain restaurant and a reliably mediocre destination.

To counter that familiarity, like sexual pornography, food porn tries to evolve by pushing the boundaries of the fetish ever further. For example, reality TV has gone “amateur”, which is really hot right now. The contestants on The Next Food Network Star and Top Chef are professional amateur, all vying to make it as food porn celebrities. It doesn’t sound that far off from an adult feature film “plot” that has a young starlet looking for her big break.

Meanwhile, Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods dares the food porn audience to see how much they can watch before they gag and look away. After eating the raw seal meat and warthog anus, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations even abutted the same gross-out two girls and one cup territory as Zimmern, but he kept it classy and transformed his show into a globetrotting, high-art food porn.

The recent evolution of food porn on reality TV hasn’t engaged my interest for the long-term. It may catch me when I’m up late, and I just happen to land on it whilst channel surfing, but that hardcore stuff has gotten real old, real fast for me. The competitive food porn shows have become too snooty — yet simultaneously cheap — for my tastes. The “Fear Factor” of food porn robs me of the joy of talking about and fantasizing about both everyday and rare food (it’s hard to find delight in a dish when the entire eating concept is labeled “bizarre”).

Call me a romantic, but after watching that wet and messy business, I crave a less-is-more, simpler, sexier rendition of food porn. Instead, of grotesque, I prefer burlesque and have found that the good stuff isn’t on reality TV.

The curious desires of my food porn addiction are fed through the teasing experimentations of chefs such as David Chang, who is a punk-rock Suicide Girl-esque chef of New York City. The salaciously titled Bite Me, a recipe book out of Canada by artsy mom-types Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat, services my playful and naughty nature with some of the most artistic, yet sensual, food photos I’ve seen. Bite Me also has a sense of humor and keeps the food porn novel without being too extreme.

I’ve another page-turner in mind, as well. Like a letter to an editor in a nudie mag, the former bad boy Bourdain tells-all in glorious, scandalous detail in his memoir, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook about his insider’s life in the world of food porn.

The best romantic food porn, however, is found online at Chez Pim.com, where blogger and author Pim Techamuanvivit dedicates her site to the pure and simple love of food. By encouraging readers to savor everything from a Kit Kat bar to a rustic fruit tart, Pim’s site is sweet and sexy, revealing but subdued, and inspires the same kind of reaction as a classic Vargas pinup.

Meanwhile, my more-innocent tastes are sated by Yum-Yum Bento Box: Fresh Recipes for Adorable Lunches, a precious collection of lovingly crafted, healthy, cartoon-style lunch recipes, by Crystal Watanabe and Maki Ogawa. It’s like manga for the mouth.

When I’m hungry for something gooey, I find it in the pages of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, a dessert book based on the creations of a Brooklyn bakery of the same name. For food porn eye candy with hardly a word to get in the way, Food Porn Daily.com is a preferred destination. Through the joys of mobile technology, my food porn addiction thrives with iPhone recipe and restaurant apps like Epicurious, How To Cook Everything (based on the bestselling Mark Bittman book of the same name), Urbanspoon and UrbanDaddy.

So while I’m not afraid to admit my food porn addiction, and will continue to happily seek out thrills to satisfy my appetite, I am hungry for more variety than reality television offers. I will eat it all up online or in books and person, but tuning out is the best way to turn up the heat with the food porn parade.