What Makes Us Like “Food Porn” So Much? 
Wed, April 21, 2021

What Makes Us Like “Food Porn” So Much? 

A study found that the feeling we get from food porn came from our brain /  Photo Credit: Shutterstock


You’ve seen it before: a simple sandwich on the outside, toasted just right, and then cut open for the gooiest cheese-filled center you will ever see. 

It’s enough to give the cheese-lovers in us some heart palpitations, and it’s a bonus if it’s an easy and can-afford recipe that we can do at home. With pictures and clips like this, it doesn’t even have to be cheese-related. It could be a calming clip of how to prepare hotpot, or the saucy dribble of barbeque sauce on a gorgeous medium-rare steak -- whatever it is, it’s all got one thing in common: it’s food porn. 


What is “Food Porn”?

For those of you who are not learned in the ways of the internet (or don’t usually come across food videos on Facebook Watch), food porn is the internet slang term for any clip or image of a food that is often an “excessively indulgent recipe designed to shock or delight in equal measure.” 

Writer Chris Baraniuk of international news source BBC often finds himself indulging in the indulgent, and how could you not, with the way the internet is built up? These food porn videos are prime “waste time” activities and typically feature the same stringy, cheesy things previously described. 

Just like Baraniuk, it is very easy for us to become a victim of these videos whether we like to admit it or not, simply because it is especially engineered to stop us from scrolling and just click and watch the magic happen, even if it's overindulgent and frankly, like actual porn, a little disgusting in its excess sometimes. 



The Charm of Food Porn 

If it is as excessive and sometimes disgusting as it is, why are so many of us so enamored by it? Thom Eagle, a food writer and freelance chef, says that the food is by no means realistic -- no self-respecting restaurant would heap loads of sauce or cheese on something when it’s very clearly wasteful, but Eagle admits that it sells. 

Eagle says that people would usually come running to buy the same exact food advertised on Instagram or Facebook the next day, only because people want to eat what they want, and seeing it so vividly recreated encourages them to take that step forward. 

But to really dig into this phenomenon of, well, food attraction, let’s look at the budding explanations in the science behind it all. 


There are numerous researches that attempt to explain the feeling we get from food porn / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Writer Cari Romm of The Atlantic compiled research throughout the years attempting to explain this curious phenomenon. Curious because we’re not eating the food, and yet just looking at it is already a kind of experience. Over the years, scientists have tried to explain it. In 2012 and 2011, there were different studies that cropped up.

The 2011 study found that there is sometimes a disconnect to whether people wanted to eat what they were seeing because sometimes, these food porn videos can actually “turn people off from the real thing” if “the food in the image has a similar flavor to whatever real item has been consumed.” This means that if a person watched or saw a photo featuring desserts, they are more likely to appreciate a salty snack than if they are watching a video of a salty snack and then eating something salty as well. 

In 2012, a professor of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University posited that the feeling we get from food porn is actually just our brains getting primed to eat. Food triggers in us things; when we see food, or smell food, it lights up our brain in different ways, hence the whole “experience” feel of it. 

So it doesn’t matter if it’s all digital sometimes, although a part of us will surely want it to be real, because it’s still making us feel something. And if we do end up bringing ourselves to the restaurant that the clip has endorsed, well, that’s just the overlapping power of social media. 


Social media is one of the primary platforms for introducing such kind of food / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Social Media’s Part 

A big contributor to this culture of food porn is the amount of social media presence these mouthwatering dishes have, thanks to the skillful hands, or at least imaginative minds of those of us who simply like taking pictures of our food. 

We see these people every day, too, no matter what we’re eating or where we’re eating, there is always one lone chap angling his camera for the perfect food shot. Food may not always be glamorous, but social media has a way of giving food some kind of flair to it, or a chance for people to design how they want their food to look. 



According to men’s magazine The Manual, sometimes food porn even crosses the realm of food advertising. They write, “In some ways, it’s not necessarily about the food anymore. It’s more art directed. So when a photographer creates images that are new and initially refreshing for their differences -- if it resonates, everyone starts copying it.” 

This is the reason so much food on social media looks the same presentation-wise, but it doesn’t change the fact that these dishes still evoke a feeling of hunger in us, or at least a desire to eat something regardless of if it’s the same item we are being shown.