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SENSUAL PLEASURES

Porn on a plate

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DISHY STUFF: Culinary hottie Padma Lakshmi may not inspire people to cook but she does raise TRPs

It's sitting, staring, sweating and heaving. Drooling men stand behind a cordon and return its seductive glare. One leery man, armed with a waist-kit of knives, spatulas and peelers, confidently walks up to it, his eyes fixed on its hot form. He closes in, whips out a brush and scoops out molten sauce from the steaming brownie.

When Rosalind Coward first coined the term 'food pornography' in her book Female Desire in 1984, she likened "presenting food beautifully" to "an act of servitude". But a growing tribe of food stylists, photographers and bloggers have gone much further by equating decadent food to sexual gratification.

Whether it's Katrina Kaif sipping on a fruit drink in the racy Aam Sutra ad, the 'sip, lick, mmm' jingle for coffee or a Mumbai restaurant menu that quotes Madonna saying 'Cheesecake is better than sex', gastroerotica seems to be the way forward. The suggestive way in which food is plated at restaurants or the way the telegenic Nigella Lawson licks melted chocolate off a manicured finger-tip validate Freud's famous prediction that food and sex would go together like breast-feeding and the Oedipus complex.

Indians might not discuss sex openly, but there is an unabashed following for food porn. It's clear from the internet traffic to pilgrim websites like foodporn. com, the burgeoning number of coffeetable books that lets one devour luscious images dedicated to transfat or in the tiny fragment of viewers actually interested in cooking what Padma Laksmi is whipping up on screen.

"The term is also used a lot in food writing where indulgent food is written about in almost an erotic manner, " says Micheal Swamy, food stylist and cordon bleu chef who has styled food for Masterchef India, Kelloggs, Discovery India and for the literature of several hotels.

Food pornography, says Swamy, is usually dependent on the 'pornographic gaze' of the camera and features generous portions of high calorie foods. "It's usually desserts or other foods that bust one's waistline and are otherwise perceived to be prohibited, " he says. "Sometimes I feel guilty looking at these images, especially around kids. Maybe I should lock my room or see them late at night, " laughs self-confessed food porn addict Mansi Joshi, who is pursuing a degree in culinary science and food styling.

Food styling, which is the equivalent of the lingerie department in the food porn world, is a full-fledged profession. Food stylist Shubhangi Dhaimade, who says she loves to present "everyday food like roti and sabzi in a new light", has been in the business since she switched careers 10 years ago. "It's toughest to present Indian cuisine, " she says.

Swamy says that food styling is an art form that relies greatly on the knowledge of food and design expertise and that a good stylist must keep up to date with trends in art and design. "Insight about lighting, colours, filters, lenses, camera angles and back lighting are crucial. These aspects are as important as understanding food and how it reacts in the presence of light, under studio lights and various weather conditions, " says Swamy.

Several writers have also drawn comparisons with the way food porn borrows cues like lighting and camera angles from pornographic videos. "I'm not sure if that's entirely true because food prepared for styling remains at its best for only brief periods, " says Mumbai chef Vikas Singh, who is a part-time food stylist. "Sometimes, you have to end up making the dish three to four times during one shoot. "

Until a few years ago, non-edible materials were used in food shoots instead of real food. Petrol for honey, boot polish for chocolate, shaving foam for cream and plastic for ice-cream were commonly used. "Pornography is never about the real thing anyway, " smiles Joshi.

Reader's opinion (2)

Anthony VeliyilJun 29th, 2011 at 16:54 PM

Dr. Lekshmi Nair, on the Asianet channel. She would have more male fan following than actual family or women viewers. Nothing offensive or even derogatory in whatever she does, but the theory of this article holds true, similar to Nigella Lawson's case.

Saurabh SharmaJan 4th, 2011 at 21:23 PM

good comparison. food is obsessions just like sex.

 
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