#dropthatcamera

03.26.14

The Problem with Food Porn Tourism

You may think snapping food photos is innocent fun, especially while trying new dishes on vacation. But some chefs are starting to fight back, ruling no cameras at the dinner table.

We’ve all seen them. The waiter plops a gorgeous plate of sumptuous food on the table but, rather than taking out a fork and knife to tuck in, they grab their cellphone and snap a photo. Within minutes, it has been hashtagged #foodporn or #cameraeatsfirst and posted to Tubmlr, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.  By the time they’ve shared their gourmet delight with the world, the food is cold, and the chef is grumpy. The phenomenon of photographing food is known as food porn, and just like the “other” porn, it is highly addictive. 

Gastronomic tourism is one of the fastest growing travel sectors among the traveling class, according to the World Food Traveler, which conducts research on culinary tourism. According to their 2013 statistics, over 39 million leisure travelers are considered “deliberate culinary travelers,” which means they choose their destination based on its cuisine, and their tours often include cooking lessons, wine tastings, or other food-related activities. The research shows that an additional 35 million leisure travelers are “opportunistic,” which means they may choose a destination based on its artistic or cultural offerings, but eating well is also a priority. Thousands more are “accidental” culinary tourists, who get caught up in the local cuisine without even trying. No matter their category, these travelers all have one thing in common: they take pictures. And despite the fact that they may be in gorgeous cities like Rome, Florence, or Paris, their holiday photos are of plates of spaghetti and foie gras, not the Coliseum and the Eiffel Tower.  

Luckily for the culinary tourist, there are plenty of social websites where they can boast about their adventures. One of the first food porn sites on the Internet was Taste Spotting, which was founded in 2007 based “on the idea that we eat first with our eyes.” The site bills itself as an “obsessive, compulsive collection of eye-catching images that link to something deliciously interesting on the other side. Think of TasteSpotting as a highly visual potluck of recipes, references, experiences, stories, articles, products, and anything else that inspires exquisite taste.”  Scores more sites have followed, including the popular Food Porn Daily and Pintrist’s Food and Drink section.

But not everyone likes the idea of sending digital postcards from the table. At the Pappacarbone restaurant on Italy’s Amalfi Coast near Salerno, chef Rocco Iannone is one of a growing number of restaurateurs across Italy who is gently instituting a “no food photo” policy. His cuisine, which is creatively photogenic, “is meant to be eaten, not bastardized by a badly-lit photo.” He has been a leading activist against the food porn phenomenon in Italy, which he says is both an infringement of intellectual property and often insulting. If an amateur photographer takes a photo with a smartphone, it is rarely going to do the plate justice, he says. “I want control over my image, and if someone publicizes a smudged plate or an inaccurate portrayal, that’s like defaming my name.”

“His cuisine, which is creatively photogenic, ‘is meant to be eaten, not bastardized by a badly-lit photo.’”

A select number of restaurants in France have also started banning amateur food photography.  Chef Alexandre Gauthier, of La Grenouillere in La Madelaine-sous-Montreuil, told AFP that the experience is not only disruptive to the nearby clientele, it also takes away from the diner’s experience. “Before they used to take photos of their family, of their grandmother, but now it's photos of dishes,” he said. “We are trying to give our clients a break in their lives. For that, you need to turn off your mobile.”

Those who write and blog about food for a living say the best policy is to ask first and don’t assume every chef will be flattered by his or her creations being labeled as food porn. Elizabeth Minchilli, a Rome-based food writer and author of the best selling apps, Eat Rome, Eat Florence, and Eat Venice, says taking photographs of every dish can be horribly annoying, which is why she always asks ahead of time before snapping. “In general, I'm with the chefs on this one,” she told The Daily Beast.  “I think if you're in their restaurant, they have the right to either grant, or deny, permission to photograph. I always ask ahead of time, just in case I'm annoying anyone else in the room. Most chefs are happy to have me photograph their dishes, but then again, I'm not an amateur and my photographs are always flattering—or else why post them in the first place?” 

Just because the food looks good enough to eat on the plate doesn’t mean it will always look just as good in a picture.