Food porn, poverty porn, and Christmas

By: Ma. Ceres P. Doyo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | December 17,2020 - 09:00 AM

While the hungry and homeless poor may not see Facebook posts showing food-laden Christmas tables and trumpeted proofs of how exceedingly blessed we are (that’s an editorial we)—healthy, wealthy, happy, etc.—we can hold back a little out of reverence for and in solidarity with the countless others who have yet to feel the touch of God.

That is not a Herodian decree from me, just a gentle nudge to do our bit so that life can get better for those on the other side of the social divide. Yes, especially during this once-in-a-lifetime Christmas right smack in pandemia.

There is no study to prove that Filipinos are the most food-fixated people in the world during the Christmas season. But study or no study, it is a fact that food (like music) is the Filipinos’ second language during celebrations. I tend to believe that Filipinos, economic status notwithstanding, are quite excessive in the food department.

Will this COVID-19 pandemic Christmas be different given the warnings against partying and big gatherings?

I risk being called sanctimonious but, yes, I do gag a bit when I see so much display on social media of tables groaning with food. (I am not referring to food stylists and online small food sellers who should get our support.) I am turned off by so much food in home celebrations being shown on social media for the world to salivate over. Some displays are also bereft of aesthetic value because of the visual overload, not to mention their heart-stopping cholesterol load.

You can call that food porn in the negative sense. We usually associate the word porn with sex, but its meaning has expanded.

This is not to say we should not celebrate Jesus’ birth. Food is at the heart of the Christian Catholic liturgy. The Eucharistic meal consists of bread and wine, “fruit of the vine and work of human hands.” Farmers celebrate harvest time, fishermen glory in their catch, tuba gatherers get their fill of the spirit at sundown, while the women hold up half the sky and are singing.

Defined in a neutral way, food porn means portraying food in an artful, inviting way and in its most appealing to tickle and entice. An article I read said it was first used by feminist writer Rosalind Coward in her 1985 book, “Female Desire,” and later used by food writers, but it took on a current meaning to refer to food photos galore shared on social media. Food manufacturers show a lot of food porn in their ads. How much can one take? There is a study on their subtle, exploitative effects on the mind, but that is another story.

If there is food porn, there is poverty porn. And it is during these difficult times that we get not only glimpses but streams of stark images of poverty in both social and mainstream media.

Poverty porn, “also known as development porn, famine porn, or stereotype porn, has been defined as ‘any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers, increasing charitable donations, or support for a given cause.’ It also suggests that the viewer of the exploited protagonists is motivated by gratification of base instincts. It is also a term of criticism applied to films that objectify people in poverty for entertaining a privileged audience.”

I’ve viewed a few of these and cringed.

Many facets of our lives are intensified, heightened, and magnified during this Christmas season. “Porned,” if you may. Those in the pits would prefer not to have Christmas for obvious reasons. Why must disparities become so obvious—the happy so very happy while the sad so very sad? Shouldn’t Christmas be the great equalizer? How did we come to this?

Many now eschew the word Christmas in their greetings and prefer the word Yuletide, which has a Germanic origin that refers to a season. Whether one is a believer in the historical Jesus’ divinity or not, one cannot deny that the circumstances of his birth and his teachings were revolutionary, confounding, subversive even. He is the reason for the season, the saying goes.

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TAGS: Christmas, COVID-19, Filipinos, food, food porn, Jesus' divinity, porn, poverty porn

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