I've been known to clutch a copy of Cooks Illustrated to my breast, inky photos of wine-soaked Bosch pears pressed into tender flesh. I salivate over food porn the way others have drowned themselves in Hustler Honeys'. I have similar blood lusts toward ancient issues of Gourmet, and English translations of Elizabeth David's Mediterranean cooking manuals.
Analogies between food and erotica go deep inside our taste buds. I was pleased to see that Harper's magazine has devoted an essay to the subject in the current issue, "Debbie Does Salad: The Food Network at the Frontiers of Pornography" by Fred Kaufman.
One of my favorite photographers of sexual life is featured:
Barbara Nitke began her career as a porn still photographer in 1982 on the set of The Devil in Miss Jones, Part II, which had a crew of twenty-five and a budget of $100,000 and took ten days to shoot. That was the longest shoot she ever worked on. These days a typical porn director can create a feature-length video in a day, for as little as $13,000.
Since Devil, Barbara Nitke has worked on the sets of more than 300 porn films, which she said is not a huge number, considering that 10,000 new releases enter the market each year...
I had come to Nitke’s studio in midtown Manhattan, near the United Nations, to watch food television with her, and to compare the histories of sex porn and gastroporn. Nitke, fifty-four, dressed in black from T-shirt to Ferragamos, had set up a card table between the foot of her bed and a bookshelf, and ordered Mexican takeout.
As we ate lunch she told me about her pending contract with HarperCollins for American Ecstasy, a coffee-table book of her porn-set stills, and I began to examine her library, which included copies of Leathersex, The Correct Sadist, and It’s not About the Whip. “I know most of the authors,” she said. “It’s a small world.”
For the past several weeks, Nitke had been running porn films side by side with Food Network shows, studying the parallels. She had also been analyzing the in-house ads, like a recent one for the network’s “Chocolate Obsession Weekend,” which promised to “tantalize your tastebuds.”
In this spot a gorgeous model pushes a chocolate strawberry past parted lips as she luxuriates in a bubblebath. The suds shot dissolves into Food network superstar Emeril Lagasse, who shakes his “Essence” – a trademarked blend of salt, paprika, black pepper, granulated garlic, and onion powder – into a pan of frothing pink goo. The camera moves into the frying pan and stays there.
"There’s something very visceral about watching the food,” said Nitke. “It’s very tissue-y. It’s hard not to think of flesh when you’re looking at these close-ups.”
Like sex porn, gastroporn addresses the most basic human needs and functions, idealizing and degrading them at the same time. “You watch porn saying, 'Yes, I could do that,'” explains Nitke. “You dream that you’re there, but you know you couldn’t. The guy you’re watching on the screen; his sex life is effortless. He didn’t have to negotiate, entertain her, take her out to dinner. He walked in with the pizza. She was waiting and eager and hot for him.”
Check out the rest of story in Harpers before they disappear off the stands, or check out Barbara's site, where she will have the whole story. I would love to host a sex and cooking show... talk about having your cake and eating it, too.
Photo above is Joanna Storm and Ashley Moore in Nasty Girls, 1982 © Barbara Nitke.