The soft descent of thick ketchup sliding down the rounded edge of a well-made burger. The toasted buns garnished with sesame seeds, the lettuce leaf playing peekaboo from under a smidgen of mayonnaise, this image calls out to you every time when you walk past the fast food joints.
Sometimes it is replaced by a tangle of steaming hot noodles, heaped in a bowl with a sprinkling of vegetables or a kaleidoscopic array of meat and vegetable toppings entice you at a pizza shop. These harmless pictures have us drooling way before we even know we are hungry.
Our senses have been conditioned to our 'wants' and not 'needs.'
This seems like a no-brainer to attract consumers as the whole concept of food porn is to tease our senses, thus, affecting our evolutionary cycle.
In a study titled ‘Eating with our eyes: From visual hunger to digital satiation’ published in the Brain and Cognition journal, the authors say, “Visual hunger – a concept that we define here is a natural desire, or urge, to look at food – could well be an evolutionary adaption: Our brains learnt to enjoy seeing food, since it would likely precede consumption. The automatic reward associated with the sight of food likely meant another day of sufficient nutrients for survival, and at the same time, the physiological responses would prepare our bodies to receive that food. Our suggestion here is that the regular exposure to virtual foods nowadays, and the array of neural, physiological, and behavioural responses linked to it, might be exacerbating our physiological hunger way too often.”
Living on Instagram and Facebook has ruined the eating experience. There is an overdose of reward sensitivity, brain activation, and arousal, in response to viewing images of pleasant foods, rather than from just eating it. From hunter-gatherers, we are now super-consumers, we have stopped cooking food, all we do is sit and order.
The study also adds, “When the food comes pre-prepared, all of the sensory (including visual) cues that are normally associated with food preparation are essentially eliminated. Might it be, then, that the current obsession with viewing others cooking on the television, and reading endless beautifully-illustrated (gastroporn) cookbooks can be framed as an implicit coping mechanism designed to make up for the loss of all the cooking-related sensations.”
Simply put, we are bribed non-stop by our screens to eat more. Our satiety controls are off. The act of cooking has been replaced by watching food being cooked. We eat dinner watching another dish being prepared on screen, we swallow without even realising the flavour palette in the food in our own hands. The senses are dulled, the physiological responses are numbed out and all of this plays as havoc to our biological system.
We fool our brain by submitting to a visual hunger while depriving our bodies of nutrition-dense foods. Our consumption patterns seem to be masochistic at best. It is time to wean from ourselves from gastroporn and eat mindfully.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.