The Blog

Food-Porn: Tempting You, Tempting Me, Tempting Robots

Whilst teenagers and drunk office colleagues are sharing pictures of their naked bits on their mobiles, even posting them to social media, there is another delight quickly climbing to the top of the "things that make you go Hmm" (or "Yumm") in the social media activities:

Whilst teenagers and drunk office colleagues are sharing pictures of their naked bits on their mobiles, even posting them to social media, there is another delight quickly climbing to the top of the "things that make you go Hmm" (or "Yumm") in the social media activities: Food-Porn. Don't be silly, it is not about arranging food shaped like your private parts, but about the glamourised spectacular visual presentation of cooking or eating in advertisements, cooking shows and nowadays, your own plate.

The term, originally coined by feminist critic Rosalind Coward as early as 1984, is now taking food to the domain and control of the masses. You thought that the first batch of weirdos throwing milk over their heads did it out of the blue? The human mind has imprints from popular culture that sooner or later emerge in newer behaviours. Choosing milk as opposed to paint, or even soda, is not arbitrary, but subconscious. From "9 ½ Weeks" food scene (loads of spilled milk) to Kelis' "Milkshake" the human brain looks and samples food in the same way that it does sex. Why since 2010 the whole world has been taking snaps of food in front of them like a compulsive disorder is the direct effect of technology evolution. The porn industry took off when the videotaping hardware and playware became affordable. Thanks to mobile cameras and social media, the sight of food, one the most tantalizing visual aids of our days to arouse desires, is evolving into a superior realm of human understanding. So much so that even IBM's Watson Robot is into it.

IBM's Watson is an Artificial Intelligence robot that two years ago played American TV show "Jeopardy" against its two previous winners. Beating them to the delight of a bunch of IBMers in the audience, Watson's win was just the beginning for IBM to research further into the human brain and how it makes decisions, learns, and explores life. At the beginning of this month, IBM proudly unveiled what Watson had been working on. In addition to oncology discovery, pharma drugs and other scientific endeavours, Watson has been applying itself to becoming a Chef. Watson's debut recipe, a healthy breakfast pastry called "Spanish Crescent", was served to all attendees to the press conference in San Jose, California, and let's all rejoice, no one ended up with food poisoning.

What started as a Flickr group called "I Ate This" and was followed by a myriad of food blogs and mobile apps is not just a cute consumer trend like collecting Star Wars memorabilia or writing a diary when you are time-rich. We are talking food here. You make it and eat it every night. The digitalization and archiving of food is taking things to a deeper level of knowledge about consumers and what lies behind their behaviours. In the case of IBM, the firm is investing thousands of dollars into Watson learning to be a chef because Artificial Intelligence research has a lot of inroads into human-centric behaviours. The way we construct and deconstruct recipes, not just when we cook them but when our taste buds sample them, when our eyes see delicious food in front of us, sends signals to our brain that "inspire" or "ignite" other deductive and creative neural systems within our cortex. And if performed with emotional values, our brain goes into ecstasy because we release endorphins, the addictive happiness substance.

While the U.S. mobile applications are all restaurant-review focused or foodspotting, Platter, a Wayra UK startup company, is leading the new inroads about food digitalisation: recipe deconstruction and consumer insights gathering around how people feel, think and act about food.

"Food is identity", remarks Will Hodson, Platter's founder and CEO. "If there's one thing we've learnt since launching Platter, it's that almost everyone loves carbonnara (especially in the winter). The other thing we've learnt is that no two cooks make it the same way. Our tagging system reveals the little tweaks and secret ingredients that make dishes personal."

On a macro level, Platter's tags, which Will and the team are expanding from ingredients to cookbooks and suppliers, flag new trends as they emerge in kitchens across the globe. This, above all things, is what the market, from food publishers to other corporates in the cookery industry, have been trying to unveil for decades. While watching cookery programmes is mostly a passive enjoyment, only a small percentage of the viewers end up trying to cook the recipes, food preparation and re-creation of food recipes is revealing the platterazzi's, platter's universe of home chefs, creativity, the drivers of their hobby. At grassroots level, entering private kitchens in action allows product designers and concept creators in the food industry, not just supermarkets, to understand better their customer target in order to keep their innovation ticking.

Technology startups are entering an industry that is bound to be not just huge, but exponentially longevous because food preparation is a universal act of love, eating is as powerful as sex, and being an explorer of new tastes is as tempting and exhilarating as peeping into what a good looking 30-year-old man by the name of "NoshableAdam" or an Spanish brunette called "estheramigo" cook for dinner somewhere out there tonight. Yes, full circle, we have gone back to sex. That's why Nigella is such a hit. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.