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Volume 68, Issue 98 , Tuesday, February 18, 2003


Food ads are taste pornography

David Stiles
Opinion Columnist

The way food advertisers lust after our taste buds has nothing to do with taste or hunger. The advertisements are actually food pornography bent on taking advantage of us to make us buy unhealthy food. 

Like the "money shot" from a pornographic film, a man bites into a Sunkist orange, which has been shrunk by too much herbicide and cross-breeding. He mumbles "mmmm!" and spews juice across the screen. The moment of digestion in these gastronomic orgies is accompanied by the appropriate phrases and images. Children smile in the cereal commercial, saying, "He likes it, he likes it!" In a pornographic film the actors attach the appropriate phrase to each sexual act: "You like that?" and "oh, yes!"

It is not the point of these tricks to convince you, sitting on the sofa, that you are experiencing the taste of a food or participating in a particular sexual act. It is obvious in both cases that you are not experiencing what you watch.

However, watching food ads should excite your taste buds just as pornography should excite your sexual lust. The difference is that food advertisers want you to go to the store to buy food and pornographers want you to keep watching more pornography. 

In human pornography, with the oversized body parts and the absurd plots, there is little need for reflection to sort fiction from fantasy. Food ads are much better at fooling us. They fool us by playing on our basic assumptions about food. We want food that is handled and prepared by human beings. In our current food supply, this is far from the truth. 

One of the best examples of this lie is puffed rice and wheat. Its inventor describes the industrial refining: "The whole wheat or rice grains are put into sealed guns ... the guns are revolved for 60 minutes at (a temperature of) 550 degrees ... every starch granule is blasted to pieces."

To trick us into buying their industrial wares, food pornographers must show us that their industrial food is not industrial at all. The key to that lie is taste. We can still taste fake food, after all. 

Food pornographers have to rely on an aesthetic that we associate with tasting good, just like the human pornographer relies on an aesthetic that we associate with feeling good. The food pornographers will never tell us the industrial process the foods endure because we understand that Mom's cooking tastes much better than the impersonal, thawed, bland taste of a TV dinner. 

To make us swallow their garbage, industrialists must associate taste with an image that makes us salivate like Pavlov's dogs. What do we see when Mom prepares food? She chops, dices, seasons and peels food. Industrial food is bland, limp and squeezed out of a tube. Mom's food is real -- we see her making it from real ingredients. Industrial food is fake because we know nothing of how it is made or where it comes from.

Food manufacturers pretend to be our advocates in a world of fake food, trying to fool us into thinking that humans prepare their food and that the ingredients come from something real, not a lab pulverizing starch granules.

Jack in the Box uses "real ice cream" and others manufacture "authentic cheese spreads." What do the words "real" and "authentic" mean? These words actually mean one thing, the defining aesthetic of food consumption: fresh.

The Jolly Green Giant says: "Fresh from the can means fresh from the fields because they are packed when dewy fresh." The idea of freshness as part of flavor can only exist in a society that allows food to rot on shelves, warehouses and cargo holds.

Water-resistant cereal and engineered corn that stays crispy for years is the key to this entire aesthetic. Freshness is a lie that reveals the truth: Our food is nothing but a manufactured puree of chemicals molded into recognizable shapes that even Mom would be proud to serve to us.

Stiles, a freshman political science major, can be reached at


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