In a famous 80s comedy routine, Ben Elton mocked telephone sex lines by comparing them to telephone food lines. ‘No-one’ he declared, ‘would phone a restaurant merely to ask the chef if they’d describe the menu.’ It was met with uproarious laughter. Not any more.
‘Food porn’ is everywhere.
Switch on the TV and one programme that’s always playing is ’Come Dine With Me’. A show where we tune in to vicariously enjoy someone else’s feast and social life, forks poised in silence between mouth and ready-meal.
Or how about this – Britain’s best-selling hardback non-fiction book of all time? Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals. (I’ve got one myself, courtesy of Mama Sloan – and if that’s not a triumph of hope over experience, I don’t know what is).
The term ‘food porn’, was coined by New York Times writer Molly O’Neill, seven years ago. She was signing her cookbooks and was struck by the realisation that hardly anyone would actually use them.
‘The people buying my book didn’t see me as an interpreter of everyday life. They saw me as a high priestess of a world that existed almost exclusively in the imagination. They told me that they read my cookbooks like novels to enter an alternate reality…The amount of money spent on kitchen equipment is generally in inverse proportion to the amount of time spent cooking on it’.
I’d love to throw the first stone here, except that I’m living in a glasshouse. Pesto and pasta pass as gourmet in the Scrivener household. Open the kitchen drawer and you can’t move for strawberry hullers. The juicer has been tucked away at the back of the cupboard, but the breadmaker still haunts me from the worktop.
The juicer was going to be step one in the recreation of a health-conscious and inexplicably leggy, ‘outdoors Emma’. (Like ‘outdoors Barbie’ except with varicose veins). These bold plans were scuppered by a long-standing hatred of exercise in any form. I also managed to inadvertently traumatise my husband by blending beetroot juice without the lid, leaving the kitchen like a still from The Shining.
Then there was the breadmaker. If I couldn’t be sporty, I’d give myself to the cause of home-making – all heaving bosoms (a girl can dream), flour and aprons. The loaves came in handy as door stops but were completely inedible. One even bounced off the floor.
So what’s going on? I guess the attraction is this. I’m buying into a lifestyle. Those aren’t just mango corers, they’re proof of my status as the kind of domestic goddess who wafts around poppy fields with picnic baskets, small (mute) children and butterflies trailing joyously in her wake. It’s total madness. But I’ve learned my lesson. I can live without the yoghurt maker and Tesco bakes better bread than I ever will.
Saying that, those banana guards from Lakeland have CHANGED MY LIFE. You read it here first.