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August 9, 2012

Woman Seduces Asparagus: Newsweek, Food Porn and the Foodie Patriarchy

Despite the events crowding the breaking news queue of late, Newsweek decided to feature the “101 Best Places to Eat in the World” as its cover story this week. Rather than pounding the pavement for hard news, Newsweek’s editors served up some taut asparagus instead, dangling it elusively over the welcoming lips of an anonymous model. The image is, of course, a tired cliché. Eater.com pointed out that the cover bears a striking resemblance to a 2008 cover of Observer Food Monthly, and also invokes countless stock photo images of women paired seductively with asparagus. Pornified food, like sexist depictions of women, is apparently a perennial favorite.

Implicitly, the Newsweek cover positions women as neither purveyors nor consumers of culinary high culture. Instead, like the accompanying asparagus, they are objects of desire. The image’s airbrushing rivals that featured on fashion magazines, with silken skin free of wrinkles, marks, and even pores. Idealized femininity is passive, receptive to whatever the leading chefs or newsmagazine editors are offering. Sadly, the power relationship evoked in this photo echoes that which defines macho foodie culture, where male chefs outnumber women (largely due to sexism, according to New York Magazine) and “culinary temples are predominantly female-free zones.” Although Newsweek’s list of “53 of the finest chefs” includes a few women, the website’s corresponding visual represents every kind of diversity (national, cultural, ethnic, epicurean) except gender diversity:

Newsweek’s food-related imagery serves up patriarchy that is both pornified and paternalistic. Here’s hoping that readers’ appetites for this kind of fare were sated long ago.

– Karrin Anderson Follow Karrin on Twitter at KVAnderson

(Cover illustration: not credited online. Chefs photo illustration: Sean McCabe)

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