Hashtag Food Porn, annotated

Author Marissa Landrigan shares insights on her essay, "Hashtag Foodporn," which appears in Issue 14

Marissa’s work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Orion, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, Guernica, South Loop Review, Diagram, and elswhere. She received her MFA in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University, where she completed a food memoir titled The Vegetarian’s Guide to Eating Meat. She currently lives in western Pennsylvania, and teaches creative, digital, and professional writing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Johnstown campus.

Hashtag [1]  Food Porn

#farming A cow’s black snout pressed against the lens so close his faint gray whiskers are visible. A yellow tag is punched through his ear. Sprouts of grass poke from between his teeth. Brown wheat stalks heaped onto a trailer, green stems still attached, filling the entire frame, family business from centuries. A semonile pumpkin in close-up, green pimpled body bulging at the seams [2]. #organic #inawe. A proud, red-faced man in a baseball cap sits on a giant red tractor. #countrylife Got the old girl running. A field of green: a brown cow munches grass beside an alert shepherd dog, his black fur dusted with white, blue eyes fixed elsewhere, outside the frame. #instamoo [3] 

#butcher A white plastic cutting board stained with fresh pink blood, watery and thin. Three slabs of meat: the three stages of bacon: bone in, then boneless, then cured and case ready.  A whole beef roast, still raw and laced through with white fat, waits beside a smudged cleaver. #ribs #meat Whole #goat, skinned, the shape of its body still apparent, though missing hooves and horns, face. Vibrant red, white tendon, stretched out on a plastic counter, ready. A bearded man in hairnet grins, his gloved hats resting proudly on the skinned pig, on his cutting board.

#paleo [4] Have you tried our #pastured pork sausages? We make eating #paleo easy, delicious and great value. Proscuitto-wrapped asparagus and figs with chocolate balsamic vinaigrette. A rustic wooden table, an aerial shot, a sequence of white square plates. The Paleo Manifesto for #99cents via @amazon. Avocado and pineapple slices arranged in the shape of a sun. Grilled, sliced Aubergine, beetroot, chili marrow. #clean #gladiatorfitness Close-up shot on a red Fiestaware plate: a messy pile of zucchini, wild caught Alaskan cod, spaghetti squash, garlic, onion. #inspiration #staystrong

#mouthfeel NBC News: Wine goes with cheese. Meat sandwiches go with a pickle. Green tea goes with Asian food. Sushi goes with pickled ginger [5] … Butcher block countertop, the backdrop of a yellow ceramic pig on a sink ledge. In the foreground, two empty beer bottles and two glasses full of amber ale, generous foam head. White IPA with a floral lemony nose. A room full of barrels, a warm yellow filter. One barrel lid is popped, and a metal pole rests inside. Our new block cab program. #currentlyhashtaggingwinedescriptorsandfeelinglikeagiantDBag [6] 

#Unctuous Aeriel shot of a white plate on a white tablecloth, clear water glasses in the background. A swirl of red wine strawberry reduction. A scallop topped with foie gras. A sprig of rosemary. #fattyduckliver. Another marble counter, slate gray, a cast iron grill pan on a rustic wooden slab, the curling tentacles of an #octupus. This SEA #TIRAMISU is a #WorkOfArt.

[7] #finishingsalt Two clear plastic bags full of salt, larger flakes of dried brown, bits of red. Wild Porcini finishing salt, a birthday gift. Guys this hickory smoked sea salt is #thenuts. An Instagram filter blurs the photograph, the only clear spot the blue label: Kauai Smoked Guava sea salt. A pink marble countertop beneath a brown paper bag labeled truffle salt. A rustic oak board, a small mason jar with vintage-styled label, metal lid. Got the chance to meet and mingle with Ben of Jacobsen Salt Co. His Pinot Noir finishing salt is boggling mind and mouth right now. #ohmygawd.

#truffleoil Gluten free conchiglie with a lamb stroganoff.  #scrambledeggs with #smokedsalmon and #truffleoil on sourdough toast and roasted #portobellomushrooms. Round, yellow lobster ravioli. The gleam of oil and flakes of red pepper. #notonthemenu [8] . A vibrant blue food truck serving Kobe beef cheesesteaks, its orange sign proclaiming “Old Homestead.”  [9] 

#communitygarden [10] Three pictures of a young boy in a brown jacket and baseball cap collaged together. He squats in a plot of rosemary, knees in the dirt. A hose in hand, then a shovel, then digging. Got our spring bulbs in the ground today. #justintime. A white-nosed golden retriever sniffs a bed of broccoli. An empty urban lot. A chain link fence and brick building behind a woman, bundled in winter jacket, hat, sunglasses, holding a garbage bag of fertilizer. Farmer’s walk. Close-up on kale, curly-edged leaves blooming outward. #fallveg. A palm cupping a tiny watermelon the size of a golf ball. A man’s hands reaching into an open cooler of plastic-bagged leafy greens. #harvest.

Fun w/ Mr. Wilson's class today planting herbs & lettuce. A small group of children in a junior high kitchen, circled around stainless steel tables. Planters before them, empty but for the dirt. Teachers pass around plates of seeds. The children’s hands -- none are white -- are blurred as they reach, laugh. A girl in the foreground, her hair covered with a long veil, smiles at the camera.

* * * * *

 

 [1] I began this essay by deciding to try my hand at “found” text, or transcription writing, using images found on social media, so the hashtag very quickly became a grounding symbol/idea. It was how I searched Twitter and Instagram for the content I eventually used to build the essay, but then once I had a mountain of content, I had to decide how to organize it. I tried this prompt I use in some of my creative writing classes where I ask the students to visualize the central topic of their essay, and then draw the essay in that shape (an essay about baseball in the shape of a diamond, four bases, etc.) It sounds hokey, but it can often, I tell them, unlock some creative approach to organizing the narrative. When I thought of this essay in the shape of a hashtag, I quickly saw that a hashtag is really a symbol of intersecting points. Seeing it that way allowed me to imagine each paragraph of this essay as one branch or leg of a hashtag, with a few key moments of disparate ideas crossing paths.

 [2] This essay is a blend of found text (the italics and hashtags are taken directly from the original social media post) and transcription writing, where I describe in detail the images I saw when searching these hashtags. One of my models for this kind of transcription, which splices together observations from several different sources was Fiona Banner’s project “The Nam” which is a 1,000-page spliced transcription of famous Vietnam War films. When I first read it, I was in awe at how much subtext she conveyed from pure description, and from the delicate art of editing those descriptions together.

[3] One of my two favorite found hashtags.

[4] The transition between these two sections feels really significant, and all the credit for figuring that out goes to Tom McAllister, who edited this piece. Initially, I had organized all the “foodie” sections in the essay’s first part, and all the “farming” sections together for the second. Tom saw that moving back and forth between the two added a narrative arc to the piece, and here, I think, the transition begins to explore the central tension of the essay, between the people who do the hard, messy work of making food, and the people who fetishize it.

 [5] I couldn’t have written four better food pairings for this essay if I tried. Each of these so perfectly illustrates the (almost-unconscious) privilege of foodie-ism, which often fawns over the richest, most expensive foods under the guise of worshipping an artisanal approach to cuisine, without often paying much attention to the artisans and their often backbreaking, underpaid labor, or the food needs and tastes of people who can't afford to eat this way.

 [6] Definitely my favorite line in the whole piece. This guy gets it.

 [7] For the record, I’m totally guilty of this, too. I’ve posted pictures of decadent meals in exotic locations and James Beard-award winning restaurants. I’ve called food an art form – I think it is an art form. I love experimenting with new, strange ingredients and I don’t think there has to be anything wrong with that.

 [8] Insider elitism defined?

 [9] This is probably the image that made me the most angry when I saw it, and exactly what I mean when I talk about fetishizing food production. Mason jars and wooden boards and the notion of Ye Olde Farmstead give the foodie movement the sheen of honoring food producers, but when the Old Homestead serves Kobe beef, it’s pricing out entire swaths of people, including some of those farmers and ranchers who actually raise cattle.

 [10] The crux of why I wrote this essay is in this section. I do love and worship food, and I am in a position of privilege when I cook and eat. But I also believe it’s important to work to equalize the food system so that as many people as possible have access to fresh, farm-to-table ingredients, and I fear that fetishizing the idea of the farm means ignoring the obstacles blocking that kind of equality.

Which is why I reserve the highest admiration for programs like these, which work to make real food accessible to all. I’d much rather spend my time staring at pictures of kids digging in the dirt, learning to plant carrots, or farmers proudly showing off their seedlings. There is a reverence about food production here, but it’s not performative, and it welcomes anyone to join in.