Los Angeles Times

What’s with all the ‘pantry porn’ online?

This Instagram trend risks perpetuati­ng classist, racist and sexist divisions.

- By Jenna Drenten Jenna Drenten is an associate professor of marketing at Loyola University Chicago. This article was produced in partnershi­p with the Conversati­on.

Neatly aligned glass spice jars tagged with printed white labels. Wicker baskets filled with packages of pasta, crackers and snacks. Rows of flavored seltzer water stacked in double-decker plastic bins.

In today’s consumer culture, “a place for everything and everything in its place” isn’t just a mantra; it’s big business. As someone who studies digital consumer culture, I’ve noticed an uptick in glamorized, stylized and fully stocked pantries on TikTok and Instagram, giving rise to a content genre I dub “pantry porn.” These online shrines say a lot about our cultural moment — simultaneo­usly raising awareness of the unpaid and long-unseen labor that makes households work and also creating new unrealisti­c expectatio­ns that perpetuate classist, racist and sexist divisions.

The pantry — derived from the Latin word for bread, “panis” — was originally a hidden space for storing food. It was purely functional, not a place to show off to others. As open floor plans became popular in the U.S. in the 1950s, kitchens emerged into plain view, setting the stage for sweeping floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall cabinetry. Now meticulous­ly arranged pantries appeal to middleclas­s sensibilit­ies: Maybe you can’t have a designer kitchen. But you can beautify your bulk food storage.

In the last decade, an entire cottage industry of blogs, books and television shows has introduced people to terms such as “declutteri­ng,” “minimalism” and “simple living.”

Minimalism once represente­d a countercul­tural lifestyle rooted in anti-consumptio­n: use less, buy less, have less. But if pantry porn is any indication, the new minimalism means “more is more” as long as the “more” is not messy.

Storing spices in coordinate­d glass jars and color coordinati­ng dozens of sprinkles containers may seem trivial. But tidiness is tangled up with status, and messiness is loaded with assumption­s about personal responsibi­lity and respectabi­lity. Cleanlines­s has historical­ly been used as a cultural gatekeepin­g mechanism to reinforce status distinctio­ns based on a vague understand­ing of “niceness”: nice people, with nice yards, in nice houses, make for nice neighborho­ods.

What lies beneath the surface of this anti-messiness, pro-niceness stance is a history of classist, racist and sexist social structures. In my research, influencer­s who produce pantry porn are predominan­tly white women who demonstrat­e what it looks like to maintain a “nice” home by creating a new status symbol: the perfectly organized, fully stocked pantry.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that pantry porn found its foothold during the COVID-19 pandemic, when shortages in the supply chain surged. Keeping stuff on hand became a symbol of resilience for those with the money and space to do so. This allure of strategic stockpilin­g is evident in other collector subculture­s such as doomsday preppers and extreme couponers.

The work required to restock, refill and reset the kitchen is a central element in producing everyday pantry porn. This work often falls to women in the household. One TikTok mom goes on a “snack strike,” stating she will not restock the pantry until her children and husband eat what is already on hand.

Good Housekeepi­ng and other magazines were once the brokers of idealized domestic work. Now online pantry porn sets the aspiration­al standard for becoming an ideal mom, ideal wife and ideal woman. This grew out of a shift toward an intensive mothering ideology that equates being a good mom with time-intensive, labor-intensive, financiall­y expensive care work.

Sure, all of those baskets and bins serve a functional purpose in the home: seeing what you need, when you need it. But the social pressure to curate a perfect pantry might make some women work overtime. They can’t just shove store-bought boxes of snacks into a cupboard; they must neatly place the grab-and-go snacks into a fully stocked pantry that rivals a boutique corner store.

Pantry porn, as a status symbol, relies on the promise of making daily domestic work easier. But if women are largely responsibl­e for the work required to maintain the perfectly organized pantry, it’s critical to ask: Easier for whom?

 ?? Daniel Gengel EyeEm ?? PHOTO-WORTHY food storage is not a sustainabl­e goal.
Daniel Gengel EyeEm PHOTO-WORTHY food storage is not a sustainabl­e goal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States