The evils of ‘pantry porn’

By Patrice Lewis

As a young newlywed back in 1990, my husband and I rented a small urban house. In the backyard, I planted a postage-stamp sized garden consisting of two tomato plants and six corn plants.

I don’t know what was in the polluted dirt of that little garden, but those two tomato plants yielded more fruit than I knew what to do with. I remember picking two entire paper grocery bags full of red ripe tomatoes one evening and bringing them into the tiny kitchen. I looked at them and thought, “What on earth am I going to do with so many tomatoes?”

Vaguely in the back of my mind, I remembered hearing something about a technique called canning, but I knew nothing about it. I set out to learn. When I pulled those first ruby-red jars of tomatoes out of the boiling water-bath and set them on a towel to cool, I realized one very important thing: I was hooked.

I mean, I was seriously hooked. In that moment of pulling those jars from the pot, I conceived a decades-long love affair with preserving food in jars. It’s never waned.

This is a long-winded way to explain why the Lewis family has always required a large pantry. I need a place to store the hundreds of jars of meat, sauces, soups, stews, vegetables and fruits I regularly put up.

When we moved into our new (to us) home over two years ago, it had zero space to store my home-canned food. So my clever husband boxed in an underutilized 5×14-foot corner of the living room and created a beautiful pantry. Here is where we store not just my jars, but endless other staples and spices needed for scratch cooking. Having a large and well-stocked pantry is both a joy and a convenience. It is – literally – like having a small grocery store in our home.

Now jump ahead a bit. Apparently there’s a trend on social media dubbed “pantry porn.” This consists of photos and videos depicting meticulously organized pantries with everything neatly labeled and maintained (apparently it got a foothold during the COVID lockdowns). Organized pantries have become status symbols. I don’t follow these videos because I don’t need “porn” to organize my pantry. It’s already organized to our family’s needs along the lines of functionality, not beauty.

However, I find the “pantry porn” trend rather charming. I mean, if you want to meticulously organize your pantry, go for it. What’s the harm?

But apparently there’s a dark side to these pantries. According to Dr. Jenna Drenten, an associate professor of marketing at Loyola University in Chicago, there is enormous harm in organizing your pantry. For one thing, a pantry oppresses women. “Pantry porn, as a status symbol, relies on the promise of making daily domestic work easier,” she writes. “But if women are largely responsible for the work required to maintain the perfectly organized pantry, it’s critical to ask: easier for whom?”

But it gets worse. Apparently my beautiful, well-stocked and well-organized pantry means I’m a racist.

“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,” writes Drenten. “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.”

Needless to say, the reaction to this drivel was explosive, with many people pointing out she inadvertently is calling non-white people messy and disorganized. “A fine example of the ingrained condescending racism of the left,” notes one critic. “This professor obviously thinks that minorities aren’t interested in or capable of maintaining a tidy, efficient, organized pantry and by extension their household.” Another said, “So this professor thinks black and brown people are slobs? Who is the racist?”

I’m continually amazed by what random thing liberals will literally pull out of their nether regions and claim it’s “racist.” I mean, organized pantries are racist? Really? As one critic put it, “Imagine going to college for four years for your Bachelor’s. Then you become a doctor. Then you write this. Would you feel proud?”

It makes me wonder: How does Dr. Drenten eat? Does she ever use her kitchen or is that too lowly for a female professor? Are all her meals eaten in restaurants or prepared at home by domestic help? Truly, how does she eat?

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Dr. Drenten’s obscure logic that organized pantries are racist is what my husband and I call a “Mutual of Omaha” connection. Some of you older types might remember the 1960s nature show “Wild Kingdom” sponsored by the insurance company Mutual of Omaha and hosted by Marlin Perkins (with his long-suffering assistant, Jim). Perkins often introduced commercial spots by tying them into the subject of the show.

(“And here we see my assistant Jim with a massive python wrapped around his chest. Just as a python can squeeze the life out of a man, so an accident can squeeze the life out of your finances unless you’re protected with an insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha. …”)

That’s what this “academic” is doing with pantry porn: making an absolutely random connection without anything as inconvenient as facts to back up her claim. She is a classic example of never allowing a lack of evidence to get in the way of a conclusion.

I dunno, maybe this is an urban vs. rural thing. When you live as deeply rural as we do, where the nearest grocery store and restaurant are half an hour’s drive away and are often impossible to reach during winter, when take-out food is unavailable, when food deliveries are unheard of … well, a well-stocked pantry makes a great deal of sense. I guess things are different in Chicago.

So here’s a great big “middle finger” to Dr. Drenten. I’m proud of my pantry. If that makes me racist, so be it.

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