The recent TikTok trend of showing off perfectly organized and styled home pantries is rooted in a history of classist, racist and sexist social structures, according to one Chicago professor.
Through her research at Loyola University, Associate Professor of Marketing Jenna Drenten noticed a recent uptick in what she calls “pantry porn,” a plethora of social media videos where women show off their fully stocked kitchen and methodically organized home supplies.
While minimalist designs used to represent an anti-consumption mindset of using less and buying less, the “new minimalism,” according to Drenten, means “more is more,” so long as it is not dirty or cluttered.
Historically, Drenten says that tidiness is intertwined with status and a person’s messiness often breeds assumptions about a person’s capacity to be responsible and respectable.
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“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,” Drenten writes. “What lies beneath the surface of this anti-messiness, pro-niceness stance is a history of classist, racist and sexist social structures.”
Tracing the pantry to the late 1800s, Drenten says the butler’s pantry acted as an architectural touchstone of the wealthy.
“This small space, tucked between the kitchen and dining room, was a marker of status – an area to hide both the food and the people who prepared it,” Drenten writes.
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Drenten, citing her research, claims these viral videos of uniformly labeled and symmetrically placed supply bins, ingredient containers and shelves are created by predominantly White women and act as a “new status symbol” for what it looks like to maintain a “nice” well-kept home.
“Perhaps it’s not surprising that pantry porn found its foothold during the COVID-19 pandemic, when shortages in the supply chain surged,” she adds. “Keeping stuff on hand became a symbol of resilience for those with the money and space to do so.”
Drenten also claims this “pantry porn” obsession also sets the societal standard for an ideal mother, wife or woman.
“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?” Drenten adds.
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85% of large new homes in America built today feature a walk-in pantry, listed as the most desirable kitchen feature for new homebuyers according to a 2019 report. Drenten credits, at least in part, the Kardashian-Jenner family, the Hadid’s and other social media influencers for turning the pantry into a “modern-day status symbol.”