In "Bon Appétit," Katy Perry is kneaded with flour, boiled in a pot, and served on a platter, garnished with fruits and vegetables. Her (sort of) NSFW video has obviously achieved exactly what set out to do, generating shock, disgust, and more than 45 million views within a week of release.
Despite disapproval of the video for "catering to the cannibal demographic," its premise is part of a broader theme in pop culture. There is a history of cannibalism on screen, but it has become a noticeable trend this year, with hits like Santa Clarita Diet, Raw, and XX. While cannibalism is the hook in "Bon Appétit," the video actually more closely aligns with vore, where the idea of consuming or being consumed is the fetish, not actual eating.
Perry's lyrics conflate physical and sexual hunger: "looks like you've been starving," "appetite for seduction,""I'm on the menu." The video is a literal representation of the idea that, as a celebrity, everyone wants a piece of her. Presumably, "Bon Appétit" is the first time many viewers have seen someone pretending to be prepared to be eaten, but these images are all easily found in the vore community.
"People who are into vore experience sexual arousal associated with the idea of consuming or being consumed by another being," Dr. Amy D. Lykins, an Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of New England, tells Broadly. Vore is a paraphilia, defined by psychiatry as a condition characterized by atypical sexual desires.
The idea of eating means there is an obvious connection to sexual cannibalism, though Lykins notes, "What you'll find when you interact with this community is that many participants draw pretty clear lines in terms of what they're interested in. So you have some people who are really interested in swallowing people (or being swallowed by someone) whole and alive (i.e. 'soft vore'), not always necessarily resulting in that person's death, and others who verge more into the cannibalistic side of things, where you get chewing, eating, cooking, etc. (i.e. 'hard vore')."
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The line between fantasy and intent in vore is central to the highly-publicised case of New York police officer Giberto Valle, aka "The Cannibal Cop." Since the release of his straightforward tell-all Raw Deal in January, Valle has been publicly explaining his sexual fantasies and provoking moral panic about his return to dating. In 2013, Valle was found guilty of conspiracy to kidnap, with his trial including graphic descriptions of plans to torture, rape and cannibalize women, including his wife. The jury saw samples of his lengthy online exchanges using the handle "girlmeathunter," his plans, downloaded photos, and a history of search terms like "how to hogtie a girl." Valle was acquitted in 2015, with his defence successfully arguing that his fantasies were just that; virtual role-play that he never intended to act out.
Fantasies about eating—or being eaten—are not hard to find online, in photographs, drawings, videos, stories, and forums. Valle frequented the members-only Dark Fetish Network, a forum where over 77,000 members share their sexual fantasies. One post from 2010, for example, asked: "What's your favorite female part to eat?" He also visited Muki's Kitchen, a site which offers pay-per-portfolio collections of pornographic photos featuring women being prepared to be eaten, very much like in "Bon Appétit." The women are tied up, in huge pots or ovens, placed on spits or plates, and are very clearly alive and consenting. Like Dark Fetish Network, Muki's Kitchen is careful to point out: "We celebrate cannibalism as an erotic fantasy," emphasizing that the scenes are definitely not real.
Unsurprisingly, considering the increased awareness of online traffic monitoring, many active sites have restricted access, from small Yahoo Groups to larger sites like the forum Zambian Meat ("The #1 site for exotic meat") with a cache of 14,683 images, and the site Donner Party Catering, which boasted 45,200 members as of March 2017. The forum Cannibal Café has been taken down, presumably due to the high-profile case of Armin Meiwes, who used the site in his (successful) search for a man willing to be eaten.
There is still a lot of openly available content: Dark Sites has extensive posts on vore, and there are numerous and recent threads on reddit, like at r/vore and r/fantasycannibalism. Other forums similarly include discussions about this fantasy, like Experience Project ("I've known since a little girl I was meant to be cooked up"), Psych Forums ("I have this theory that the favorite part of a chicken correlates to your favorite part of the body") and Forum Jar ("If anyone wants to be eaten in a special way let me know and I well [sic] do it").
If this content is so easily available, how common is this sort of desire? It's a tricky question. Lykins points out that research is challenging when "you have to find people who represent a very small percentage of the population AND get them willing to talk to you." In a recent and as yet unpublished study, Lykins collected data on 100 people, mostly men, from a variety of ages and cultural and national backgrounds. She found that "many of them reported having experienced vore fantasies since adolescence." Several participants even mentioned vore "suits" that allow people to feel "swallowed," confirming that for most, even in this attempt to enact their desire, vore is ultimately about fantasy.