Mirror, Mirror On The Wall… Whose Is The Prettiest Pantry Of Them All? How did the perfectly organised kitchen pantry become so popular in the digital age? And what does it say about the expectations of being a good homemaker? asks Jenna Drenten.
NEATLY ARRANGED glass jars of spices, tagged with printed white labels. Baskets filled with packages of pasta, crackers and snacks. Rows of flavoured drinks 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. Nowhere is this more evident than the kitchen pantry.
Most people can relate to finding half-empty boxes squirreled away in the cupboard or letting veggies sit just a bit too long in a refrigerator drawer. But for a subset of social media denizens, such sacrileges would never grace their feeds. As someone who studies digital consumer culture, I’ve noticed an uptick in glamourised, stylised and fully stocked pantries on TikTok and Instagram, giving rise to a content genre I dub “pantry porn.”
How did the perfectly organised pantry become so ubiquitous in the digital age? And what does it say about the expectations of being a good homemaker?
WHEN PANTRIES BECAME PRETTY
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. In the late 1800s, the butler’s pantry emerged as an architectural trend among high society. 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.
Throughout the next century, pantries started being built in middle-class homes. As open floor plans became popular in the 1950s, kitchens emerged into plain view. This design shift paved the way for many modern American pantries to feature sweeping floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall cabinetry and walk-in storage spaces.
Today, over 85 percent of new homes built in the US that are over 3,500 square feet feature a walk-in pantry, reportedly the most desirable kitchen feature for new homebuyers, according to a 2019 report.
Celebrities can be credited — at least, in part — for making the pantry a modern-day status symbol. The Kardashian family has long been an exemplar for #pantrygoals, and former Real Housewives star Yolanda Hadid has social media fan pages dedicated to her fridge.
In the digital age, social media influencers have stepped in as trickle-down tastemakers who translate symbols of celebrity culture into accessible markers of status for the rest of us. And meticulously arranged pantries appeal to our middle-class sensibilities: Maybe you can’t have a designer kitchen, but you can beautify your food storage.
FORGET FOOD PORN, IT’S TIME FOR PANTRY PORN
Throughout the 2010s, food porn dominated social media. Pantry porn, meanwhile, is a mashup of infotainment, how-to, lifestyle content and ASMR, a form of sound-driven content intended to relax viewers.
Influencers film themselves shopping for supplies, prepping food, refilling containers, and organising their pantries — often coupled with hashtags like #pantryrestock, #pantryASMR, and #pantrygoals. They transfer dry goods from the store-bought bags into matching glassware; they stock the home coffee bar with coffee pods and flavoured syrups; they refill stackable bins with single-serving snacks; they create multiple types of ice cubes — each with its own dedicated freezer section. Much of this pantry porn is performed against a backdrop of rhythmic ASMR-inspired clinks, glugs, snaps, rips and thunks that appeal to viewers’ pleasure centers.
Like its food porn predecessor, pantry porn thrives on stylising everyday life in exaggerated ways. But where food porn elicits a desire for gluttonous indulgence, pantry porn taps into a different cultural desire: the orderly arrangement of abundance.
EXCESS IS BAD, BUT ORGANISED EXCESS IS GOOD
The past decade has ushered in a home organising revolution. An entire cottage industry of blogs, books and television shows have introduced people to terms like “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. Consumers don’t need less, they need more: more containers, more labels, more storage space.
Storing spices in coordinated glass jars and colour-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 organised, 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.
THE PRESSURE OF THE PERFECT KITCHEN
The work required to restock, refill, and reset the kitchen is a central element in producing everyday pantry porn. In my research, I’ve found that 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 they already have.
Magazines like Good Housekeeping were once the brokers of idealised 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, labour-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 organised pantry, it’s critical to ask: easier for whom?