It’s a Saturday afternoon and my friend Caitlin has asked me out for lunch. There’s a ramen place that she has wanted to try for a while, she says. We arrive at the restaurant and order two chicken burgers. The burgers arrive and I take my phone out. I angle my phone so that I get a bird’s eye view of my burger and pile of French fries, and snap a picture.
Burger and Fries
I admit, I’m one of those people who would take a picture of the meals I eat. Even though I don’t usually upload them, I would at least have those pictures in my phone. For me, there’s something satisfying about documenting my routine… and that includes eating.
Food photography isn’t a new practice, but it has become more common easy access to cameras nowadays. With the rise of smartphones and social media, taking pictures of food has become even more popular. In an interview with U.S. News, Andrew Scrivani, a professional food photographer, commented that as food becomes less formal, food photography also follows the trend. Now more people seek food away from the fine dining setting, and food photography approaches a more authentic impression.
Our Curated Diet
Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino (Image Source: Starbucks)
Early in 2017, there was a special Unicorn Frappuccino drink at Starbucks. The Unicorn Frappe was only on their menu for four days, but the hype surrounding it was intense. I remember on Instagram people would post pictures of the drink and, I will admit, it looked unique. One of my friends even visited several Starbucks in my city (because the popular frappuccino ran out really quickly) just so she could get one. She told me that all the photos she had seen made her curious over how the Frappuccino would taste. Later on, she added that she could only taste sugar in the drink. The drink didn’t taste as good as it looked.
Since many people pick where and what they eat based on what they see online, it shows that viral food menus hold a certain appeal to customers. Some people become willing to trade taste for style, or good-tasting food for aesthetically appealing food, as viewed on our phone screens. But this isn’t always the case. In fact, a study shows that some people who eat after they take pictures of their food tend to say that their food is more delicious than the people who don’t. The time delay between when the food hits the table that we spend visualizing and arranging our plates, and when we eat it, is what makes the food more delicious.
It’s not just about the taste. The Instagram-worthy food trend also changes our diet. The types of food that we eat, how we cook, and how we eat are also changed by what we see online. To explain the pattern, Instagram influencers start the food trend, the foodie public follows, and finally the press catches up. This process reframes our interaction with food. We become more open to eating and trying out new, trending food, especially if it is recommended by our friends or the influencers we follow online. Our diet is also changed when we cook: now, we’ll sometimes pay more attention to dishes that have a better chance of receiving more likes on social media. The new food culture evokes curiosity and causes us to rethink how we interact with food.
There are health concerns surrounding the Instagram diet, though. Some food trends, such as the hashtag #cleaneating, may have good intentions but could end up promoting unhealthy dietary habits. Clean eating can create an unhealthy mindset where someone may limit the nutrition they consume, even when their body actually needs more. This may lead to eating disorders and nutrition deficiencies in some people.
It’s a good thing that people are becoming more critical about where their food comes from, especially the ingredients and their health value. What we always need to keep in mind is that not every food makes its way online, and the ones that do aren’t always accessible for everyone. The foodies don’t eat aesthetically pleasing dishes that they upload to Instagram for their every meal. If we can be continuously critical about what we post or see online, we would be able to understand how they affect our perception and daily life, sometimes negatively.
Not Just the Customers
This Instagram foodie trend isn’t just affecting customers. Apparently it’s changing how restaurants and other food places operate as well. Because of people’s tendency to take pictures, food presentation has become a much more essential practice in the culinary world. The Culinary Institute of America is introducing courses in food photography and food style so their students can navigate the importance of food visuals in the online world. Even restaurant decorations are now tailored to give a photo-friendly and “Instagrammable” environment. According to professional chefs, Instagram helps them to promote their cooking and most of them embrace the change. However, some restaurants may be less open to people posting their food pictures online because of concerns about intellectual property or disturbance of their restaurant’s atmosphere.
Why We Take Pictures of Food
Inherently, as analyzed by The Guardian, people have always loved sharing food. The only difference is that now, we’re sharing pictures of food. I don’t know about you, but I find that to be a poignant social observation of the Instagram-foodie trend. For now, maybe I’ll continue to snap a photo when I visit a new place and eat something interesting. As long as we are mindful about it, if we have just the slightest bit of joy out of snapping one simple picture of our food and sharing it online, shouldn’t we do that?