Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In defense of posting photos of your food

Setting aside the question of why photographing one's food would be a "food selfie," here's what I want to know: why is it such a thing to denounce the taking and sharing of photos of food? Some Guardian commenters liken it to posting photos of the scatological result of food consumption, but even those less viscerally repulsed seem to object for a great many reasons. If you photograph your food, you're apparently doing so rather than eating it. (Not sure I follow the logic - assuming a smartphone, chances are, your food hasn't gotten cold. There seems to be a mistaken belief that once someone takes the photo, they must immediately go onto whichever social media site to post the photo and browse others.) If it's interesting food you're photographing, you're a braggart and a snob; if it's just the usual, it's 'who cares?', so basically you can't win.

I'm afraid I don't see the problem with taking pictures of your food and posting those pictures on social media. Of all the things one can post, it strikes me as among the least offensive. You're not sharing secrets, or whining. You're not letting all who weren't invited to whichever party know what they'd missed out on. You're sharing an experience - solitary, as far as everyone else is concerned, if it's just a photo of the food. You're recommending a recipe idea or establishment - you're providing a service!

Smartphones and the like have introduced so many frightening things - the family that opted to watch "Mean Girls" without headphones on NJ Transit being just one; the impossibility of being a teenager at a party outside the potential view of your parents and future employers being another. Is "food porn" really such a concern?

The only ways I could see food-posting going wrong are a) if the food photos are truly nauseating, like some kind of stew that may taste great but looks like vomit, b)  if they're accompanied by 'my life is so wonderful' text, or c) if the photos are only of upscale establishments in exotic locales, for months on end, with text about how such places are overrated. And yet it's rarely along those lines. You ate an excellent croissant? By all means, post a picture - the worst that happens is I'll be inspired to seek out a croissant.

Maybe, then, the objection is fundamentally to phones, camera-having or otherwise, being out in restaurants. That much I could understand. The whole dynamic of a phone out changes a dinner. It gives the impression that the person whose phone is out would rather be somewhere else, or is so important that headquarters will summon them at any time. If you're the one whose phone is stowed away (or - but I've gotten better about this! - forgotten at home), it seems as if you're more invested in the dinner than your companion. If someone else's phone is out, I tend to feel (or used to - I think I stopped caring about this) that mine should be as well.


Miss Self-Important said...


Phoebe said...

Haha, amazing! Especially the honesty re: if you're eating alone, all-beige is for some reason more acceptable. But anyway, now I must retract what I said about vomitish food photos being unacceptable. A site devoted just to those works great!

caryatis said...

Food photos are boring! If I post something on Facebook/whatever other platform I don't have time for, it's because I think there's a decent chance it will inform or amuse my "friends." I don't blather on about every boring thing I happen to do in real life, so why would I on Facebook?

Posting recipes I think is more acceptable, because then you're not only telling people this food is great, you're including them and offering them a chance to share it. But the photos of identical-looking coffee drinks I see several times a week from one friend do not include me or interest me at all.

And it does seem like bragging, too--why else mention that the beef is grassfed?

I have similar objections to people who use Foursquare to post every restaurant and bar they go to.

Phoebe said...


It's a matter of common sense, I think. Of not posting *anything* in a spammy way (i.e. too often), and of accepting that no post will appeal to all. If I have lunch at home, consisting of whichever mix of dry pastas happens to be at hand, I do not share this. (Although, thanks to MSI, I see there's a site that would be interested!)

However, if I find myself with a spectacularly beautiful espresso drink (which doesn't happen all that often), or if I make something unusual (a cannelle, for example) from scratch, why not? Judging by the crude barometer of "likes," I don't get the sense that such posts are especially disliked - if anything, the opposite.

As for the "bragging" angle - it's kind of unavoidable on social media. Share an interesting article, and you could be accused of wanting to be thought a well-informed person (because you're probably not sharing whichever tabloid articles you may have also perused). And food is always somehow about signaling - I've never noticed postings mentioning "grassfed" beef, but true, you can't say for sure if this is some ethical concern or just making a smug point about spending a lot on meat. But is food more about signaling than anything else people post about?

For me, the main thing is that these postings really can be inspirational, even without a recipe. If they're taken at a place, and you say where, your friends can try it, too, certainly if it's not at some really high-end restaurant. And wherever it was taken, if you know how to cook, merely seeing a meal can provide the beginnings of a home-cooked version of whatever it is. I often get in home-cooking ruts, and just getting new ideas/reminders about food combinations can be enough to snap out of them.

kei said...

I thought it was interesting that one of the fancy-pants restaurants here that was super trendy a year or two ago, Next, allowed and even encouraged people to take pictures of the food. I think the condition was that flash wasn't used, which is also interesting because I think flash photos in low-light settings can make good food look really bad!

Maybe part of what makes people upset about food photos is that you can't share the food and the non-sharing of food is in particular upsetting. It's not just, 'look at the fanciness,' but 'look at this good dish of anything--I'm eating it and you not only aren't but can't because this is my dish right here and now!' or something along those lines. Whereas with links or music or inspiration (see my next comment), you can point someone in that direction and they can experience the thing in a more first-hand way.

Also, this reminds me that I wanted to make cannelles! There was a Japanese cooking show I saw the other day whose theme was the art of cannelle-making.

Phoebe said...

Yes, cannelles! Not so difficult, but you do need one of those silicone moulds.

"Maybe part of what makes people upset about food photos is that you can't share the food and the non-sharing of food is in particular upsetting."

I think that's right, and also may explain where the expression "food porn" comes from. Like there's something unsettling about an experience one ought to be present for being only a photograph, or being photographed.

fourtinefork said...

I'm late to this, so nobody will probably read this, but my research is actually connected to the idea of food and vision (I was actually reviewing the literature on food porn earlier this evening.)

Kei's point about sharing is on the mark, and also, it links to historical practices that turned food from sustenance (actually edible and nourishing stuff) into spectacle (there for display or status.)

Think of dried-out wedding cakes that look awful but taste like crap. Or bombastic state dinners, where the food is secondary to the overall effect. There's also the question of the status of food. Is it an art? A craft? (Nathan Myhrvold in his Modernist Cuisine tomes takes this on, as do others.) Are chefs creators or great culture, or are they makers of ephemeral playthings? In a lot of ways, it's similar to debates on fashion and interior design.

A counter-argument is that food porn actually extends the enjoyment of food to a broader group of people: it memorializes it, and makes it accessible (on an intellectual/visual level) to people who weren't able to taste it. And it goes to old (like Plato on) debates about taste, of course, and our discomfort with or dismissal of bodily pleasure.

fourtinefork said...

Whoops! Meant "dried-out wedding cake" that "looks beautiful but tastes like crap."