We’ve all been there. We sit down at a restaurant waiting for our food to arrive. Every time a waiter passes by we look up in the hope that it’s our food they’re bringing. Finally, it is. The food is set on the table and it looks delicious. We can’t wait to dig in. But wait, first, we must take a picture.
There’s no denying that social media has changed the way we think about food, the way we interact with food, even the way we talk about food.
The question is whether that change is for the better or for worse. To tackle the question of whether or not social media is ruining our relationship with food, we have to first ask ourselves what kind of relationship we had with food, to begin with. Since ancient times, food has long provided an occasion for social gatherings. Families came together at meal time, while feasts were a long-standing tradition that brought communities together. Yet, while mealtime has long been established as having great social value, what value, if any, did meals have on a personal level?
Before the recent “health awareness” surge, which can also be partly attributed to the rise of social media, people didn’t actually pay that much attention to what went in their body.
In fact, pre-made foods, frozen meals became the norm in many places, being marketed as fast, effortless and convenient. The bottom line is that people simply didn’t have a special relationship with food. As long as it was decent-tasting, there was no looking into the nutrients it provides, no stylizing it to look good, no “feel-good” quality that came with it.
This has since changed, with the “food as fuel” perception giving way to the perception of food as the essence of our health and wellbeing.
This perception has been perpetuated by the rising presence of healthy foods on our social media news feed. Superfood bowls, immune-boosting juices and raw foods are all regular guests on our feed. But it’s not all healthy, healthy, healthy. In fact, some of the foods trending on our feeds are trending particularly because they’re so unhealthy (i.e. epic meal time). There seem to be two distinctive categories under which most food posts fall: food porn and feel-good food.
Either way, the focus nowadays lies on the aesthetic quality of food. If it looks amazingly unhealthy or amazingly healthy we are drawn to it.
Not only do we want to eat it, we want to capture it so that we can share it with others. It seems that social media has only perpetuated the “social sharing” quality of food. Only now it’s not social sharing on a communal level, but on an individual one. The meal is ours, we ordered it or made it, we stylised it, we took a picture of it to make it look as appealing as possible. In short, we interacted with it. We took the time to appreciate it aesthetically before tasting it. And then we posted a photograph of it, inviting others to appreciate it with us.
We no longer gulp down food that is convenient and effortless. We take the time to create, style and share our food.
Even having lunch at our desk alone turns into an enjoyable experience that we share with our friends. So, does that sound like a “ruined” relationship with food? Let me ask you this, what’s the last time you saw a frozen meal on your Instagram feed? Social media has made us more aware of what we put in our body, both in terms of what it looks like and what it makes us feel like. So what if I took the time to style and photograph my sweet potato wedges before I eat them? If this was 20 years ago, have devoured some mushy-looking unfrozen french fries without giving it a moment’s thought.
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