Did you know people take pictures of their food? And post them to public places? For dubious reasons other than just enjoying a well-plated meal? It’s like A Thing. And this Thing might be making us all obese or have eating disorders. [Social] Science says so. Commence freaking out.
[Forgive me if I sound glib - I just spent the last two hours researching antibiotic-resistant "super strains" of gonorrhea that are apparently poised to make the AIDS epidemic look like a cakewalk. First I made myself laugh by rewatching that Friends episode where struggling-actor Joey inadvertently ends up as the poster boy for venereal disease. (It was RESEARCH people.) Then I had to wash my eyes with acid after doing a Google image search for symptoms. Lastly because my Shape editor asked me if there was anything else women can do to protect themselves from getting it besides wearing condoms, I had to go find a quote from a scientist that said "The only foolproof way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is to not have sex." I don't know if I'm more amused that someone had to actually say this quote or that I actually had need of it. But seriously this superbug stuff is crazy scary. The zombie apocalypse has nothing on the clap. Egads.]
These scientists, who apparently are stuck in 2005, recently presented a paper at the Canadian Obesity Summit in Vancouver entitled “Food Fetish: Society’s Complicated Relationship with Food” that says our obsession with Instagramming our meals emphasizes the dysfunctional relationship people have with food. And as much as I want to laugh at this (I gotta laugh at something after two hours of reading gonorrhea statistics, right?) I do think that Dr. Valerie Taylor might have a point.
“Many people post pictures of food because they enjoy it, but some do it because food plays a significant role in their lives,” Taylor explained. But what was really interesting to me was her litmus test for knowing if all the food pics are an issue for you: “[It's when] you don’t take pictures of who you’re with, you take pictures of what you’re eating.” Admit it: You know at least one person for whom this is true…
I’m going to be honest: I’ve never liked taking pictures of my food. Mostly because everything I eat looks like (literal) crap stirred up in a bowl (I LOVE my food touching!) and I don’t think it would be right to inflict that on anyone. (Instead I just post nasty pictures of other people’s food - you’re welcome!) But also because I don’t like people scrutinizing what I eat. It makes me nuts just thinking the cashier at the grocery store is silently judging my jumbo bag of dark chocolate truffles snuggled right up next to my sixteen bunches of kale. Having 2000 of my closest friends dissecting my dinner on Facebook? Would probably push me right over the proverbial ledge. I did blog one day of how I “eat intuitively” because I had so many reader requests for it but I figure that should be sufficient for like… ever.
When it comes to looking at other people’s food however, it gets complicated. On one hand the whole “What I Ate Wednesday” food/fit blogger phenomenon makes me want to stab my eye out with an artichoke barb. It just feels like an excuse to lie about what you eat – either showing pictures of an austere meal because it’s what you think you “should” be eating, or it’s posting pictures of a huge decadent meal that I’m 90% sure the blogger didn’t actually eat in real life but is trying to prove that they’re cool or whatever. Not to mention looking at people’s food is the one thing more boring than listening to someone recite a play-by-play recap of the Seinfeld finale. And of course there’s the whole eating disorder component: knowing that people are going to be scrutinizing your every bite does change how you eat. It has to. You’re not Schrodinger’s cat. And any time you give their (our?) opinion power over what you eat you are in tricky territory.
On the other hand though, I’ll be the first to heart or like a beautiful food picture that a friend has posted, especially when it’s of a meal that they’ve obviously put a lot of care and thought into. I also love finding new, healthy recipes and attractive food photos are a huge selling point (I’m a magpie, I’ll admit it!). And one of my favorite things about social media ever is when people post all the weird, kooky, wonderful, crazy, random things they come across in their daily life – including food. I mean, can anything that showcases bento box art be bad??
If my lunch looked like this you’d better believe I’d be posting pics of it everywhere from Pinterest to Poland.
Plus, the flipside of the eating disorder issue is that a lot of people find support and ideas for making healthy changes by posting their food online. (It doesn’t work that way for me but then we all know I’m already messed up. Other people have told me they find this helpful.)
Your turn: Food pictures – the ultimate exercise is narcissism or harmless fun? And I have to ask: Anyone ever ordered something (or cooked something) just because they knew it would be awesome to post to Pinterest/Facebook/Instagram? Anyone here photo-journal their food? How do you feel about seeing other people’s food photos posted online?