Do You Take Pictures of Your Food? New Research Says You Might Be Messed Up

by Charlotte on May 7, 2013 · 46 comments

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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.]

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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.

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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??

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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?

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri May 7, 2013 at 4:03 am

I have a friend who at one stage was posting pictures of every meal she ate on Facebook. I ended up hiding her. I’ve only ever posted one picture of a meal I made. I got the recipe from one of those cooking competition reality shows and wanted to prove that I’d made it ! I generally believe that my friends have better things to do with their time than view photo’s of what I may or may not be eating :)

Your previous post with that really gross Weight Watchers cards from the 70′s has had a knock on effect. I googled them and found even worse ones, which I posted to FB, then friends also hit google and came up with worse ones than that ! People are still talking about them – did you see the star turd ? (http://tinyurl.com/bwt8kde) I can’t believe her husband tried it – brave man *lol*

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Rosa May 7, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Pahaha. Thank you for bringing joy to my day with that link. The weight watchers recipes posts keeps making me happy :D

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Oh that link is brilliant! Just spent waaay too much time poking around that site! Hilarious!!

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Katie May 7, 2013 at 6:06 am

I just roll my eyes whenever I see people posting pictures of their food on Facebook. A food or cooking blog is one thing. A photographic record of everything you eat is just stupid. I spent a few days going through boxes of old family photographs last week in nostalgia after my grandfather’s death, and I had such a great time. It makes me laugh when I think that in 30 years, many of my friends’ kids won’t be looking through old photos of significant things, but of their parents’ meals instead.

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Abby May 7, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Between random “selfies” that are ridiculous to piles of drab mixed up meals, the level of narcissim has become ridiculous. On the other hand, when food is truly art–as evidenced by professionals who take beautiful pictures of the food they create–it’s that, simply an art. I need a picture to go with a recipe. I don’t need a photo journal of every bite you ate the past week.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Haha – I’ve thought the same about what legacy I’m leaving to my kids! Do I want them to read funny/poignant memories I had or do I want them to have a computer printout of everything I ate for years?

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Miz May 7, 2013 at 6:55 am

YES KATIE!!!!
but I also know that for me so much of it is IM NOT A FOODIE.
I adore fancy pretty food photos like at spabettie’s place—but the rest of it? the obsessed LOOK WHAT I ATE (And if MC was right the subsequent tossing in the trash?) is a little…wacky to me.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Yeah, I’m really not a foodie either… maybe that’s my problem? LOL

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misszippy May 7, 2013 at 7:48 am

Brilliant post! I’ve done a couple of Instagrams over time of something fun I was making, but never been a WIAW poster. Just not my thing. But I will say that I have a friend w/ an eating disorder and what does she do? Posts her meals to FB frequently. I’ve always thought it was messed up in her case and here’s a little confirmation of that. For most people, though, I think it becomes filler, or like you said, a way to show food virtuosity, whether it’s authentic or not. Lots to think about here!

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Yes, this: “For most people, though, I think it becomes filler, or like you said, a way to show food virtuosity, whether it’s authentic or not. ” I think we all have a friend (or several!) like yours. Unfortunately this type of “virtuosity” is very rewarded…

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Amanda May 7, 2013 at 7:48 am

I used to take pictures of my food when I had some really disordered eating habits and I would agree that it was because food was one of the most important things to me. So I would definitely say this makes sense

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Michelle May 7, 2013 at 8:01 am

I love Bento boxes!!! I wish every meal could be like that. But yah, the whole posting of food is a little nutzo. My lunch is always what was leftover from the night before tossed into a Tupperware. (Yes, I have and use Tupperware!!) No one wants to see that.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Oh I use Tupperware still too! No shame in that:)

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Abby May 7, 2013 at 8:17 am

Yeah, I can’t read food blogs. Seeing pictures of other people’s food freaks me out. I think, “Well if they ate that and I ate this I must be …” Fill in the blank with fat, unhealthy, etc, etc. It’s crazy-making. But at the same time if people enjoy doing it and other people enjoy seeing it I don’t see any harm. I just want no part in it. I think about food 90% of the time anyways.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Oh me too, sister! I have way too many issues to read food blogs. But I do realize that those issues are mine and that not everyone is coming from the same mental place!

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Nicole May 7, 2013 at 8:51 am

I do post pictures of my meals to Instagram at least a few times a week. I love to cook, and I like sharing beautiful photos of food with others. I like to be able to look back at the pictures of what I made, either just to look at them and remember how good something was, or even to recreate something I’ve made before. And yes, it’s fun to have people say it looks good or ask for a recipe or even just “heart” it.

But I don’t think that’s unique to food photos AT ALL. You could really argue that posting ANY picture on social media is the ultimate in narcissism. It could all be construed as, “Oh, look how awesome my life is!” when you post pictures of people you’re hanging out with, a beautiful location, a nice meal, a sweaty workout, your kids, etc. I think the key is realizing that we all present a somewhat-edited version of ourselves, whether it’s on Instagram, Facebook, a blog, or even just in general conversation with a friend. Are we going to post pictures of a microwavable meal or us in our I-need-to-do-laundry ugly clothes? Probably not. So we just have to realize that people, including ourselves, are presenting others with only what they want us to see. And I just don’t see any way around that other than to realize it.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I love this: ” You could really argue that posting ANY picture on social media is the ultimate in narcissism. It could all be construed as, “Oh, look how awesome my life is!” when you post pictures of people you’re hanging out with, a beautiful location, a nice meal, a sweaty workout, your kids, etc. I think the key is realizing that we all present a somewhat-edited version of ourselves, whether it’s on Instagram, Facebook, a blog, or even just in general conversation with a friend. ” You summed up the counterpoint perfectly!

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kara May 7, 2013 at 9:34 am

I tend to agree with @Nicole above.

I also have a bit of a knee jerk reaction to this whole recent trend of people saying if you do X online then you must be Y (Y = disordered, unhealthy, envious, obsessive, pick your negative trait of choice). Yes, there are some people who are unhealthy obsessed with what they eat and how it compares to others. That’s nothing new; maybe the Internet makes it a little easier to share that, but it didn’t create it.

On the other hand there are people like myself who sometimes instagram/blog food and sometimes don’t. I like to cook. I like good food. I like to share my enjoyment with others. As Nicole said, it’s no different from someone who loves clothes scoring a great item and instagramming it, or an enthusiastic gardener who posts pictures of her garden at every stage (look, sprouts! look, buds! look, flowers! look, baby veggies! … etc.)

I wish people could quit deciding that every thing we do is a symptom of being disordered. It’s tiring to listen to people armchair diagnose others based on nothing more than an article in the paper and a handful of instagram pictures.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Excellent comment – you gave me a lot to think about it. This: “this whole recent trend of people saying if you do X online then you must be Y (Y = disordered, unhealthy, envious, obsessive, pick your negative trait of choice). Yes, there are some people who are unhealthy obsessed with what they eat and how it compares to others. That’s nothing new; maybe the Internet makes it a little easier to share that, but it didn’t create it.” is a very astute observation.

I also really like this: “I wish people could quit deciding that every thing we do is a symptom of being disordered. It’s tiring to listen to people armchair diagnose others based on nothing more than an article in the paper and a handful of instagram pictures.” Honestly you are making me rethink the way I instinctively post about these kinds of things… hmmm

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Nicholle May 7, 2013 at 11:27 am

People photograph everything nowadays, and sometimes I think that we’ve become observers rather than participants–there’s always a phone, camera, video device, or whatever between us and whatever is going on. I love to take photographs (though I don’t take pictures of food) and to create a record of family events, the flowers in my garden, my son’s school concerts, my cats (way too many photos of those guys), and the other beautiful things I see around me every day. Having said that, I sometimes force myself to put the camera down and just immerse myself in whatever is going on, “Kodak moments” be damned.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

” Having said that, I sometimes force myself to put the camera down and just immerse myself in whatever is going on, “Kodak moments” be damned.” Excellent advice for all of us, frankly:)

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Alyssa (azusmom) May 7, 2013 at 11:56 am

Ugh, I HATE looking at food pictures UNLESS it is a food and recipe blog (Chocolate Covered Katie comes to mind. Especially when her dogs sneak in the photos, trying to grab the food she’s photographing. Nothing better than an animal photo bomb, am i right?!?!
But her photos make me want to lick the screen!)
If someone has created a special meal or made something for the first time, fine, post away. But the idea of following every meal that someone else eats? Comes off, IMHO, as a combination of a bit self-absorbed and/or insecure (on the part of the blogger) and stalker-y (on the part of the reader). But, hey, maybe the 2 are made for each other! Who am I to judge? It’s not like it’s affecting my life, as long as I stay away from those particular blogs.

Having said that, I am a person who will spend hours online looking at pictures and video of cats, dogs, birds, Koalas, etc. So, again, who am I to judge?

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Alyssa (azusmom) May 7, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Oh, and another exception to the food photos is “Play With Your Food.” SO adorable!

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Haha true – we all probably have our “thing”! I could look at vintage dresses alllll day long:)

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Deneice May 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I don’t take pictures of everything, but if I go to Tyler Florence’s restaurant in San Francisco I take pix and when I try a new recipe I will as well, but that’s about it. So I get to his place once a year and when I am swamped at work I stick to old recipes. I probably haven’t posted anything since before Easter when I tried an M&M sugar cookie recipe from Pinterest.

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Yeah, I’m totally down with people taking a picture of their food when it’s something particularly special or creative (or even particularly disastrous!). It’s just the daily diet-journalling that bugs me, I think.

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Amber May 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Gross about the clap.
I take pictures (and appreciate pictures) of everything that I would consider food porn. Cookies, cocktails, a great plate. I post it for other food/baking/drink lovers. It’s not necessarily food I actually ate (sometimes your companion orders something so much more delicious looking!), but I also don’t really care if it bores other people, so I’m not sure where it lands on the narcissism scale for me personally. However, I would block somebody that took mundane pictures of their every meal (for what? to impress? invite scrutiny? I’m not interested!).

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Yeah, like I said to another commenter, I’m totally down with people taking a picture of their food when it’s something particularly special or creative (or even particularly disastrous!). It’s just the daily diet-journalling that bugs me, I think.

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Cori May 7, 2013 at 2:01 pm

I’m also torn about pictures of food..and often don’t take them because my healthy food looks like crap.

But every once in awhile if something is SUPER pretty or SUPER delicious, I feel the need to share.

Or if I’m posting a recipe I may take a picture good or bad just so that you know what it may end up looking like haha

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Haha – the bad ones are the best!

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Shari Hunter May 7, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I do take pictures of my food and post it to facebook, but the rule of thumb is generally it’s only food that I have made myself and I only do it to make certain people jealous because, let’s face it, I’m a great cook! It’s just for fun. I don’t order food just so I can post it. I don’t really eat out a lot anyway. Eating out just isn’t as satisfying as cooking yourself!

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I wish I were a great cook!! Maybe I’d post more pics if I were;)

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JavaChick May 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Read this post this morning, then this evening saw a Tim Horton’s commercial where a guy was posting pictures of his Tim Horton’s sandwich (tried to find it on youtube, but no luck). It made me chuckle.

I like pretty pictures of food with recipes, or sometimes a special meal out in a restaurant. If I make a new recipe that turns out really well, or have something that I’m really excited about (like stuff from my garden), I might post pictures. But full on food blogging is too much for me.

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Jen May 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm

This reminds me anime. That photo above of the “cute” lunch looks like the ones in anime.

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Nate May 7, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I’ll post the odd picture of something ‘off-beat’ (check out this berry protein sorbet that I made for breakfast) and provide the recipe in my dedicated fitness group page.

I’ll also take pics of my food if it’s a recipe that I’ve come up with for record. I enjoy looking at and getting ideas from others.

There’s a line that gets crossed though you’re right. I don’t need to see what you’re eating at Yum Cha or Sizzlers. I also don’t care for a picture of a same old same old.

I’m sure if it’s narcissism though it will manifest itself in other ways if not food (constant kid pic uploads, woe is me statuses again and again, vague ‘life sucks’ with no further info as to why life sucks etc.)

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Charlotte May 8, 2013 at 3:35 pm

First, I have no idea what Yum Cha is but now I’m dying to find out! Second, this is awesome: “I’m sure if it’s narcissism though it will manifest itself in other ways if not food (constant kid pic uploads, woe is me statuses again and again, vague ‘life sucks’ with no further info as to why life sucks etc.)” True.

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Terri May 9, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Quote: I’m sure if it’s narcissism though it will manifest itself in other ways if not food (constant kid pic uploads, woe is me statuses again and again, vague ‘life sucks’ with no further info as to why life sucks etc.) /Quote

That is my friend to a T ! I never put the two together but you are right. It might also explain why we’ve only caught up once in the past year.

Just a note – I’m talking about a person who posts photos of every breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner and dessert. Not someone who does food blogging, recipe sharing or any similar. I am literally talking soggy cornflakes.

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Jess May 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I’m glad you posted this! I have always felt food picture posting was eating disorderish. All my food looks like mush in a bowl also.

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Bek @ Crave May 10, 2013 at 8:11 am

I worry about taking photos of my food because I don’t want to get judged either- however I like seeing what others eat because I’m nosey and the bloggers I read are quite healthy and balanced- so seeing them indulge every now and again makes me think ‘yeh it’s okay to have your cake and eat it too’. It’s sort of reassuring.

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Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean May 10, 2013 at 8:22 am

i am one of those people who posts what I eat for lunch and dinner on instagram/twitter/my blog’s facebook page. i can honestly say i’ve never ordered something specifically bc it would look good in a photo. i do it to inspire people. I’m a registered dietitian and i strongly believe that eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to spend hours preparing your food or spend a lot of money. i take pictures of my food to show people what i’m eating, but also to give them ideas about what they could be eating. most of my meals are not complex, they’re ready in under 30 minutes, they *usually* contain several food groups and are relatively balanced. I think it’s important to show my readers who i am as a person…and part of that is what i eat. i’m also not afraid to show them when i eat an ice cream cone or go get frozen yogurt topped with tons of oreos and m&ms. And i’m not afraid to show them when i drink a beer, or eat cereal for dinner. no one eats “perfectly”, whatever that means…and anyone who tries to make you believe that via their food pictures is lying :)

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Missy May 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

It’s not so much a problem in and of itself as a reflection of what is going on at large… majority of us are all freaking obsessed with food… whether we are anorexics, health nuts, fit bloggers, “foodies,” vegans…etc.

Just look at TV…count the TV shows.

I love the points you make… it’s just not a one-dimensional topic. The scientists need to open their eyes a little more. Maybe 20 years ago? This would be more “crazy” but I see it as a sign of the times (both the good and the bad… the kale pics and the deep fried bacon oreos pics.)

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Jen May 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm

To me, taking pictures of your food isn’t all that different from counting calories or tracking WW points. When I first started on my weight loss journey, I took pictures of every meal for a few weeks to see how many colors I was eating.

Now, the posting every.single.thing.you.eat. to Facebook… that’s just annoying.

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Lea May 17, 2013 at 8:50 am

OMG! that Calvin and Hobbes meal is the best thing I have ever seen! and Yes, I instagram my food sometimes, but only when it is particularly pretty or yummy looking! :)

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