#FoodPorn: Friend or Foe?

There is no question that the digital revolution has also digitized food culture as a whole. Whether it be restaurant reviews on sites like Yelp, bloggers sharing healthy recipes, or #FoodPorn pictures on Instagram, the way that we interact with food now is much different than it was pre-digitization. (For those who don’t know, “food porn” is defined as posting close up pictures on social media sites of delicious food that typically looks like art, according to Urban Dictionary).

For millennials in particular, taking photos of a meal before eating it is now totally normal, regardless of whether you are in an upscale restaurant or a casual coffeeshop. One study showed that 63% of 13-32 year olds have posted a photo of food or drinks they have had on social media at some point in time. Additionally, there are currently over 54 million public pictures on Instagram alone with the hashtag #FoodPorn. This phenomenon, also known as “eat and tweet” has led to the emergence of solely food related social media accounts, such as Food in the Air, New Fork City, and Food Porn Daily. It also means that I rarely go out to dinner with friends without at least one person snapchatting their meal.

Research shows that digital media influences more than 70% of the food Americans eat. As a result, digitization of food and the emergence of “food porn” has had numerous implications, both positive and negative, for our health, our enjoyment of food, and for restaurants.

Health

IMG_2416For some, posting pictures of food on a social media account serves as a digital food diary and a positive dieting tool that holds them accountable for the food that they consume. Additionally, the development of healthy food social media accounts has shown that nutritious food can be tasty, appetizing, and creative. One particular hashtag, #EatClean, has been used widely across Instagram recently. Also, while the majority of pictures tagged with #FoodPorn are unhealthy foods, the number of likes for healthy foods is higher than unhealthy ones, suggesting that people support the promotion of a healthier lifestyle on social media.

Still, many psychiatrists argue that consistently posting photos of meals on social media is an early sign of having a disordered relationship with food. Along these same lines, many are attributing an increase in eating disorders in young girls and boys to social media, as “thinspiration” or weight loss communities have thrived on social platforms. Oppositely, the rise in food pictures and “food porn” on social media has also been blamed for an increase in obesity amongst millennials, as looking at appetizing food pictures can trigger hunger and the desire to eat even when one is not actually hungry.

Enjoyment of Food

Social media has allowed anyone to be an active participant in food culture, and 47% of young consumers identify as self-proclaimed foodies these days. However, research has shown that looking at looking at “food porn” leaves people unsatisfied after eating a food that had been depicted as so visually appealing in a photo. For example, when people in a study viewed pictures of salty snacks and then ate salted peanuts, they did not enjoy the peanuts as much as those who had viewed photos of desserts prior to eating the peanuts. Research has also found that spending time photographing food at a restaurant and sharing these photos online causes diners to miss out on enjoying the smell and aroma of food, and thus decreases the overall enjoyment of a meal.

Restaurants

IMG_2417It is evident that the frequency with which food photos are posted on social media, has served as a fabulous, and free, form of marketing and advertising for restaurants. This is especially true because 42% of #FoodPorn posts are geotagged, highlighting the location of a dining establishment. Because our brains process photos a whopping 60,000 times faster than text, geotagged photos of meals at restaurants are an extremely powerful way in which restaurants can interact with prospective customers. As a result, many restaurants will encourage diners to post photos of their meals on social media, often with a geotag or the use of a particular hashtag. Other, typically upscale restaurants, frown upon the trend of photographing food at restaurants. Chefs at such establishments consider it to be a sign of poor manners, as they find it rude and disruptive to other diners.

Digitization, technology, and social media has clearly affected our relationship with food in positive and negative ways. While there are both pros and cons to this “food porn” culture, it is evident that this trend has certainly made society as a whole think more about what food they consume and where they consume it. Food is no longer seen as simply fuel for the body and its increasing socialization on social media platforms is very apparent.

References:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christopher-holmberg/food-and-social-media-a-c_b_4898784.html
https://www.menulog.com.au/blog/social-media-changing-eat/#
http://www.smudailycampus.com/ae/instagram-food-porn-has-negative-effects-on-health-eating-habits
https://www.ypulse.com/post/view/foodporn-the-growing-influence-of-social-food
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/04/what-food-porn-does-to-the-brain/390849/
http://www.thedrum.com/news/2015/10/05/food-better-without-mobile-phones-being-present-research-finds
http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Trends-Reports/Restaurant-Instagram-Marketing-Advice

16 comments

  1. Great post! I appreciated all the data you included – as I’m familiar with the hashtags and Instagram accounts, it was interesting to learn more about the research and experiments done to understand the online food culture. I’ve never thought about the possible harmful effects of posting about both junk food and healthy lifestyles like you described. It raises the question of whether the negative in fact outweighs the positive effects like the enjoyment and health awareness. I remember reading about one study a restaurant did to measure why customers were complaining about longer wait times. It turns out the slower service was due to people being on their phones more during the meal and taking pictures of the food, which made everything take longer. I would add that to the negative column because in most cases taking pictures of the food also seems to detract from the experience and interaction shared with friends at the table.

  2. Nice research! As a rough estimate, I’d say about 90% of the restaurants I go to are recommended by a friend, with only 10% or so places I read about online or pass by and decide to stop in. Food porn and instagram can be a big driver behind recommendations, not that I follow any food porn accounts. I have a friend who LOVES posting food pics to the point where they want me to send them pics so they can post them. This I find a little ridiculous, but that just different people have different interests. I also think people posting healthier foods more often might be a case of shaping one’s internet persona, in which people want to be perceived as healthier online than they actually are in person.

  3. Great post! I have to admit that about 70% of my explore page on Instagram is food-related Instagram accounts. There is something so mesmerizing about looking at all of the artfully-arranged dishes, and also taking note of the geotag like you mentioned! For personal Instagram accounts though it does seem a little silly to spend so much time making your creation look beautiful and then eat it, but I can understand the craze because I buy into it myself! The negative effects of constantly monitoring and posting what you eat will continue to become more prevalent especially as the next generation of Instagram users grows up with this #FoodPorn culture. The constant scrutiny on looks and your internet persona, as Jak mentioned, definitely raises concerns about the consistency with your true self and Instagram self.

  4. Very interesting! I never thought about the negatives of these food accounts before. Personally, I love them and rely very heavily on them for food recommendations. Before I go to a restaurant, I always search it on Instagram so that I can see what they serve and what it actually looks like. I do not necessarily pay attention to what people commented about the food, as I think a picture alone does a good job of portraying how good the meal was. It is definitely much more informative than simply looking at a menu online. The downside to seeing these pictures in my feed is that they inevitably make me hungry – I try not to scroll through Instagram right before bed for that very reason.

  5. willybbolton · ·

    Really enjoyed this post! All the data and picture examples helped explain the details. I think foodporn is not necessarily a good or bad thing. I see the advantages and disadvantages of it, but in general I think people post food so much because people LOVE food haha. We have cameras on our phones, and we like to share things, and good food is often a highlight of a day/night. I feel as though it exists and there’s nothing we could really do about it one way or the other.

  6. Awesome post! I personally think food porn is great, it definitely has helped me to branch out and try a lot of new dishes. I had never really considered the marketing side of it but it makes perfect sense; there’s been plenty of times I’ve been motivated to try new places after seeing a post of food from someone else. Concerning your point about certain chefs finding it disrespectful, I suspect this is just old fashioned and that way of thinking will quickly die out. Why wouldn’t a chef want to share their craft with as many people as possible?

  7. Great post, and awesome research! I really appreciated the way you dug deep in this topic. One of my friends from high school has turned his instagram into a #foodporn blog, and I honestly never get tired of the constant good food on my newsfeed. Also, I’ve been seeing a rise in more aesthetically pleasing/prettier looking food, like rainbow bagels/grilled cheese/everything, that I think must be connected to the #foodporn craze. Just another way chefs and restaurants have been adapting to eating in a digital age.

  8. Awesome post, Christina! I love that you captured every angle of food on SM, from #foodporn to clean eats. I love the foodie trend when it comes to finding new places. When we were in NYC for the summer, our primary way of finding new restaurants was NYCFoodGals instagram account. I feel pretty strongly that the whole “health kick” on social media can be really detrimental and can definitely inspire eating disorders that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. It’s great to inspire a healthy lifestyle but capturing every meal and workout on SM can get obsessive. Loved this post!

  9. You did an awesome job of combining this new social media phenomenon with great research. I can definitely see the pros and cons of foodporn, but I personally agree with Will’s comment in the sense that people post what they’re eating to Instagram or Snapchat because they truly love food. When people are out visiting a new city or even a new local restaurant and they order something that both looks and tastes amazing, they want to share it with everyone on social media because it was one of the highlights of their day. I also definitely don’t mind when foodie posts show up on my discover page on Instagram because I can see what I want to try before I even visit a new place. Great post!

  10. Great post! I’m all about these food blogs, so when I saw your post, I just had to read. I found it very interesting to learn that digital media influences 70% of the food Americans eat, that was a bit mind blowing. I certainly didn’t know the percentage was that high. when I think about it, it’s so strange the way we approach food now. We don’t just eat, we admire prior to digging in.

    This is a job well done from a deep dive research perspective. I love food and food presentation, and food porn inspires me to create my own food porn to share with the world, lol. Also, I never really thought about the negative aspects of being so wrapped up in taking nice pictures of your food can take away from the overall enjoyment of the food itself, so thanks for depicting both sides of the coin.

  11. you sure did your homework on this one. thank you for such a detailed and in-depth post. i dont get this whole food porn thing, but i think i am on the minority on this one. My gut tells me that the whole craze is fueled by 2 things: 1) people love to eat – understandable 2) people use social media to brag about how dope their life is, or how great they want it to seem.

  12. Great job! I’m a huge #foodporn fan. I often find new restaurants on OpenTable or Yelp and then go to their Instagram accounts to check out their food. I’ve also been known to post a food item here or there – and to other commenters’ points, it’s to share with my followers that I went to a really cool place to eat (and they should be jealous). I think restaurants can be using this trend to their advantage to find new customers and share how awesome their food is.

  13. Awesome post! I found your research very interesting and a lot of the stats were much higher than I ever would’ve thought. Like Amanda, a lot of my explore page is foodie accounts because I often find myself scrolling through food pictures when I’m bored. My roommates and I will also find new fun restaurants to go to through geotags and food instagrammers account. I’ve also seen many different restaurants gain immense popularity because of some of their food being posted on Instagram. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Black Tap Burger’s insane milkshakes, but they are a great example of the potential influence that Instagram can have on a restaurant ( http://greatideas.people.com/2016/01/19/crazy-milkshakes-black-tap-nyc/ ).

  14. Only 63%? That number seems low. I don’t mind the occasional food porn, but people really go crazy with the hashtag on food pics. It’s especially annoying when the hashtag isn’t accurate. It’s definitely part of the over-curation of life on social media.

  15. I really enjoyed your post and how you categorized food posts on social media. I’m a big fan of good food and often use FourSquare and Yelp to decide where I’ll eat when I’m out. Unlike most of my friends I actually don’t like following food Instagrams or other SM accounts because the pictures make me hungry! I think the photos are superb advertising for restaurants and I hope that these SM posts will be incorporated into food reviews/apps like FourSquare and Yelp.

  16. Nice post, Christina. I love the level of research that you put into this and I especially enjoyed the peanut-eating study. Over winter break I tried making a dessert I had seen on Tasty and I was cruelly reminded of my poor cooking/baking skills. The image at the end of the video definitely made my own attempt that much more disappointing. Great topic!

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