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.
For 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.
It 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.