Eating is definitely a social activity. We grab lunch to catch up with friends, we take dates out to dinner, and most holidays and family gatherings are centered around meals. But social media has totally changed how and what we share when it comes to food and #foodporn.
Social media & the food connection
So, what are some of the ways that social media has changed the way we see our food?
1. Food photos.
Okay, but seriously, why is it so fun to look at photos of food? Most of my Instagram newsfeed is pictures of food because those are usually the photos that I “like”. There are so many apps and websites now that push food photos (Yelp, Foursquare, Foodspotting, etc.), and the #foodporn attraction is a hard one to explain. I totally stopped to look at this picture when I scrolled through my newsfeed and I couldn’t tell you why other than the fact that it looks delicious…
The abundance of food photos has also led to an abundance of recipes. I cook more than I otherwise would now because when I see photos of good-looking food, I can easily access the recipe and make it myself. (Pinterest and Yummly are great sources for recipes.)
3. Food tracking.
Calories can be counted to the decimal with websites and phone apps, and a lot of these trackers involve social aspects such as community support or friendly competition. Before these trackers were created, very few people so closely monitored their daily calorie intake. We can thank social media for aiding healthy habits, although calorie counting can lead to negative obsessive behaviors and even eating disorders.
4. Reservations, ratings and reviews.
Using apps like OpenTable, Yelp, or Facebook, we can make reservations without having to call and wait on hold for a hostess. We can also use these apps to look at the ratings and reviews for the restaurant (plus probably some photos of their food offerings) to help us decide if it’s a good pick.
Social media & food feelings
Now that we went over a few ways in which social media has changed our daily interactions with food, let’s chat about how these interactions are changing the way we think and feel about food.
Look around a restaurant next time you’re at dinner and count how many people are on their phones. This one drives me crazy. I get it, sometimes we really want to share a picture of our greasy plate of hangover food, or we have a text message that we don’t want to wait an entire hour to respond to, but there’s a line. I don’t understand the point of people who go out to a nice dinner together just to spend the whole time in silence, looking at their phones. Like I said in my last post, I love social media, but only if there are boundaries. We still need to be able to be social in REAL LIFE, not just over the internet. But I digress.
For a long time now food has been considered more than just fuel. It’s social, it’s fun, and it’s indulgent. But through social media food is now becoming a form of social capital. People use food to demonstrate who they are and create an online persona. We become defined by what we eat, or at least by what we show ourselves eating on social media. For example, photos like these might say. “I’m a traveler”:
…while something like this might convey that this person lives a healthy lifestyle:
These photos build online personas by showing much more than just food. People want to have a ubiquitous online presence that displays every part of their life, including what they eat.
This constant stream of food photos has also changed the way we eat by creating trends. Food blogs as well as apps like Instagram and Facebook have generated a market for “food fashion”. In other words, there are trends and crazes in the food world that never used to exist. Little shops with fancy donuts or restaurants serving unique items can get a ton of social media attention and fame that they otherwise wouldn’t without social media. Even simple food items we can buy at a grocery store, like kale or Kombucha, can “go viral” with the help of social media.
Do these food photo trends affect our general health?
An interview on NPR talked about how looking at a bunch food photos can actually curb our appetite and make us eat less, which could be a good thing considering America’s obesity problems. On the flip side, I read a study that said looking at food photos might actually make us enjoy food less than we used to, which obviously is less than ideal.
There is a lot of room for research around the effect of the internet and social media on our relationship with food. For example, what does social data tell us about our emotional relationship with food? What are the most popular types of food photos, and why? The answers to these questions could shed light on hidden issues with this new #foodporn trend, and it could also change the food industry and how it markets to us as consumers.