#Foodporn

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…

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2. Recipes.

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.)

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 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.

Image result for myfitnesspal

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.

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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”:

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…while something like this might convey that this person lives a healthy lifestyle:

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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.

 Future research

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.

10 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post and you laid it out really well! I also sit on Instagram and scroll through food accounts and dream of eating the amazing meals. I definitely agree with you on the idea that social media has also pushed people to buy certain foods or go to certain restaurants. This form of free marketing is great for local restaurants. Whenever I am deciding on a place to go for dinner I usually go back the the bostonfoodie account on instagram and scroll through all the fun and interesting restaurants in the area. These accounts even help me decide what to order when I am there.

    1. Love the bostonfoodies account! If we’re talking about the same one, it’s actually really well photographed as well.

  2. Interesting. Back to back food posts (it happens from time to time)! You should definitely read the previous post and compare notes. You guys are definitely on the same page!

    1. That’s crazy! I just checked and we must have posted within minutes of each other, too.

  3. Great post! I also use Yummly and Tasty, which helps make cooking easier and more fun. I enjoyed the pictures you included, and I never really put much thought into pictures of food conveying personalities and online personas, like traveling. I find myself posting pictures on social media when I’m out to eat with my friends, but part of me questions if I do so because I want to or because everyone else took out their phones first (chicken or the egg?) I also agree with your point on “food fashion” and personally think that food and art together has become more prominent.

  4. This was a great post. I must be different from all of the people in the studies that were performed. When I see pictures of food, it makes me want to eat more. That being said, there’s great opportunity out there not only for restaurants to post on social media, but for agriculture and food companies to post pictures and recipes highlighting their brands/products.

  5. Serious click bait with the title “#foodporn”… I love it! The foodie community has really been able to thrive recently and it’s truly contagious. With entities such as Tasty, I would expect that the Food Network and other traditional channels are being greatly impacted. Businesses today, especially those who think they are unreplaceable, need to have a strategy for disruptions. Will people use free calorie counting apps rather than pay for Weight Watchers? I would argue to say no because a company such as Weight Watchers has competitive advantages that make an app such as myfitnesspal a lesser option. Food and digital technology is definitely an interesting concept for several reasons. Maybe it’s because food vanishes after the photo is taken, maybe it’s because of food envy, but regardless I will continue to be a loyal follower of my foodie accounts.

  6. Great post! I definitely have enjoyed going through random recipes on Pinterest, and I am not sure I would have discovered them through other sources. And the idea of food as a social capital really raises a good point that I am interested to see play out in the future as well.

  7. Well organized and thought out post! I’m not the best chef in the world, but I love reading about exciting new foods and have come close to actually using of the recipes I see on Tasty or other food porn blogs. I can definitely recall on a few occasions while I was traveling, I would go to a particular restaurant or try a certain dish because it went viral on someone’s blog. Last time I was in New York, I went out of my way to try the sushi burrito place by Times Square. I definitely would NOT have done that if it didn’t pop up on my newsfeed with an absurdly beautiful sushi burrito. I do think as food gets more and more artistic and exciting, this could be a place with significant growth opportunities for creativity.

  8. I also really liked this article. I use all of these platforms pretty much so seeing them all tied together was cool. Now when I am out at a cool restaurant with my mom, she’s always saying “OMG take a picture of that!” and sometimes I do, but I’m also like “Mom we don’t need a picture of everything we eat” so I definitely see both sides. I know someone who was kind of on the early curve of food blogging, which she does full time, and it has been really cool to see how she has built a business on the talent of taking beautiful photos of food. I also totally relate to the food trends idea, like the comment above. I worked near the sushi burrito restaurant where the line was out the door, the acai bowl trend is crazy here while in Hawaii it is a normal meal, and lobster rolls were all over my feed this summer – it is really interesting how social media sites can determine where we go and what we want to eat.

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