These days the media landscape is a buffet of food images. From someone’s morning bagel to a molecular gastronomy masterpiece, there is a gluttonous amount of food pictures upon which to feast. With the hashtag #foodporn numbering upwards of 87 million, it’s safe to say our appetite for food pics is insatiable.
The visual is an indispensible part of the food experience. A sub-par dinning experience can be elevated by great presentation as quickly as a flavourful dish can be marred by sloppy plating.
But food in real life and food on screen are two different animals. A plate from a restaurant doesn’t compete for your attention against a backdrop of a food-rich media landscape.
The competitive nature of food media necessitates not that the recipes be user-friendly, or necessarily that tasty, but rather look incredible, are attention grabbing, that make you stop, and drool.
With accounts like @iamafoodblog and @mollyyeh counting hundreds of thousands of followers, it is easy to see that when done right, food photography tells a story, has personality, and ultimately sells a product.
But when done wrong, can be downright repellent. In a stream of infamous and unappetizing Twitter photos in 2013, Martha Stewart illustrated for the whole Twitterverse, that although she was a homemaking guru, her tech, and photography skills were seriously lacking. Using harsh flash, terrible lighting and bad angles her food images were called out as looking like ‘the dogs breakfast’ and ‘rotting meat.’ Not a good thing, Martha.
As a food writer and photographer, I know creating that aspirational image is a painstaking, and not necessarily tasty experience. By the end of a shoot, the food is cold, stale, and has been manhandled, poked and prodded. It is not nearly representative of the end resulting image.
As fun as it is to consume food social media, it begs the question, is this obsession with photographing our food detrimental to our relationship with eating, and with others? Does stopping to Snapchat our every meal, remove us from the moment and alienate those who dine with us?
It’s a cliché for a reason: we eat with our eyes first, and they are always hungry.