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A feast for the eyes: are we obsessed with photographing our meals?

Gone are the days when grace was exchanged before eating a meal. Now, Instagramming our food has become the standard ritual, digitally feasting with our eyes before our forks. With over 216m posts under #foodporn, ranging from radiant acacia bowls to greasy pizzas (the world’s most Instagrammed meal), the internet has its fair share of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to food.
Recently, the celebrity Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal criticised diners for photographing their meals before eating them, complaining the food would get cold. Unless his restaurant operates on a radical no-lights or candles-only system (which would certainly be one way to address climate change), then phone shutter speeds are usually 1/250th of a second, faster than a human blink… hardly long enough to leave the food stone cold. But perhaps Heston has a point. Is our culture so obsessed with appearances that even food is a visual experience rather than one of taste or smell?
Let’s be honest: for some, it’s an opportunity to show off. Do we really care if you’re having an avocado toast after a post-morning run? Food has become glamourized, a status symbol that feeds into our consumer society and fuels our lifestyle aspirations as we associate particular foods with certain values or habits. Some restaurant chains have even banned customers from taking photos of their food, arguing it distracts them from their experience, both of the food eaten and the people they are with. Look at it from their perspective: why are customers checking their phones every five minutes to see how many people approve of their meal, when their gratification is on the plate right in front of them?
And yet, is it not an experience you are documenting, rather than food alone? A photo tells a story in a thousand words: who you ate with, where you ate, the cultural aspect. Food is integral to everyone’s life, a universal experience inherently communal, so should people like Heston really be criticising those that celebrate and share it? Besides, it’s basically free advertisement for restaurants and food brands alike by encouraging others to purchase the products too.
There are plenty of tips online for photographing food: deep bowls block lighting, plates with wide rims are distracting, neutral backgrounds are best, it goes on…
But what matters is the motivation behind the photograph. It is merely to brag, or to celebrate an experience with friends and family, to share recipes that inspire others, or to make a memory tangible and permanent?

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