Why are we so obsessed with posting food photos on social networks? Studies have been done, I’m sure, as they have been done with our Internet cat obsession (hint: cat people stay inside, dog people go outside to socialize with other dog people).
First out of the gate was Twitter, where the ‘twitpic’ featured shots of gourmet dinners, or celebrations with food, close-ups of the next great poutine. In truth, the most popular photo I’ve ever posted on Twitter was a shot of a crumpled white bag which had, moments earlier, been home to a gluten free brownie. More than 6,000 views.
Then we cross-posted our Twitter feeds to Facebook, prompting the common lament, “I don’t care what you had for breakfast!”.
Along came, at about the same moment in the history of social media, Pinterest and Instagram. The former holds photos that link to everything from champagne popsicles to roasted kale salads to Nutella cookies, alongside fitness tips, drool-worthy travel photos, and inspirational quotes. The latter, Instagram, a hub of photos from restaurants as diners are now in the habit of putting their hands up so a photo can be taken before eating. No longer a toast to start dinner, but a photo.
Why? I have a theory or two.
First, food sustains us. It literally feeds us and keeps us going; studies have shown that we take photos of things that are important to us. Of course, food will be important. Without it, we starve.
But it also has the ability to figuratively feed us: revive a memory from a childhood mac’n’cheese, awaken a sense of taste never before discovered, or make us think about food and wine combinations. It can, to coin a phrase, feed the soul. And the stomach.
And, it’s comfortable. Not in the mac’n’cheese sense, but for those who don’t like to take “selfies” or have a bad hair day documented on Facebook, food is easy. It’s relatively anonymous, and with various apps on smartphones, almost any food photo can be filtered to look fantastic. We can aspire to create a dish worthy of a favourite chef, or brag about an anniversary dinner treat, and get instant feedback.
Of course the best feedback is in person, and my advice to those in food and wine who want to fill restaurant seats or sell more vino, tell your story using social media. Entice us with the history of a dish, or the winemaking process. After all, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand likes.