Click plate: how Instagram is changing the style we eat

Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat

One in five Brits has shared a food painting in the past month, according to a supermarket survey. No wonder the dishes we cook are get brighter and more photogenic. But does #instafood always taste as good?

Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat

I often post pictures of my food online before I have savoured it. I take the photo, adjust the brightness, contrast and saturation, upload it to my social media accounts and rejoice in how amazing it is. Sometimes, when I go on to eat the food in front of me, I dont even like it. That pretty orange and pistachio thing I built is bitter because the oranges have gone rancid. The photogenic Italian sfogliatella tart, which I bought more or less wholly to take a photo of, is actually pretty tough. I am left chewing the pastry long after the likes have stopped trickling in. The interaction was sweet while it lasted, though.

We love to share our food. Not inevitably in the physical sense, because that would mean giving away something substantive and delicious. That gesture is still reserved for the people around us who we love and care about. But for the rest of the world the school chums and the random followers and our prying household friends we share our food online. We are sharing more food in this way than ever before, and a huge amount of this hungry, food-centric media revolves around food photography and short videos on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.

Mouthwatering: - Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat
Mouthwatering: a blueberry zoothie bowl. Photo: healthyeating_jo/ Instagram

The annual Waitrose food and drink report, released on Wednesday, focuses on the way in which food has become social currency thanks to how we share and discuss it online. It is impossible to wade through the moras of social media without segueing into virtual treasure trove of #foodporn, #instafood and proudly #delicious content.

According to the report, one in five Brits has shared a food photo online or with our friends in the past month. We have managed to forge what looks like a rare pure corner of social media, where pleasure is the order of the day. No matter the poster or the politics, food shines bright as something that all of us can aspire to, if only we curate our lives and our diets carefully enough.

Most of us who document our snacks online are amateurs, but there exists a sizeable, and tremendously profitable, industry of professional food bloggers and Instagrammers, whose pristine food styling defines the tone for a whole aesthetic movement.

Take Sarah Coates who, off the back of the success of her blog The Sugar Hit and her 36,000 followers on Instagram, has released a cookbook and shaped a particular niche for herself in the online baking world. Hers is a self-avowedly saccharine, indulgent kind of food. Unlike much of the more earnest online food world, her photographs are bright, inundated with light and popping with flashings of colour, vibrancy and life. Punchy tones and patterns give the photos a kind of levity, in spite of the( wonderfully) butter-heavy, cloying sweetness of the food itself. Certain foods become badges with a life of their own: waffles constructed in a round waffle-iron; doughnuts glazed or rolled in sugar; funfetti sprinkles. These posts amass huge amounts of interaction from followers, and spawn food trends of their own. First went the savvy Instagrammers, then the foodie public, and then, once we have all moved on to something new, the traditional food press.

Glazed - Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat
Glazed doughnuts from the Sugar Hit blog. Photo: thesugarhit/ Instagram

Once these Instagram-friendly foods run viral, they can completely change the way we eat. Breakfast, for example, has changed from a decidedly unphotogenic cereal or marmalade on toast to the bright hues of avocado toast( there are nearly 250,000 #avocadotoast hashtagged photos on Instagram) and smoothie bowl. Even the humble fry-up has been rebranded, in the hands of the Hemsley sisters, as an oven-baked, meticulously arranged, healthier big breakfast. It looks great and presumably tastes awful, the oven tray is split into neat strips of colour, from leathery lean oven bacon to overdone eggs.

Among the foods billed to gain traction in 2017, todays Waitrose report points to Hawaiian poke and even, in an alarming twisting, vegetable yoghurts. No doubt these will be helped along in the likability stakes with their colorful, snappy Instagram vibe.

There is a big generation gap in this movement, though. According to the Waitrose report, 18 – to 24 -year olds are five times more likely to share photos of their food online than the over 55 s and that is certainly reflected in the types of cuisine, styling and tone that are popular in the online food world. So you are unlikely to find photos of old-fashioned sherry trifles, unpretty Irish stew or traditional meat-and-two-veg meals, unless its in a astutely ironic way.

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A stack of multicoloured macaroons. Photo: Getty Images/ EyeEm

Instead, there are fun, irreverent Instagram food circles, all funfetti and ice-cream sandwiches, and in a twist that is so very 2016 that it makes my soul holler flamingo pool float-shaped cakes. But just as popular are the serious, aspirational channels popularised by accounts such as @violetcakeslondon and @skye_mcalpine. Here, you will find beautifully shot, intricately staged photographs of the food and, crucially, the lifestyles of successful, creative thirtysomethings. These are wishful odes to how serene and perfect your life could be, if only you had the money, the 50 ceramic platters and the time. Perhaps in keeping with the broader asymmetry between the numbers of social media users in different generations, theres a lot less to be seen of older people, or past food styles, in this smart, moneyed, and overwhelmingly young world.

And yet it would be wrong to assume that this online culture doesnt bled through to tint the ways that real people cook and eat. For every wildly successful professional food blogger, there are countless amateurs posting the minutium of their gastronomic day online. Dinners that are Instagrammable take, for instance, Borough Markets Bread Ahead doughnuts, of which there are nearly 5,000 tagged photos on Instagram become viral content in their own right. These foods become the must-eat and, more importantly, must-document meals of the moment. Eateries such as Londons Bao maintain punters queuing out the door just through the photogenic strength of one good dish.( For what its worth, I went to Bao to try their cloud-soft steamed buns and they were as good as they looked ).

Avocado - Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat
Going green: fresh avocado and guacamole. Photo: Getty Images/ iStockphoto

Increasingly, we are being influenced not just in the types of food that we feed, but how we cook and eat that food. The Waitrose report also states that nearly half of us take more care over a dish if we suppose a photo might be taken of it, and virtually 40% claim to worry more about presentation than they did five years ago. We might include a garnish of picked thyme leaves to bring a pop of colour to a lemon drizzle cake, even if that thyme doesnt truly stand strong against the punch of the citrus. I am guilty of weeding out the messy and the misshapen from a batch of doughnuts or muffins before I take a photo. I might add a glaze that nobody wants, simply because it will stimulate the afternoon sunlight catch and glisten in the furrows of the churros I simply fried. Its aesthetic first, savor afterward and, quite often , no taste at all.

The old told that we eat first with our eyes rings true here. If people, in the process of preparing their food with extra care, or receiving a perfectly presented plate, are able to savor that food and that moment a little bit more, all the better. If a home cook can derive a little extra pride from posting their dinner online, thats great. Of course, a photograph can never tell the whole story when it comes to something as tactile, personal and intimate as food, but this isnt about having it all. It is about having fun.

Posting food on social media can reframe the ways that we interact with food on a fundamental level. When we document the food we feed, taking time to enjoy, share and even be proud of it, we also destigmatise it. Although #cleaneating, weight loss and #cleanse food photograph on Instagram have created a shaming, toxic subculture of foodphobia and guilt, there is a still greater faction of foodie social media that rallies against that nastiness. People in recovery from eating disorders are able to chronicle their recovery and celebrate each morsel of food that they are able to eat. In the absence of positive depictions of plus-size people in the mainstream media, social media affords fat people a place where they can subvert the expectations of embarrassment, shyness and prescribed dieting foisted upon them by a fatphobic world. Posting your dinners online whether they are healthy, unhealthy or none of your goddamn business can be a freeing act.

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A perfect dinner for two and thousands of adherents. One of Ruby Tandohs paintings on Instagram. Photograph: ruby.tandoh/ Instagram

If you want to post your dinner online, post away. Upload a picture of that sausage and mash. Dont worry that the sunlight is dim, that the gravy sloshes in a swampy pool across your plate. Sharing is a generous act, but perfectionism suffocates that goodness. Upload the unfiltered, ugly pictures of your failed birthday cake, or your fish and chips in grease-soaked paper. Or, if you want to fuss over the exact positioning of four blueberries on top of a smoothie bowl for an hour before you tuck in, do that but dont forget to enjoy your food. Eat what, and how, you want.

I keep a food diary. It is merely a list in Biro on narrow-ruled newspaper, in a notebook embossed with a gold hotdog. Everything that has really made my tastebuds sing goes on the listing. Hot and sour red lentil soup; a mint chocolate Magnum; hot crumpets with butter and Marmite the words alone create their own various kinds of moreish verse. No great meal goes forgotten and, in theory at least , no culinary mishap is repeated.( Though, truthfully, I have constructed the same rubber-boot pancakes once a month for the past two years .)

This is Instafood v1. 0, the analogue version of the slick, glitzy food media that has taken root online. There is a world of discrepancies between my garish notebook and that good-looking social-media culture, but their function is one and the same. Taking the time to enjoy and to document the dinners we feed is a cathartic luxury. It is almost as nourishing as the food itself.

Read more:

Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat
Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat
Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat
Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat
Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat

Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat

Click Plate: How Instagram Is Changing The Style We Eat

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