In the year 1825, French philosopher and gourmand Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Today, people around the world are obsessed with the #foodstagram fever posting “pretty” food pictures round-the-clock. 

We are living in an era where #Picsoritdidnthappen has become the millennial mantra and jobs like Instagram Food Ambassadors and Food Artist For Social Media are the latest #hotstuff – from Japan’s Little Miss Bento who has conquered Asia and beyond with her beautiful bento artistry to English food ambassadors and #WellnessMovement influencers Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley.

Every time we refresh our social media feed, we spot a food photo. As of now, there are 348 million #food posts on Instagram alone. This makes food the most Instagrammed subject and this is without considering other hashtags like #foodporn #foodstagram # foodie etc that refer to food indirectly. 

We Eat With Our Eyes: A Global Trend

The saying “we eat with our eyes” is more real now than ever before. Posting pictures of food on social media or foodstagram is a global phenomenon- a trend that people are obsessed with. According to reports, almost 30% of Britishers regularly post food photos on Instagram.

Studies reveal that New York is the world’s number one #foodpic hotspot with visitors sharing over one million meal snapshots. Other popular items for food photography on social media are Hong Kong’s authentic dim sums, steak tartare in Paris, Singapore’s Bubble Tea and raindrop cakes, India’s Tandoori Chicken and samosa and vaca frita con maros in Miami.

With the rise of food photography, gastronomic tourism has witnessed an upsurge all over the globe. According to reports from the American Culinary Traveler, the percentage of US gastronomical travellers (who plan their trips around unique dining experiences) has risen to over 50% from 40% between the years 2006 and 2013. Other reports suggest that, in general, over a third of a tourist’s spending is devoted to food. Millions of posts tagged #travel are just photographs of authentic local cuisines from different parts of the world.

Is #Foodstagram More Than (An Annoying) Socio-Cultural Trend?

According to the Huffington Post, some restaurants are so bothered by the foodstagram trend that they have prohibited diners from taking photos of their meals. Funnily enough, cases of people spending too much time capturing their meals lead to the food turning cold and then the diners ask for a fresh set. Chefs started feeling discouraged by this and it became a problem for restaurants on both ends. Some restaurants have started banning cell phones altogether, so people start talking to each other while enjoying their meals.

Psychiatrists believe that obsessively documenting one’s meals could be a signal of a larger dieting problem. Reports claim that psychiatrists around the world are coming across clients for whom food has become a central problem. Foodstagram addicts struggle to go out and not have food be the key element of all social (read virtually) interaction what they eat, where they eat, and when they are going to eat again. This obsessive trend is causing health issues like eating disorders and selective exclusion of anything un-food-related.

The concern doubles when all people do is send pictures of food and the other aspects, such as the occasion, the venue, and even the company is blurred in the background- literally and figuratively. 

Constantly clicking insta-worthy images may signal an unhealthy preoccupation with food. It has been linked to eating issues and weight gain. Television host Mehmet Oz stirred controversies back in 2012 when he said that food porn is making the world fat and some people agreed while some didn’t buy it. However, by 2015 numerous reports suggested that constantly looking at food pictures makes people hungry. 

A study reveals that over 23% of all Instagram users seem to photograph their food for just a photoblog or more like a food diary. And it is seldom spinach, soups or green salads that get posted. Hotdogs, burgers, doughnuts, steaks and tacos are all among the ten most popular Instagrammed foods with pizza being on top of this calorie-laden list.

Food As A Form Of Validation

Another important question that we need to ask is are we posting aesthetic snapshots of gourmet dishes as a part of our visual self-presentation? A study by 360i reveals that over 25% of food photos are motivated by the need to document our day for the public. A desperate need for approval and validation seeking are other strong motives for posting food photos for more than 20% of food photos on Instagram are self-cooked meals, of which their creators are particularly proud.

Scientific studies also reveal that dedicated foodstagrammers can get so accustomed to taking pictures of their food all the time that abstaining from it can make them feel like an important ingredient is missing. 

The Other Side

Despite the dangers and adverse impacts of being an obsessive foodstagrammer, all is not lost. On the brighter side, some reports claim that taking food photos can help patients, especially young women and girls, recover from eating disorders like anorexia. #Foodporn posts can be created and used as food diaries to record the patient’s progress. At the same time, these social media accounts can later serve as a support system in the form of receiving likes from other users.

So, maybe boomeranging brunch is not all bad. 

I think that as far as we are in control of our social media behaviour and not the other way around, it’s still okay. But we have to draw a line somewhere. Every time we sit down for dinner, we have to remember the time when the dining table was for dining and catching up with loved ones, not an opportunity to flex your digits.

The next time you order a meal just because it is “omg so pretty” or “in”, remember that there are people in this world who are literally starving to death. Global hunger and food wastage is real, that’s something we all need to spare a moment to think about.