< SWITCH ME >

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Photo: Micah Rich(Wikimedia Commons); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I am inherently a sharer and when it comes to sharing the food-that-I’m-eating at any given time, I will gladly share. I particularly enjoy the Spanish tapas way of sharing. Sure, we could alternatively happily split a pizza between us over a bottle of fine, although I am no connoisseur, red wine. But ultimately sharing food in 2017 has a whole other meaning and affects even the greedy food hoarders who’d rather sod the tapas and get at their independent supermarket meal deal. Disclaimer: I am a big fan of the ‘meal deal’ and will proudly sport one as substitute for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sharing food in 2017 means sharing a picture of your food on social media. 

Instagram, of course, takes the lead as the best social media channel to showcase a poor attempt at food stylist photography, to a mere hundred followers. And it happens to the best of us, we get served an attractive plate of food and almost instinctively we crave to share an image of what we’re eating with our followers. The double-taps start trickling in and that slight buzz one feels as the notifications pop off might enhance the flavour of your meal as well as contributing to your social media presence. 

Instagram, of course, takes the lead as the best social media channel to showcase a poor attempt at food stylist photography, to a mere hundred followers.

In 2010, prior to the app becoming Instagram, the founders, Systrom and Kreiger, created Burbn, which was then abandoned as a project because it became too similar to Foursquare. Foursquare is a food recommendation app, so Intasgram’s ancestry also features food. Catapult yourself to 2016 and viral Instagram food content has led to some quirky creations and trends; rainbow bagels, cronuts, sushi bagels, vegan fried chicken, you name it - Instagram trends have it all. Unsurprisingly, a recent Waitrose report showed that approximately 130,000 pictures of food are shared solely in the UK every single day, no wonder trends continue to prop up and brief a la Buzzfeed Tasty food videos, flood our newsfeed.  

It’s not hard to see the foodie rise on Instagram as a consequence of social media influencers themselves. By influencers we mean those who have a high number of followers on a social media channel. Take a look at Chiara Ferragni, one of the first bloggers turned social media influencer. Although the focus of her channel is fashion and her entrepreneurial projects, she shares what she eats relentlessly to her now 8 million followers.  And as Instagram is an aspirational channel, we envy her style but also the food she eats. The Waitrose report further showed that most of the users sharing food pictures are millennials (18 to 35 year olds). Millennials created the Instagram food craze because they focus on cherishing experiences and collecting memories as opposed to material items. Predictably, we crave to share our experiences on social media constantly and we want eating (a basic human necessity) to also be a memory we can cherish. We crave for eating to be a weird, wonderful and instagrammable experience. I strongly believe that spending too much time deciding the filter you pick for a picture of your Sunday brunch is a waste of time (hypocritical: as anyone who checks my Instagram would notice, I have shared pictures of food many a time), but I find it fascinating that this behaviour is truly global. When in this day walls are being built between nations and borders are closing, we’re meshing traditional national food and coming up with some weird and wonderful new combinations. If it hadn’t been for Instagram, I don’t think that the colourful Sushi bagel would’ve been created. I’m not sure I’m ever going to try it but it’s still out there if I want to. 

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Photo: Pauline Kletti (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

The trend goes as follows. What was once a pretty heavily edited food picture, that was well-known amongst the savvy Instagram users, then subsequently picked up by the ‘foodie’ people and eventually, after we’ve moved on the next food trend, it lands on the eyes of general media to become viral -- then you’ve created a new food trend. Take avocado as an example, the hashtag has over 5.5 million posts tagged and is now a brunch staple. By the time my grandma hears about rainbow bagels they’ll be as distant as the presence of a T-rex on Earth. When photogenic food gains traction on Instagram, it can completely affect the way we eat. Starting with, in my eyes, the most boring meal of the day: breakfast. If you follow Goodful on Instagram, you’ll know they’ve completely managed to rock the socks off a bowl of porridge by introducing smoothie bowls. Pane e marmellata has turned into avocado on toast and Weetabix seems to be as vintage a presence as Marilyn Monroe. A more recent trend: unicorn toast, following on from mermaid toast, made of pixie dust. It presumably looks great and the colourful streaks on the bleak brown bread make a contrast worth of a hundred pictures but the truth is it tastes a bit like saw dust. 

New restaurants, pop-ups and foods race against time to be featured on these accounts to create a stream of hashtagged posts and gain popularity as quickly as possible. It's not only about how it's going to taste, but is it Instagram worthy?

Although a new food trend is always right round the corner, it’s hard to ‘make it’, because Instagram food fanatics are looking for fun, bold, colour-stained food. The food has to be fun or in some way different to ‘make it’ in the Instragram world. Unicorn toast ‘made it’ because it is colourful and fun and aesthetically pleasing. My grandma’s home-made cavatelli al sugo, the best in the world might I add, are rough and ready and Instagram users wouldn't cotton on because in reality they look like white slugs, with a pale red from the tomato passata served in faded flowery bowl. Even though I swear by them, they’re no bright purple beetroot pancakes. Foodie influencers are the spearhead the next food trend. Take for example the UK-based Instagram sensation Clerkenwell-boy, whose mouth-watering food images are envied by many users and created a staggering number of pseudo-foodie profiles. New restaurants, pop-ups and foods race against time to be featured on these accounts to create a stream of hashtagged posts and gain popularity as quickly as possible. It’s not only about how it’s going to taste, but is it Instagram worthy? The minute a picture of any food goes viral it becomes the must eat now or die food. 

 

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Photo Courtesy of Francesca Monticelli

Moreover, we are being influenced not only by the types of food we eat, but also how we cook it. Buzzfeed Tasty has created a successful method to share recipes in a short video format from around the world. Copycat accounts like Tastemade and Bon Appetit Mag are successful in their own right. Tastemade has country specific channels so recipes from around the world are shared in the under-1 minute video format.  The sprinkle of bright green chives is a prominent feature in these videos, although I am not 100% convinced chives should go on pasta (sorry), but in the quest to achieve the perfect image then yes the bright green colour of the chives is a lovely contrast with the yellow colour of the cheese and the beige lasagne sheets. Looks matter first, then taste. A recent study showed that children under the age of 10 in the UK have now tried hummus, avocados and quinoa. I don’t think I even knew what quinoa was till I was 20. 

Despite political turmoil, we continually share the food we eat wherever we’re from so I think food sharing should be championed. And yes true, I despise it sometimes, the need or urge many, including myself, feel to instantly take a picture of the food we’re eating when we could actually be engaging with the person we are with rather than instagramming it. But food sharing on Instagram is something I believe we should embrace. Whether you’re posting a tomato and pea curry that you’ve finally aced or the comfort food you’re tucking into after a hard day at work, it can truly be liberating. The way we celebrate food through a lens is an act of global togetherness, a meshing of gastronomical rituals that should continue to evolve. And it’s a stark contrast to the clean eating frenzy seen on social media, perpetuated by someone like Deliciously Ella. The phrase “Eat with your Eyes” couldn't be more relevant.

 

Screen Shot 2017 04 01 at 13.55.36ABOUT THE author

Francesca Monticelli graduated with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences from UCL and is now working in PR. 

She is interested in travelling, popular science and food. She is Italian, from Rome and you can follow her on Twitter @fran_monticelli

Photo: Francesca Castelli (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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