A large and growing number of people obsessively take and share photos of their food. Are we in danger of losing the ability to simply enjoy a meal?
The world was blessed with yet another food photography app last week, underscoring (or fuelling?) the growing obsession with visually recording
everything we eat. From slices of toast to smears of jus, countless millions of us now feel so compelled to snap our dinner it seems that our ability
to sit down and just enjoy a meal is in danger of being lost.
Platter, a new app that tags and shares food images, joins a host of social media that allow us to enthral the world with photos of what we eat. Leader
of the pack, Foodspotting, has had more than 1m food images uploaded to its site in the past two years and others like Foursquare, fidd.me, SnapDish
and Instagram are driving the trend. Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest are also awash with plates of food; one of the most prolific Flickr groups is I
Ate This, where more than 25,000 members have uploaded 470,000 images ranging from plain old Marmite on toast though to various expressions of
The author of food blog A Girl Has To Eat (who remains anonymous for the purposes of reviewing) takes photographs every time she eats out – that’s 250
restaurants over the past three years – and has never received any flak for doing it. “No-one blinks when you take pictures any more,” she says. Food
blogger Libby Andrews, author of Ravenous Libby, says friends and family know the drill. “When a plate is set down in front of us, no one’s allowed to
touch it until I’ve taken a quick snap.” she says. “That said, I’m not pulling out a giant camera and setting up lighting – I’m just quickly taking a
shot with my iPhone.”
But why do non-food bloggers feel the need to record their food? In 2011 a survey on Online Food & Photo Sharing Trends (pdf) by digital marketing
agency 360i found that one-quarter of those sharing food photos were, more mundanely, simply publishing a food diary. “People see personal value in
just sharing the simple moments in life,” the survey found. A further 22% were pretty much “showing off” their gustatory achievements, while others
were simply recording a special occasion (16%), creating “food art” (12%) or capturing family or friends guzzling food (10%).
It all puts restaurants in a tricky place. Most happy snappers, let’s face it, shouldn’t give up their day jobs and can make a meticulously plated dish
resemble a dog’s breakfast. Perhaps that’s why Heston Blumenthal bans cameras at The Fat Duck. Or maybe he just wants us to focus our minds and palates
– not our cameras – on the food. (Alternatively, he might think it reduces the experience to tacky gourmet tourism. I’m thinking here of the
unflattering publicity TV presenter Phillip Schofield attracted a couple of years ago when he Tweeted naff pictures of himself tucking in to his Fat
But in a completely unscientific mini survey, I couldn’t find any other eateries that actually ban cameras, although The Ritz prefers it if you don’t
play LaChapelle with your amuse bouche. Most restaurants now accept cameras over plates as a fact of life and some actually value having their food in
the Tweetosphere. Juliette Wall from Pho Vietnamese restaurants says: “I don’t mind people taking pictures of their food; it’s nice they’re proud of
what they eat. Some people do get a bit arty but I can understand they want the food to look good. After all, what you eat – and what you want to admit
to eating publicly on social media – is a reflection of yourself.”
Whatever the reason so many of us photograph our food, maybe it’s time to take stock. A much hyped new game in the US somewhat prosaically called the
phone stack claims to offer a solution to uncivilized interruptions to dinner caused by mobile phones. The idea is that after everyone has placed their
order, phones are stacked in the middle of the table and the first person to submit to temptation and answer one that rings must pick up the bill for
Should we go one step further and include the first person to pick up a phone and photograph their plate?