Foodie Underground: A Critique of Our Obsession with Food Photos

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ColumnDo we have a food porn problem?

It was just another Wednesday night. I was craving dessert, and the only reasonable choice was some coconut milk and melted chocolate combination. (Note: coconut milk and chocolate are two things you will always find in my pantry – you never know when you will find yourself in a dessert crisis situation.) So I melted the two, poured the concoction into small glasses and threw them into the freezer for a quick mousse-like thing. Really, it was more like a thick chocolatey sorbet, which no one is going to complain about. A few chopped hazelnuts on top and it was, well… delicious.

First instinct: take a picture. Upload it to Instagram! Brag about that use of cardamom! And don’t forget the candied ginger you put in last minute.

Why is it that when we succeed in the kitchen we immediately whip out our phones?

I am the first person to admit that I have a serious problem (verging on extreme obsession) when it comes to photographing my food; but that doesn’t mean I don’t also find it annoying. Why is it that we can’t make a dish without documenting it for all of eternity?

Take a few minutes to peruse food blogs and you’ll quickly see that most of the popular ones are well-versed in the skills of food photography. I have nothing against this. If you understand the value of food, you understand the value of aesthetics, too, and most of the time the two go very much hand in hand. But here’s the problem: we’re so enthralled with the images that we could care less about the recipe.

When was the last time you picked up a cookbook or looked at a food blog that wasn’t image heavy? It’s called “food porn” for a reason: it’s selling you a lifestyle that may or may not be attainable in your 45 kitchen minutes every day. Because let’s be honest: you don’t have time to perfectly position that sprig of rosemary next to your handcrafted artisan silverware. You just want to eat.

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We all like a little inspiration, but it often goes too far, and if you look at certain food magazines you start seeing a theme. Shot from up above. All white, hand-thrown plates. A jam jar carefully positioned in the corner. A bread crumb on the side.

Real cooking isn’t staged. It’s messy. And if you’re photographing – particularly on your own – you’re mixing in a bowl with one hand and trying to awkwardly hold your camera in the other, because god forbid you put a recipe on the internet without a photo of your hands in action taken with a shallow depth of field.

We love food photos, because in some way, it brings us together. It helps us share a moment with those that are far away. A coffee photo sent to a friend you wish you could have a live conversation with is almost as good as the real thing. But we have to find a balance. The balance between obsessively photographing all that we eat and uploading it at every second and enjoying food for food’s sake. It’s okay to eat without telling anyone about it. In fact, food can be an enjoyable experience even when not shared. If you factor in the global population, most people are just focused on putting enough food on the table, forget getting the right angle on their soy mocha craft-roasted cappuccino.

Here’s a challenge: stop taking food photos, just for one meal and one recipe. Focus on the moment. The essence of cooking. The company around you. The recipe and the photo can wait until later. For now, focus on the beautiful serendipity that comes from putting ingredients together and enjoying the result, without telling anyone about it.

This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.

Images: Anna Brones

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