In defense of obnoxious Instagram dinner photos

By Danielle Chilton

People love to complain about people taking pictures of food on Instagram. Social media curmudgeons like to claim that it’s self-absorbed faux-art, a sign of an eating disorder, or even that the mere action of taking a picture of food is making it not taste as good. Apparently posting a photo of avocado toast automatically puts you into the basic bitch category.

Food is delicious. Food is what we have in front of us when we sit down with the people we love. Food is full of brilliant colors. Food is the creative manifestation of recipes handed down for generations and generations. Food is, with water, shelter, and clothing, a basic human need. Food is art.

So what’s so wrong with taking pictures of it?

If you hate people Instagramming their food, what you really hate is Instagram. You likely complain a lot about people “oversharing,” and that’s OK. Instagram feeds are filled with narcissistic selfies and parents often sharing the grossest aspects of their babies’ lives. Oversharing is a valid complaint, but why are food photos getting such a bad reputation? When you roll your eyes at the food photos on your Instagram feed, you’re rolling your eyes at the idea that someone could be so into themselves that they assume that you would care about what they ate for lunch. You’re wrong.

Instagram is a platform where people share their lives through their own eyes. Instead of me saying, “It’s a beautiful day to take a walk in the park,” I can simply take a picture of green trees and blue sky, and you can see exactly what I see. We Instagram at bars, at concerts, and at a beautiful sunset on our way home from work. Hell, we sometimes just hold the phone up and Instagram our own faces doing a duck face. But I’m annoying if I Instagram my spinach salad with the greenest leaves I’ve ever seen?

Often food photos are not even about creativity or culinary aesthetics but rather serve as mile markers in our lives.

Artistic photography no longer requires an expensive fancy camera and spending hours in a darkroom. All anyone needs is a smartphone and a set of filters. Maybe it’s not always groundbreaking genius and maybe it’s accessible, but it’s still art, and it can still be beautiful.

Art snobs love to complain about how Instagram is not real photography, but culinary photography has been around for years and was mostly used for advertisements before Instagram brought the practice to the masses. And just because it’s quick and easy, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any creativity in the process.

Cooking is a lot like photography on a smartphone; you don’t have to have much formal training to be able to do it well. It is an accessible skill in a way that traditional art skills are not nearly so widespread. Many people can’t paint or sculpt, but they can sure as hell cook up pancakes and eggs before you’ve even had a chance to take a sip of coffee. If someone cooks something spectacular, done with the care and precision needed to master a recipe, they should feel free to snap a photo of it and remember their art before it’s gone without worrying about someone scrolling through their feed and rolling their eyes. Instagram provides a mode for the average person in the kitchen who concocts something beautiful to capture and share their creations for the entire world to see.

Often food photos are not even about creativity or culinary aesthetics but rather serve as mile markers in our lives. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a picture of food represents so much more than the food itself. So many of our proud moments and lasting memories are decorated by food. A food photograph can represent that time you finally nailed that Pinterest lasagna recipe, or that time you got a promotion and could finally treat yourself to a fancy steak dinner without worrying about overdrawing your bank account. It can represent that time you finally got to go on a date with your crush and you got to know each other with a boat of sushi in front of you, and from then on you couldn’t pass that sushi restaurant without thinking of him or her.

We take for granted just how much of the mundanity of our lives involves food.

Photos of food are often merely a symbol of what is surrounding it: the people you love, the new city you’re vacationing in, or a time in your life where you’re exploring new adventures just like you’re exploring new tastes on your plate.

Instagram photos could be considered an essential part of foodie culture. We make a hobby of frequenting the trendiest restaurants that serve up the hippest new dishes that try to put bacon or kale on everything. We want to try all the quick dishes at the new food truck. We’ll get on Yelp and write reviews about what we loved and hated, making recommendations for the foodies who will follow in our footsteps wondering what’s good. We truly love food and part of that love of food extends to sharing it.

Instagram food photos are ridiculed because many fail to see the complex significance of food in our culture. We take for granted just how much of the mundanity of our lives involves food. What is great about social media is that it can let us quickly share our lives and connect with people we love who are far away. We can speak to them over video chat, or can tweet how our workday is going and they can see it right as it’s happening. Sharing things like baby photos can bring those far away to a place where they can follow along with your life just as if they were there. Food is the same way; maybe we can’t share a meal with friends and family that aren’t in the same place with us, but a photo of a meal is as close as we can get sometimes.

Food is something that we all share. Can’t we just stop arguing about it already?


Photos by illogicnet/Instagram (C) used with permission