You are at a juice bar with your best friend. The waiter brings your acai bowl to the table. You reach for your spoon and pull your bowl close to you when your friend screams, “Wait I need a picture!” She immediately grabs your plate and tries to get the best angle. She moves towards the window to get a better shot with the natural light. She raises the saturation and picks out the perfect filter. She spends ten minutes coming up with a witty caption then shares it on Instagram. Your picture-perfect smoothie bowl is now soup, and you drink it while your friend refreshes her feed to see if anyone liked her picture.
To people new to the world of foodstagramming and “phone eats first” mentality, it is a phenomenon where people take pictures of their food and post them on Instagram before they eat it. This happens in restaurants, coffee shops, grocery stores, and even in our very own kitchens.
When you scroll through social media you are bound to be hit with two completely opposite messages: eat sushirittos, edible cookie dough, unicorn anything (food with glitter on it), rainbow bagels, fancy milkshakes or go drink this diet tea, eat clean, do this workout.
I have been part of the problem. Last year I started a separate Instagram account with the mindset that I was being a healthy chef sharing gut-friendly recipes. The problem with this was: I am not a chef, nor am I talented at cooking, I am simply a girl with tummy problems and dietary restrictions who likes to take pictures of food.
My foodstagram started out with good intentions: to create allergy-friendly food recipes and share them with other people who have gut issues. I felt pride and accomplishment when sharing my dishes with the world, but the account was also an act of defense. I live with a chronic illness and am always receiving questions about my diet. It was my way of proving to the world that I do eat healthily and that I was doing everything in my power to promote my health. But when you are stressed out about eating healthy, is that still healthy? Also, let’s be honest “healthy food” doesn’t always taste good. Like is anyone seriously happy after eating a kale salad?
A majority of the food I would post was healthy remakes of snacks and they are often gluten-free, dairy-free, and paleo due to dietary restrictions I have from my autoimmune disease. I began to get messages from strangers who have stomach problems asking me for nutrition advice. (Advice that I was by no means qualified to give.) Everybody is different, and just because these diets worked for me and my conditions doesn’t mean that they will work for everyone with stomach problems. If you scroll through the hashtags #cleaneating, #healthyeats, #glutenfree #paleo, on Instagram you will find hundreds of pictures of Insta-worthy food, and thousands of more people commenting on them asking for health advice.
Now, this is not to say that every foodstagrammer is problematic, in fact, I actually love getting recipes and finding new restaurants off of Instagram. As someone with a lot of food intolerances, it is great to meet people who are facing the same struggles as me and get their recommendations of places to eat or products to buy. Although a lot of times the meal doesn’t add up to the saturated pictures of it I saw before I got there — it is fun to try something new.
The problem is when people change their diets based on a hashtag on Instagram, when they buy a 30 dollar ice cream cone, “just for the picture,” when they are unsatisfied with their meal because it doesn’t look picture-perfect, and when they spend 40 minutes letting their food get cold while obsessing over getting the perfect filter.
There is nothing wrong with wanting a smoothie bowl that looks like a piece of fine art. In fact, I absolutely love going to trendy “Instagrammable” food places. But there is a problem if you allow trends dictate what you want to eat and if you aren’t satisfied with the meal rather than the likes you get from the picture of it that you post on your Instagram feed.
Think twice next time you allow your phone to eat first and don’t fall for other people’s “click-plate.”