Feed your taste buds first, and followers second

When we take photos of our food, who–or what–at are we feeding?

All photos by Eun Hee Kwon.

Slow endless cheese pulls. Seductively smooth chocolate ribbons. Rainbow colored bagels with funfetti cream cheese spreads. These colorful, mouth-watering menu items have taken over our social media feeds for quite some time now. They’ve also become a key method of survival for the food industry, with more companies curating more picture-perfect food photos in the hopes of luring in more patrons. Today, there are entire agencies dedicated to the art of creating viral food porn and, ultimately, filling the seats of restaurants around the world.

The infamous Unicorn Latte from Starbucks.

Part of my job is creating images much like these, but as a millennial whose average monthly expenses are heavily weighted towards food and drinks, I also feel torn about the boom of foodie-friendly social media marketing.

I regularly read food-related websites. I follow the most recent food award nominations and industry news. I am the person who books and plans trips, domestic and international, solely based around culinary experiences, the crazy who saves for weeks to snag a meal at a bucket list restaurant.

You probably get the point. It’s not too much an overstatement to say that I live to eat.

Tacos in Mexico City (pc: EHK).

The food-loving part of me is disheartened by the lack of recognition that talented chefs receive on the regular–because they’re being overshadowed by gold speckled confections, and giant sugary milkshakes. Now it takes a well-crafted photo for people to consider eating at a restaurant–instead of the food, or the staff, or the experience as a whole. We’ve all been out to eat and watched someone whip out their phone to “get the shot” before their ube ice cream melts and drips down its artisanal chocolate cone, or before their gooey mac and cheese gets cold and chunky. Many people now look at dining out as a means of feeding their followers,rather than for their own taste buds.

That said, there are plenty of people who absolutely nail the food and the social media game–restaurants that manage to find the balance between what’s photogenic and what’s delicious, and people who capture delectable feasts with artful finesse. I too partake in what has become one of my generation’s most common hobbies, taking photos of the food I eat wherever I go. (And yes I am also that person who doesn’t let her friends eat before she manages to get some good shots in.)

And while I sometimes feel grim about the food vs. social media situation, the creative part of me is exhilarated by the sometimes classic, sometimes unconventional uses of color. Having worked in the digital–and largely social media–part of the industry, the well thought out use of color and the latest features in different platforms constantly inspire me to continue shooting food.

I am not here to criticize the “grammification” of all things these days–I appreciate the aesthetically pleasing donut shops and enviable brunch spreads as much as the next person. I just think that, as with everything phone-related these days, we should think about taking a break every once in a while. So go ahead and snap that stunning cheese plate, Boomerang those clinking glasses of rose–heck, order the tie-dyed, unicorn-themed sundae with extra sprinkles. But when you’re done snapping pics, throw your phone on silent, tuck it in your pocket, and enjoy your picturesque feast with some good friends and uninterrupted conversation.

At the end of the day, the reason I love food so much is that it tells a story, after all.