Stop telling me not to Instagram my food
Right now, halfway through 2014, a quick Google for "Instagramming + food" retrieves an entire first page of results comprised of opinion pieces against the practice. There's the out-and-out "foodstagramming" takedowns (GQ, Adweek,McSweeney's), the "reports" & "evidence" on why it's facetious and ruining dining (The Atlantic, TIME, Huffington Post, ... Huffington Post), a claim that the behavior's best feature is highlighting food waste (TreeHugger.com), a trend piece on a restaurant paying people to post pictures of their food (The Daily Dot), and weird exhortations to start snapping the food's packaging instead (Upworthy. Of course.)
But below those 10 mostly-negative articles, there sits a neat stack of related search terms: "food instagram hashtags". "food instagram accounts". "food instagram mental". [all lowercase sic; emphasis mine.] Forget 10 articles maligning foodstagramming -- there could be 100 or 1,000, and people would still photograph their meals.
So here's a dose of 2014 reality for the haters who want to bar you from snapping a photo at the bar/restaurant: there are times when Instagramming a dazzling drink or heaping plate is totally fine. Totally. Fine. When someone gives me the business for hovering my iPhone over a totes-perf eggs Benny or pitch-black cup of coffee, I give them the business right back.
I'm not eating till Instagram gets fixed! How am I suppose to enjoy a meal if I can't get likes on it?!— Tiara Bella (@TIARABELLAAA) April 12, 2014
Here's when & why the people who tell you to stop Instagramming your meals are just flat-out wrong:
Remember where you've eaten
In today's cage-free, farm-to-table world, we talk about the culinary pedigree of Cleveland & Jackson in the same breath we do New York City & San Francisco. There's home mixology and hand-stuffed sausage and pickled everything. You might feel like a bit of a tool for saying something like "which artisanal nose-to-tail butcher collective should I buy my charcuterie from?", but you wouldn't be carted off to the insane asylum.
This is a dense, complex, and delicious playing field, and you'll need a game plan. Instagram is that. Pull up your feed, and you'll know where you ate & what you drank, all geo-located and pretty for your review. It trumps sifting through old Yelp reviews and Foursquare check-ins. It's an up-to-date passport of your life & times. Unlike an actual passport, though, you can use it to document a tasty burger one minute, then, in the next minute, use it to send tasteful nudes to consenting sexual partners while eating said burger. That's pretty terrific.
Surface food & drink that you've never encountered before
I live in a small city on the Western tip of Long Island called Brooklyn, New York. You may have heard of it. At last count, there were approximately infinity different ethnic groups living there, and each of 'em has their own cuisine. Have you ever seen a picture of West Indian food? It looks like the best thing you've ever eaten in your entire life. And guess what? It is.
Unless you were born & raised inside a Six Flags, your hometown's food scene has gotten bigger.
Call me "close-minded" or "sheltered" or "a white person from the suburbs", but I didn't grow up eating jerk chicken. Unless I stumbled across an Instagram of jerk, tagged at a restaurant literally four blocks away from my Prospect Heights apartment, I may've never gone out of my way to try some. Thank you, jerk-Instagrammer. You're NOT a jerk.
Balance Yelp's sometimes-misleading vitriol
Don't get me wrong: there's nothing like a particularly scathing (or particularly dumb) Yelp review. It's magnificent. But Instagram is a really nice counterbalance to the persistent rants you find on that site.
Before you go to a restaurant, check out its geo-tag on the 'gram. You'll get more photos -- and way better photos -- of the food, drink, and atmosphere. People Instagram the absolute best food/drink presentation possible, so if you average it out against Yelp's sometimes-snotty citizen-journalists, you've got a more holistic view on what the experience will be like. Which is nice.
Mobile devices are now a part of life. Accept this.
The case against Instagramming meals is usually made with the same condescending rhetoric that opponents of cell phones and emails used in decades past. "It's ruining the art of conversation!" "It's making everyone dumber!" "No one pays attention to the world around them anymore!" For shame.
The couple at the adjacent table looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
I get it -- technology is changing our lifestyle. It's a little scary, and you hate it. But guess what? Smartphones aren't going anywhere for the moment. Our degree of connectivity is only going to rise. You can hem & haw about this truth, but it's the truth. Throwing a tantrum at the sight of another diner pulling out an iPhone is not beating back the tides of change, my guys. In fact, all it does is make you look like a Luddite.
Food & drink culture IS culture (and this is part of it)
Earlier this year, GQ published another article targeting food culture. This one claimed that #millennials go to beer bars just to say we've drunk there, and collect hard-to-get reservations like trophies. The piece positions foodstagramming as one of the "worst tendencies" to rise from this transactionalism of food & drink culture. Whatever shall we do?, it laments. People are self-identifying with restaurants the way they used to with Radiohead!
This is mostly true, but it's not bad news. In fact, it's not news at all. When Harry Met Sally, released in 1989, has a line about this restaurant-reverence: "Restaurants are to people in the '80s what theatre was to people in the '60s." Unless you were born & raised inside a Six Flags, your hometown's food & drink scene has probably only gotten bigger & better ever since. Eating isn't a distraction or an addendum to cultural participation; it is cultural participation.
It's a dense, delicious playing field, and Instagram is your game plan.
Instagram is the democratic cultural interaction on a scale that music blogs & book clubs could never offer to their respective constituencies. It's not bad, or even good; it just is. Denying that is sticking your head in the sand.
Bonus reason: #Building #Your #Brand!
The food & drink writers/amateur chefs/aspiring mixologists reading this have double the right to Instagram their digestibles before digesting them. Not only is it totally valid behavior for anyone (as infallibly demonstrated above), but also, we're in this because it's part of the job -- either one we want, or one we already have.
For example, I often go to lunch with Andrew Zimmer (Thrillist's New York editor), because we're colleagues and, also, basically best friends, which is sweet. The other day, we were poppin' killer 'grams of a voluptuous pastrami sandwich at Mile End. The couple at the adjacent table looked at each other and rolled their eyes, as if to say: "we're so much better than these f*ckin' douchebags".
They didn't know that I write about food culture for a living. Or that my man Zimmer covers NYC's restaurant scene like white on rice. Or that throwing up a 'grammy of this sammy is how we pay the bills. In other words, they didn't know that we LIVE THIS FOOD LIFE, you guys. (This is not how I talk in real life, by the way.) Whether they -- or you -- care to accept it, having a presence on social media is a part of this beat. So step off.
Look, there's no doubt people take foodstagramming over the line. Those people are annoying, and they'd be annoying even if Instagramming your food had never been invented. But next time you try to snark your way in on some innocent girl (or me) taking a picture of a #lobster #roll, remember two things:
- This cultural force has more benefit than detriment, and it brings the 'grammer a small bit of validating joy. Don't ruin that just because you're an ancient coot.
- Literally every self-styled funnyman on the Internet has already said some version of what you're about to say.
You mad, bro?
Dave Infante is a senior writer for Thrillist Food & Drink. At least he won't be unoriginal. (That's a Good Will Hunting quote. This is irony.) Follow him on Twitter & his brand new Instagram account.