Monday, May 28, 2018


Back in the day, there was a whole slew of food photography sites like Tastespotting and Foodgawker. Serious Eats even had a version that was quite a bit less-nitpicky regarding photographic standards, considering they accepted so many of my crappy images. But now we have Instagram, which allows anyone and everyone to post their photos online for the world to see. Most photos are pretty bad, and there are lots of selfies of moderately-attractive people who clearly have healthy egos. (I may or may not be including any and all Kardashians in this category.) Thankfully, one can follow whom one likes on IG, so my feed is full of photos of food and cute dogs. One of my very favorite accounts combines both: Popeye the Foodie is a mixed-breed cutie-pie who patiently poses all over Los Angeles with the most delicious looking foods. There's no way I could get my mutt to sit still with a steak in front of him! (He has his own account, too.)

I wasn't an early adopter of the IG, but a fellow food writer suggested that it was the thing right now and I had better jump on the bandwagon. (Ironically, she barely posts at all.) Once I got serious about it, my photographs improved and sometimes I actually enjoy it. It's certainly easier than blogging, which is why its so popular. One doesn't need writing skills or even an attention span to be an Instagram star.

But what makes an Instagram star? Or, as they're usually called, "influencers." Hell if I can figure it out! There are people with wildly popular accounts who get hundreds of likes per photo and almost as many comments. Some of these accounts are merely recycling the content of other accounts. I might see the same photo or video in my feed three times in the course of a day, posted by three different, unrelated, accounts. The original poster is often (but not always) credited. I think it's fine to repost an image if you want to bring special attention to the account holder, if it's a post about a charitable event, for example. I've had my photos reposted by the restaurants in which I have taken them; that's an acknowledgement that they appreciate the way I am promoting their establishment. And it's kind of an honor. But reposting a Buzzfeed Tasty video that received 1.2 million views seems like a cheap way to attract likes to your own account. Maybe it's ok to do it once or twice, but if an account's entire content is videos and images originally posted to other, more popular, accounts, that just seems wrong.

I also can't figure out why some photos are more popular than others. It does seem that certain foods will get more likes, regardless if the photo is good or not: pizza; tacos; burgers; ice cream; donuts; dumplings. Fattening junk food. Some might wonder about the sheer volume of these foods consumed around the world, but I fear much of it is discarded, having been used merely as a photo prop. Those cheeseburgers comprising 10 patties stacked precariously between layers of cheese and condiments are probably going to end up in the garbage can next to that mountain of tater tots topped with nacho fixins. For one thing, who can eat something like that without going into cardiac arrest? Sure, it can be shared among multiple people, but if multiple foodies are going out to eat together, you can be sure that each one of them will be ordering something that can be photographed. Which creates a lot of food waste.

I was at a media dinner not that long ago where an IGer ordered a deep-fried burger just for the novelty of it. He took one bite, then left the rest on his plate. He had no intention of eating the burger; he just wanted to photograph it because it seemed ridiculous. It reminded me of childhood mealtime admonishments about the starving children in China or wherever. But that's no joke. There are starving kids right here in the US that would love to have a decent meal, and we are throwing perfectly good food away after using it as a prop. It's shameful. And in all honesty, those over-the-top food images are not really attractive.

I for one eat everything on my plate, which is how I have achieved my rotund physique over the years. I won't order anything that I wouldn't enjoy, and if it happens that there is too much food on the table (because there were too many good choices on the menu and I couldn't control myself), the leftovers are always taken home. And if you don't believe that we don't eventually eat them, check out my feed and read the captions. If I've recycled leftovers, I mention it. Just the other day, I used leftover aromatic shrimp from Szechuan House in a pasta dish. There was a ton of barely cooked bell pepper, onion, and garlic in the container, and there was no obvious exotic-flavored sauce to the dish. I used all of it, along with more fresh veg, a can of clams with their juice, and lots of fresh herbs, all tossed with squid ink spaghetti. It was great, and didn't taste like leftovers at all. But I digress.....

Another thing that irks me--people who use filters on food photos. IMNSHO, food looks good when it's completely natural. Best with natural light, too, but that's not always possible. There are plenty of editing tools in IG to bring out the best in any photo (the highlight and shadow tools are the most valuable and most under-utilized), so there's no reason to apply Aiden or Nashville. If it's a shitty picture, nothing will help, certainly not making the whole thing look more brown or washed-out. Also, people who think it's attractive to rip a donut apart to see the gooey chocolate cream inside (sorry, it looks like poop) or a raspberry-filled croissant (it looks like blood and guts). Especially in a video.

Do I have a problem with Instagram? No. If I did, I wouldn't be fiddling with it on a daily basis, worrying if I have any good food photos on my camera and attempting to come up with the occasionally interesting caption (not that anyone reads them). I just have a problem with some users. But I have a problem with some people. Or people in general.

Feel free to ignore my somewhat pointless rant. I'm sure you will.

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