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sharing photos of food

Eleanor Morgan is fantastically nosy about what people eat. Luckily for her, social media makes all her sticky-beaked dreams a Valencia-tinted reality...

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I don’t know about you, but I have a very healthy interest in my dinner. And breakfast, lunch and every snack inbetween. I care about meals a lot. I care about other people’s too. Even the girl who was in my form at school, the one who always smelt faintly of condensed mushroom soup, who posts pictures of lunches that are usually a riff on that heady Shell garage tasting menu of a cheese “slice”, Doritos and a bottle of Lucozade Sport. Yes, she eats them in an M11 lay-by, and yes there is more than a faint whiff of Partridge about her (she even drives a Lexus, I think), but who am I to judge? 

“No one cares what you had for lunch” was, and still is, one of people’s biggest bugbears about social media, though. Particularly Instagram, where, at any given time, the food to face ratio can be alarming. Alarmingly lovely.

The funny thing is, though, that the people who reel the most at people’s pictures of sandwiches are often the ones who clot my timeline asking for advice on everything from what new laptop to buy, where to go this weekend, where to get a new set of keys cut, what flavour of Toilet Duck they should be using, or, even better, a rambling, neggy response to something they’ve seen on the internet that day, begging for a virtual debate. We’re all needy, and social media only makes it all worse, but I struggle to see how a lovely, brown-washed picture of a roast dinner that someone has spent hours cooking and is gently peacocking around the kitchen with pride over - even if it may look like a choked Thames Estuary tributary - is somehow more annoying.

Pictures of food, for the most part, aren’t pretending to be anything they’re not. If you post a picture of a nice dinner you’ve eaten you’re not trying to advance a political agenda or say you’re really smart. You’re sharing a day-to-day thing that happened to be a bit special, for whatever reason, at that moment in time. That’s all it is. A moment. When I ate at Noma it was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to me and everything, down to the cutlery, napkins and the bogs, was a fizzy knickers moment. To some people that will sound ridiculous. I don’t care. I didn’t go overboard sharing pictures of the food, though, as I thought people would sneer. Now I wish I’d just thought “fuck it” instead of only sending the pictures of the live shrimp in a jar of ice to my dad. Being ashamed of excitement is a sad thing.

Food binds every single one of us, but its ephemeral existence (though I sometimes like to imagine the journey my undigested tomato skins take after I release them into the London sewage system, squealing with glee as they slip round the u-bend) might be the crux of some people’s aversion to food snaps. After all, if you have a stunted interest in your dinner, you can’t imagine the joy and fun other people glean from theirs. Of course it can look stupid, but fun often is. As with all these things, if it really pisses you off, the unfollow button is right there. Social media means inviting people into your life and consciousness but you’re very, very welcome to walk away from someone if you change your mind. It’s quite good like that.

What we’re really talking about here is a dismissive snobbiness of something that interests lots and lots of people. At a time when social media is synonymous with a new kind of mob mentality, knee-jerk judgements and, most scary of all, control and surveillance, should our real concern lie with people who like to photograph their food? I get as annoyed as the next person if someone whips out an enormous SLR or iPad in a restaurant, framing a burger patty like Helmut Newton might have Catherine Deneueve’s thighs in the 70s, but if they’re doing that rather than posting spiteful slurs somewhere online, I know what I’d rather see.