Food Pics and an Apology

3 mins reading

When I’ve tried to critique and undo stereotypes about social media in the past, I’ve sometimes made a mistake. Speaking to groups of students suspicious or skeptical of Twitter or Instagram, I’ve on occasion said something to the effect of, ‘It’s not just people posting pictures of their breakfast.’ For all those times I’ve said it and to all those people I’ve said it to, I am sorry.

For some people, food is a passion. Many people like to take photographs of their passions; many of those like to post these pictures; and many others like to look at and interact with them. If I’m to be honest, I’m not interested enough in the subject to follow accounts that are mainly or even frequently posting pictures of food, but that’s my choice. They’ve made theirs, and that’s fine.

And if you don’t think the odd food pic – even an imperfect, slightly blurry one – can tell a worthwhile story, well, let me take a moment to demolish that misconception for you…

My younger brother passed away suddenly a little over a year ago. I made a video about that here. Most of my Instagram contacts will have been aware of both those things, so there’s an intertextual element to the above post that means some will take more from it than others. This momentary, spontaneous post – this brief but complicated story – allowed me to give some insight into my brother’s personality, our connection to each other, and the hole he has left in a vast number of people’s lives.

But that’s just one food pic. I’ve used food pics to convey very different meanings in very different settings as well. And I dare say most foodie posts don’t have an ‘obvious’ message attached to them beyond this is what was eaten or this is a very decent place to eat. The meanings in the minds of the creator and their audience could be a lot more diverse and multi-faceted.

Food pics can connect people: there wouldn’t be in excess of 33 million posts with the hashtag #foodpics on Instagram if they didn’t – and by the way, don’t click on that link if you’re already a little hungry. And because food pics connect people, they can also be very good for business. This came through very clearly in my latest Social Media Stories podcast with Anithra Ratnayake…

Anithra spoke to me about the process and experience of diving into the deep end of launching Sri Lanka’s first dedicated Poke Bowl restaurant. The idea of creating an ‘Instagrammable restaurant’ is an intriguing one, and as Anithra reveals, an abundance of planning, creativity, and learning-by-doing was at the heart of what is now a highly successful enterprise.

From the very beginning, the restaurant’s interior design, colour of the plates, and preparation of the food have been underpinned by social media considerations. Likewise, Anithra has been working towards harnessing the power of user-generated content and interactions on the part of customers at all times.

Another thing that motivates you a lot is when the customers come and you see them kind of looking at their Instagram before they order. Or they come and you ask them where they found the place or how they heard about it, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I saw it on Instagram and it looked amazing’…

So I won’t be using food pics as a means of distancing people from the ‘stranger’ social media behaviours anymore. Whatever form they take, whatever purpose is behind their posting, food pics may well have more layers than you think…

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