Photo: clockwise from top left Peden & Munk for Bon Appetit, @chompeatery, Costa, @blacktapnyc
Photo: clockwise from top left Peden & Munk for Bon Appetit, @chompeatery, Costa, @blacktapnyc

FOOD HONESTLY

Is Instagram making us eat terrible food?

And am I the only person who thinks rainbow bagels look like mashed-up plasticine, wonders Rebecca Seal

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By Rebecca Seal on

It was the rainbow cheese toasties, oozing stretchy threads of multicoloured mozzarella, that pushed me over the edge. Or maybe it was the rainbow unicorn cake with a golden sponge horn and candy-floss hair. Perhaps it was the news that rainbow bagels had arrived in Brick Lane, having made their way, dripping food colouring, all the way to London from New York. Am I the only person who thinks they look like mashed-up plasticine?

Suddenly, my Instagram feed was full of grown-ups grinning insanely as they bit into kaleidoscopic pastries, bits of funfetti glinting from between their teeth, and it began to drive me crazy. I don't want to sound joyless, but I just can't see why adults need rainbow-coloured coffee.

I love Instagram and I can't blame it, exactly, for this very weird food trend. Times are hard, and we need every bit of joy we can squeeze out of life. I'm just not sure that making food stripy is the way forward. The rainbow thing is just one part of a broader childish trend that seems to have taken hold in the food world, and which thrives in the fad-friendliness of Instagram and Snapchat. The instagram tag #foodporn has existed for a long time, and now there's #lickyourphone, which currently tags 27,000 pictures of junk food, including a cake accessorised with a full jar of Nutella, any number of squelchy, precarious quadruple-decker burgers, doughnuts of every shade and gigantic freakshakes, urn-sized sundaes stacked with ice cream, sprinkles and marshmallows, and bars of chocolate perched on top.

How the food tastes, or if it's a good idea to eat it, seems to come a distant second. Earlier this year, a chocolate and coffee bar in central London was overwhelmed with new customers because a Middle Eastern popstar had photographed their coffee

One theory is that apps like Instagram encourage people to schlep around town just to photograph and then eat the latest brightly coloured, photo-friendly dish. In turn, the food industry responds by creating evermore vivid, over-garnished dishes for us to photograph, effectively making diners their unpaid marketeers. 

How the food tastes, or if it's a good idea to eat it, seems to come a distant second. Earlier this year, a chocolate and coffee bar in central London was overwhelmed with new customers because a Middle Eastern popstar had photographed their coffee.

Professor Charles Spence, a food specialist at Oxford University, recently suggested that the constant stream of food photos, on adverts, cooking shows and magazines, let alone our phones, may actually encourage us to eat more food in general, not just more rainbow bagels. And in a piece titled My Instagram Made Me Fat, a writer at US ELLE recently described how her obsession with taking à la mode food photos for Instagram resulted in weight gain.

(Disclosure: I have to admit that I may be part of the problem. I regularly appear on the food and drink section of Sunday Brunch on Channel 4, and I often talk and write about zany, fashionable things to eat – although I've never showcased anything in rainbow hues. I'm trying to take heart from the fact that the number of salads on Instagram – 10.7 million – still dwarfs the 6.7 million photos of burgers.)

The thing is, we don't need rainbow meringues or multicoloured coffee to make good photos, if that is what's driving the trend. Anything can look good if you shoot it well – it's a myth that you can't make houmous, stew or anything brown look delicious.

There's no such thing as a bad food, just a bad photo. I live with a food photographer. Last weekend, he managed to take a beautiful phone photo of a dirty plate about to be scraped into the bin. If you do want to take pictures, just remember this one thing: never use flash. All food looks best in natural light. The most beautiful platter of pomegranate-speckled salad will look rough under strip lighting or in the glare of an iPhone torch. (A food writer told me yesterday about a blogger who brought a set of lights to lunch so that they could photograph the main course. This is not a sane solution either.)

If I really want to tell everyone I've eaten somewhere amazing, but the food looks rubbish in my pictures – which happens all the time – I snap the light fittings, the bartender, the cocktails, the view. A top-down shot of the menu, framed with a glass of wine, is far more appetising than a murky splodge of something unidentifiable. 

And, please, let's all step away from the food colouring. 

@RebeccaSeal

 

INSTAGRAM-FRIENDLY FOODS

 

FREAKSHAKES

Monster milkshakes that contain a human's calorie count for an entire month – in one slurp.

 

RAINBOW CHEESE

You don't even need to try it to know it will taste plastic.

 

RAINBOW BAGELS

Classic Instagram-hogging food. 

 

rainbow fries

The whole world's gone rainbow-mad.

 

COOKIE SHOTS

Dominique Ansel, maker of the Cronut, created the Cookie Shot, a chocolate chip cookie filled with milk.

 

RAINDROP CAKES

Made from mineral water and agar (a gelatin-like substance made from algae), these Japanese-inspired "cakes" look like a big blob of water.

 

Stay tuned...

A photo posted by Raindropcakes (@raindropcakes) on

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