How Instagram Changed The Idea Of Food Over The Years?
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Looking back over the past decade-plus, you'll encounter a plethora of thinkpieces and reports that attempt to dissect how Instagram has changed food — what we consume and how we consume it, but also the larger industry.

Food has been depicted in art for millennia, but painting a still life over several hours or using a high-end camera and set-up to shoot staged photographs (and then editing and correcting it further) as opposed to a point, shoot, post approach — you can see how the impact of the depiction of food on Instagram would be far more widespread.

"Click plate", proclaims one particularly clever headline for a story about how colourful, nothing-low-key-about-them, living-their-best-life food and beverages have taken over our Instagram feeds. "Picture perfect" is the staider title for another piece on the Instagram food aesthetic. The vast majority go for unsubtle "How Instagram Is Changing Food" variants. Anyway, the point we're making is that the Instagrammification of food — or the foodification of Instagram, seen another way — is a B O N A F I D E phenomenon.

Collectively, these are the conclusions drawn by people who have studied this phenomenon with academic rigour and enviable precision:

-> The rise of bizzaro foods like rainbow bagels, glitter gravy, funfetti desserts, 'matcha' and 'unicorn'-prefixed treats, freakshakes; fads like the cronut and latte art; poop-inspired cutlery and decor; use of marble tabletops in restaurants (and several other design details incorporated with the express purpose of staging photo ops); the elevation of a generation of food content creators into cookbook authors/recipe developers/star chefs and salt baes; a deep-rooted suspicion of what is (and isn’t) cake — we have Instagram to thank for these.

-> As also the discovery of small gems, like that bakery you wouldn't have known about otherwise, or the home chef in your locality who could well deserve a Masterchef pin, or a cuisine you would never have thought to try. Or what your favourite chef likes to do in their downtime, all the time, in the kitchen and outside of it. (No, that doesn't qualify as cyberstalking. The experts told us so.) As an effective advertising tool, Instagram brought many food businesses a lot of business — and substantial clout. 

But now, it seems in its last year as a preteen, Instagram is moving in a new direction. “Lo-fi” and “laissez faire” food is becoming the type of content that more users are engaging with, rather than the highly staged/studio-produced food visuals that have hitherto been the norm. This preference for real-looking, "lived-in" food may partly have to do with the pandemic and how it's impacted not only our priorities but also our relationship with the kitchen and the preparation of food. (The trend coincides with the rise of the selfie sharing app BeReal, which is all about letting others see your unvarnished self and surroundings at any given moment during the day.) As dining out came to a halt for nearly two years, dining in determined how much effort you wanted to expend on look versus taste, satiety and nutrition.

Another part of the shift in food aesthetic may also be a reaction to the oversaturated, pastel-hued, over-plated, hyper-posed food imagery we've been exposed to for over a decade: some view this change as a democratisation of Instagram, away from its overly curated aspect. Still others ascribe the change to creators observing reduced engagement for their pleasing food photos as Instagram actively pushes Reels as a response to the threat of TikTok. 

There’s also support for the idea that since the human brain evolved to quickly recognise what food looks like, we’re wired to gravitate towards things that appear edible and calorie-dense. (That’s probably an oversimplification, but you get the picture.) Therefore, food imagery that is closer to our conception/knowledge of what food looks like in reality is more likely to engage us than an artsy but unrecognisable spin-off.

Alarmist views of the Instagrammification of food have nothing but criticism of how the emphasis on social media currency has compelled the restaurant business to prioritise everything but taste. But this view doesn't take into account that the food business has always been "highly designed" and intentional. From the way menus are engineered and prices listed, to the colours used in the decor, the size and shape of the plates on which your meal is served, the volume and genre of background music, the serving of complimentary nibbles — everything is carefully calibrated to ensure the customer will feel called on to spend more. The difference since 2010 is merely that Instagram cachet is one of the primary parameters as well.

And if that means the insidious promotion of rainbow-coloured pizza, well, we're ready for it.