There was a day when my meals did not begin with me pulling out my iPhone. I know there was. There was a day when the sight of a perfectly poached egg dusted with red pepper flakes over a bed of sauteed kale didn’t seem to whisper “Instagram” into my ear. But that day feels very far away.
It isn’t that I can’t or don’t appreciate food for what it is–namely food–it’s just that it’s become so much more in the past few years and within the confines of my little food writing world. Food has always been more than body fuel, but it’s only recently that I’ve been enamored with its aesthetic. Food is fun. Food is sultry. Food is seductive. Food is beautiful.
I’ve read more than a few articles critiquing my “food porn” obsessed culture, especially here in the Bay Area. I’ve read complaints from chefs and restaurant managers, other diners who give simultaneously dirty and desirous looks as their neighbors snap a pic of the roasted baby beets garnished with microgreens and drizzled in a demiglaze, perched upon shallow mounds of Roquefort mousse. I’ve been those people. All of them. The people snapping. The people sneering. I try not to discriminate in my perspectives on the dining experience. But sometimes I just can’t help it. Sometimes I want to preserve my frittata and eat it too.
I have a friend who refuses to let me physically screen shot my meals unless there’s a person in the picture. He shows up alongside my entrees and in my photo stream on a pretty regular basis. I get where he’s coming from. I get where they’re coming from–all of the people who’d prefer if I’d restrain myself from epicurean snapshots. A meal is about community. A meal is about company. A meal is about being present, about showing up to intentionally dine.
But I say a meal is also about food–sometimes exclusively about it. And in digitally capturing that meal, I’m mentally savoring the moment–a moment I can come back to time and time again, long after the flavors fade and the sweet scent of cumin, cardamon and garlic have been washed from my hair. You might argue that this diminishes my enjoyment, that this picture-taking thing is lessening my experience.
But really, I feel like it enhances it. I’m not out of the moment, I’m in the moment, respecting the moment, taking time to acknowledge and remember the moment, and I don’t think that is really such a bad thing. In some ways photographing my food serves a similar purpose as praying for it (not a replacement purpose, but similar all the same). It is a way of giving thanks. Pausing in a world that doesn’t pause enough to appreciate something that is truly fine or beautiful or put together with great care, especially when it is shared with someone who is equally exquisite in their composition.
And as a food writer, that gift is two-fold, or three-fold; it is more than one fold at any rate. When I shoot my food before I eat it (intentional and terrible as that pun may be), it allows me to share the experience with others–with my readers and viewers and those people who just can’t get enough of seeing sunlit salads or steaming bowls of seafood. And it benefits the chefs and the sous chefs and the servers who orchestrate and carry and serve the food to the tables. It acknowledges their work as well done and meaningful, worthy even of a photo.
So I say, go ahead. Play with your food. Arrange and rearrange and toy with angles and photo filters. Don’t get lost in it, but don’t reject it either. Live to enjoy and enjoy the act of living.