Let’s get one thing straight. Instagram, like many similar platforms that allow us to “share” who we are, is a self-aggrandizing medium. We’re all convinced we’re capable of creating something beautiful, or at the very least, recognizing what is and capturing it. If Twitter gives us 140 character installments to waste, Instagram potentially lets us squander thousands.
But how I choose to fill (or waste) that space is up to me. If you’re going to fill my feed with carefully arranged objects you found in your pocket, a wine-fueled series of selfies, and “gritty” street art photos, you have no business complaining about the Valencia filter I applied to my duck confit.
We’re all suffering from an inflated sense of self-worth; no one cares as much about what we’ve photographed as much as we hope they would. At its very best, social media can be an honest, sincere way to connect with other people, be they friends or strangers. Instagram is a self-centered medium; it gives each user a platform to share whatever it is they find meaningful with the world, and that, in turn, continues to give a metric ton of daily insight into how people find meaning in their lives.
Food's sensory overload is a powerful way to prompt nostalgia. Memories of meals are crystallized and textured, allowing you to recall the insignificant details surrounding each bite.
As for me? I photograph wonderful food made for me by passionate people. Whether it's created by a James Beard award-winning chef, or my mother, it has meaning. Maybe more than you realize.
Recently, I asked the chef of a popular NYC restaurant what had inspired him to create his acclaimed banh mi, and he rattled off a lengthy anecdote about a trip he took to Vietnam where he had an unbelievable bahn mi that he'd ate with his hands, an experience he'd been laboring to recreate since. Much like how Monet painted the Waterlilies at the Seine, he was attempting to not only capture something wonderful, but to share what experiencing that wonderful thing felt like. For many chefs, food isn't simply a means of recreating a meal or a set of flavors; it's a way to take you somewhere you've never been. Not just to give you their senses and impressions and emotions associated with it, but to help you create new ones of your own. When we take a photo of food—not to stunt, not to #flourish, but to share something we love and the light we love it in—aren't we trying to do the same thing?
Food's sensory overload is a powerful way to prompt nostalgia. Memories of meals are crystallized and textured, allowing you to recall the insignificant details surrounding each bite vis-a-vis each sense that was occupied with the task. Your mother’s blueberry muffins call to mind walking in the door after a long day at school. A smell, a taste, a feeling. The gourmet cheese and stale crackers that you washed down with expensive wine the last time you stayed at your ex’s house. The taste the whole thing left in your mouth. How it felt like The Last Meal.
Food isn’t just something you put in your face. Almost always, it’s an entry point into an intimate moment. It’s fleeting; the actual tangible thing in front of you (because you consume each bite) is gone so quickly, but a snapshot allows you to hold onto it, it acts as a dog-ear on a page of your life. What we eat is who we are. It’s what we did, and who we did it with.
That's why, for me, food feels like the most genuine way to share life with strangers. It’s intimate in the most earnest way I know how to be over 4G.
I recently Instagrammed the Meyer lemon cake I made for my boyfriend when he was homesick. As we lay in bed one night, he told me about the Meyer lemon tree that grew in his backyard in Texas, and how it rained sweet lemons onto the grass like leaves in autumn. So, if you see my picture and wonder why I find it necessary to fill your feed with something as trivial as baked goods, I have one question for you: Who made you the arbiter of meaning?
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)