My Instagram bio reads: "No pictures of food." It's not just an oversimplified description of my feed. It's a suggestion—or an aggressive directive— to my image-sharing cohorts. I don't post pictures of food on Instagram, and I don't think you should, either.
What's my beef with your beef? First of all, it's gross. You're about to ingest that glistening ring of oysters, and at some point in the not too distant future, it's going to come out the other end. I don't want to think about that. I don't want to think about what you put in your mouth at all. A meal is an intimate thing, even when shared with friends and family, even at a crowded restaurant.
Food Instagramming falls into the same category as housing a Styrofoam plate of Rafiqi's street meat on the L-Train, or microwaving last night's mahi-mahi leftovers in the office microwave. It's not just a dissolution of the line that divides public and private, it's a direct attack on your community's sensory systems (and gag reflexes).
I know, I know. I should just unfollow these people. File it off somewhere under Standard Tech Faux Pas, along with waving an iPhone in the air for the entirety of a live concert, or firing off selfies like you're a fourteen year-old girl (when you are definitely not fourteen, or a girl).
But there's more to it.
We will soon reach a point where there is more cultural cachet in a bowl of carbonara than a Caravaggio.
The problem of Instagramming food isn't just about social media etiquette. Shooting photos should not be the dominant activity of any meal (conversation, anyone?). As it becomes more pervasive, it's threatening to destroy something fundamental about youth culture. Yes, foodies (a term I use with all of its loaded, negative connotations) are infringing on the creative class. Meals are replacing cultural artifacts, landscapes, and people (people!) as the signifiers people use to identify themselves.
What does that have to do with youth culture? Kids used to come to New York to see a punk show, or buy a mixtape, or check out a gallery. Now they come here to eat and to take a fucking picture of their meal to share on Instagram (after all: Did it really happen if it doesn't get any likes?).
Do we really want to be a generation defined by what we ate?
By sharing pictures of food, you're not just oversharing, but expressing something about yourself: "This is who I am, this is what I do, this is how I want to be perceived." Food is a symbol of the new American bourgeoisie, and it's fucking gross. It's not a culture. Brunch is not an art. Your filet mignon is not a masterpiece. It's not an expression of how lavish you are.
You aren't stunting. It's not even memorable. You're going to forget about that picture in only slightly more time than all those people you shared it with (a few hours, give or take). It contributes nothing to society with any social, political or aesthetic value. It's showy and pretentious. People who post pictures of food (the food they are about to eat) on Instagram are supporting a movement that values ordinary biological necessity over the truly extraordinary world in which we exist. We will soon reach a point where there is more cultural cachet in a bowl of carbonara than a Caravaggio.
Is it ever O.K. to post pictures of food on Instagram? Yes, sometimes it is. If it provides a service, e.g. images that go along with a recipe or restaurant review, you get a pass. If it's a Guinness Book of World Records record-breaking food item, you get a pass. And if it's a delicious pot roast your Nana made for your birthday and you are preserving the love and integrity of your family, then I guess that's okay, too.
But by rule? All things related to the sharing of your inner-mouth are probably best relegated to the intimacy you share with your medical providers, lest your intellectual would-be bacterial swab spread to the rest of us and—yes—our culture, too.
Written by Noah Johnson (@noahvjohnson)
(For Shante Cosme's rebuttal, see: The Instagram Food Debate: Why People Complaining About Food Pics Can Choke)