Whether it’s the elitist Frenchman or the cynical born-and-raised New Yorker in me, if there is one thing that pops to mind when I think of this assignment, it is the part that user generated photos on social media platforms, play in the destruction of the restaurant experience.
My Social Media pet peeve behavior is a twofold phenomenon: individuals who instinctively photograph their every meal and post their groundbreaking documentations online.
This behavior begins in the restaurant: a veritable artists studio and gallery where food –a valid artistic cultural expression—is prepared under the guise of being appreciated by all your senses in an environment tailored to the consumption of handpicked dishes by a chef or a cook. Dinning can be considered an artistic expression. The spatial and aesthetic features of the restaurant accompany your ingestion of an ephemeral work. The beauty of this art lies precisely in the fact that you interact with it transiently. SO WHY ON EARTH IS YOUR FIRST REFLEX TO TAKE A GOD DAMN PICTURE OF IT AND POST IT ON FACEBOOK!?
I’ve seen this too many times, the irritating few who un-holster their weapons of mass destruction in the form of an iPhone or their abrasive Canons and bombard their unsuspecting food without even taking a minute to appreciate the composition, the aroma, the taste, the texture and the environment in which their food is served. While dining is a social activity, eating is a personal one; it is the moment when you alone are in front of a dish that you and only you will ever consume. Granted it will be reproduced hundreds of times throughout the day but your experience with that particular version you have been presented is sensual; the same way that I interpret an expressionist painting differently than a fellow viewer.
But that camera shutter and the flash that briskly follows, bastardizes that relationship: you are no longer alone with the chef’s creation that was produced solely for you, instead you share a diluted version of it online in which your peers can neither smell, taste, touch or experience the food and the environment in which it is offered. You and your peers begin to appreciate your meals based on the amount of ‘likes’ it will garner or how many ridiculous filters you can suffocate it with. The act of ‘sharing’ your meal is ultimately meant to extract a response or approval from your peers whom you met once but still wish a happy birthday to.
This second part of the behavior that I have introduced as the act and of publishing photos of your every meal online, may not seem as rude as taking pictures of your food at restaurants but it is definitely more destructive.
Already I’ve hinted that the photographed meal is no longer a meal but rather food. There is a form of context collapse that occurs here, in that the food is experienced online rather than in real life. Like the restaurant experience, the photograph has diluted our perception of the meal. It is subsequently put on popularity trial and the random people who have not shared the experience with you get to comment and validate what you have eaten. This is not only an insult to the people who have made your dining experience possible: the hostess, the waiter, the chef, the busboy and the Maître D’hôtel, it is also an egregious insult to those who would have wished to have an unfettered dining experience at the same restaurant but now have a symbolic complex built around the meal. Think about it this way: I would never tell you what happened in the latest Breaking Bad episode so what gives you the right to show me what my first meal at Caracas Arepas should be like?
Moreover there is another misstep in posting pictures of your journey as a self-described ‘foodie’ (which is an idiotic appellation by the way): dining is also a method of social expression. Not everyone can allow himself or herself to be a ‘foodie’ and eat out every day and nothing is wrong with that, however it becomes inconsiderate when you make it a priority to flaunt every fortunate moment you spend in restaurant, online while others are surviving on food stamps.
There’s a place for this behavior and it’s called Yelp. I get that its interface is outdated but at least you will respect your friends who wish to/cannot afford to go to the same places as you. And hey…worst comes to worst…make a blog about your foodie adventures that only your parents will ever bother reading (after all, it’s their money your spending.)
While the desire to share the experience with your friends is understandable and innocent, in the grand scheme of the social media as the purveyor of democratization and user generated content, the act itself ultimately does more harm than good.
Finally I would like to end on a lighter/disturbing note. Apart from the reasons I’ve stated about why this behavior is misguided, a more obvious reason is eloquently expressed in the Buzzfeed article: “Because everyone needs to see what you’re eating. You’re that Important.”
To all of the Foodies I may have offended because they recognized their own unsavory behavior, I would like to offer a different kind of food…some food for thought:
Every time you put a picture of your food online, your friends are one step closer to knowing what your bowel movement will look like…Try to find a filter that makes that image look nice.