Brief: Thinking about why the impulse to share pictures of food is so strong lets us consider the practice as a modern ritual of gratitude, and maybe not so much the grandstanding that it’s often taken for.
Breakfast, no big deal, just some free-range poached egges on ratatouille and sourdough bread with salsa verde
So, why do we do this? Post pictures of food, I mean. It happens on Instagram most of all, but it’s safe to say a significant portion of shared photo content on any network is food.
There have been plenty of articles written, from the eye-rolling to the sociological, talking about it as lifestyle sharing, a form of posturing or performance. In blunt terms, it’s usually framed just showing off. That reaction happens easily, and the better looking or more precious the food, the easier to dismiss the intentions behind the post.
But even with all that in mind, in the moment, I still wanted to take this picture, and wanted to show it to someone. It does look amazing. But why bother? There are so many great food pictures out there, other people are better photographers, with newer phones than mine. If my picture is just one of many like it, how is it really showing off? None of those doubts happen in the moment.
You see it so much that it’s probably more accurate to describe sharing pictures of food as less of a high-tech norm and more of a pre-meal ritual. Millions of people every day take a moment for short prayers of thanks before eating; millions of people every day share a picture of what they’re about to eat.
Being fortunate enough to sit down to any meal a moment of deep, existential relief that no amount of habit or rationality can overcome. Our bodies and psychology around food were forged in themes of survival and scarcity. No matter how abundant your food supply, from organ in your body a bit of relief bubbles upward in your being when you make it to the next meal.
Those moments of relief come out as gratitude, nothing more or less than little prayers, ways of saying I’m glad I got here because I know damn well life could be different, or not at all. That you not only got to the next batch of calories, but a batch that is so appealing to the senses, puts that moment over the top. How could you not be thankful? How could you not want to say Wow, this really worked out, check this out.
So maybe that’s what really lies behind sharing these pictures of food. Maybe they’re simply digital media forms of utterances we say aloud to ourselves and others, to hear. Maybe that’s showing off, maybe it’s a social instinct to show others where the food is at.
But I think the best explanation is that it’s just a moment of appreciation good enough to say out loud. So there’s my picture of a pretty gorgeous breakfast. It did taste as good as it looked, and I could have done a lot worse. I’m grateful for it, and I wanted to say it out loud. That’s why I took a picture of my food.