food, inglorious

It’s the dietary dilemma of the digital age. Can you photograph your cake and eat it too?

“Absolutely,” says my coffee companion Sue, who seems not to care that the artful construct of glossy chocolate she uploaded to be feasted upon by insatiable strangers in cyberspace is now but a scattering of crumbs. #myfriendthe-chocolatecake … really? Cannibal!

I’ve always had a pretty straightforward relationship with food. I like to eat it, full stop. It has never occurred to me to put it out there to be ogled at. #breakfast: Cor, there’s a nice bit of crumpet!!!

Honestly, I joined Instagram only for the articles.

Of course, it’s easy to mock the hipster taking photos of that van Gogh of smears at the restaurant table next to you. But you don’t need to see

The Starry Night in caramelised veal jus to know we have become a society consumed, so to speak, with food.

Our television screens are dominated by cooking shows, the magazine stands and bookshelves are overflowing with food mags and recipe books, and social-media platforms are groaning with images of comestibles.

On Instagram alone there are more than 180 million #food, 80 million #foodporn and 71 million #yummy posts, while #cake brings up 32 million posts.

It seems what we ingest has become part of our individual brand and as much a status symbol as a flash set of wheels, the label on our jeans or the old school tie.

What’s the best recipe for success and social approbation? From what I can deduce, it’s a doughnut and elderflower ice-cream sandwich topped with spiralised zucchini and quinoa. Tap heart, tap heart, tap heart.

But just as endlessly photographing our food is changing our appreciation of how we fuel our bodies, it’s also changing what we eat and how it is plated up. That egg wash on the ridiculously overpriced gourmet burger bun – it’s not for you. It’s a lovely photogenic glaze for the camera, which always eats first.

Forget the old dinner party rule of not raising religion and politics, today’s fault line of conversation is diet groups and food tribes. Between Pete’s paleos, Sarah’s sugar-frees, the pescatarians, vegans, flexitarians, vegetarians, low-carbists and the growing list of intolerants, preparing a simple menu is like negotiating a minefield.

This is the war against terroir.

There is, of course, a certain democracy about food: every man, woman and child needs it. But not everyone gets nearly enough. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that about 795 million of the 7.3 billion people in the world suffer from chronic undernourishment. To wit, one in nine people do not get enough food to lead a healthy, active life, and go to bed hungry each night.

That’s roughly four hungry people for every #food post on Instagram at the time of writing this. Next time we order a dish with enough calories to feed a small African village for a week, it’s worth remembering the true picture.

Life for a great many is no cakewalk.

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