Why do people put pictures of their food on the internet?

Why do people put pictures of their food on the internet?

You sit down with a delicious plate of food. It’s presented beautifully, bright colours and balanced textures; you just have to share it. So before you pick up your fork, you pull out your phone and snap a photo. 

Where does this impulse come from? 

In last week’s newsletter we wrote about how your relationships influence your microbiome – the community of trillions of microorganisms that live in your gut. The research suggests that who you eat with can affect your gut health – so it makes sense, then, that we care about sharing our food and building relationships centred around our meals. 

In the digital age, could that be one of the reasons so many people feel the urge to take photos of their food and post them on Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok? 

Some unscientific research

According to research by Food Navigator USA in 2019, 69% of millennials had posted a photo of their food online during the year preceding the study. And a survey by OnePoll on behalf of California Figs, called Food worth of social media, found that 40% of 2000 respondents share photos of food they never eat; while six in 10 (59%) have stopped their friends from starting to eat just so they can take a picture of the food first. 

This week, pondering the question of why so many people feel motivated to photograph their food, we did some (highly unscientific) research of our own. 

We asked a few people (in our office and beyond) if and why they post pictures of food on social media. Here are a few snippets of what they said: 

1. “I think it motivates me to eat better. I get a little buzz of good vibes when people like or comment on my healthy meals.” 

2. “For me…well, I live a long way from home and from my family. Food is really important to my family and when I post food on Instagram my whole family replies…it helps me feel close to them even with a big distance between us.” 

3. “I honestly don’t know! It’s just a habit?!” 

4. “I like showing the nice restaurants I go to, it makes me feel proud of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved to allow me to eat at places like that – plus it promotes the restaurants I love at the same time.” 

So it seems that even within a very small study group, the reasons are various: but they all come with a feel-good element. There’s a sense of connection and pride in food – even when it’s just a photograph on the internet.

From personal branding to digital commensality 

Part of the rise in social media food is, of course, down to influencer marketing and specifically food influencers. A number of influencers have made it big by, for the most part, sharing their diets on the internet – and their followers…well, follow.

Posting food photos can be…

  • An act of personal branding
  • An expression of creativity and selfhood.
  • A way to build or strengthen connections with other people.
  • A way to celebrate culinary experiences by sharing them with others.
  • A route to a quick dopamine hit – good-looking food gets easy likes, and that makes us feel good.
  • An educational tool, to influence other people’s dietary choices.

And it can even become a ritual: a part of our eating habits, something that enhances our experience of the food we eat, influencing our emotions and the sensory experience of our meals. 

Perhaps at its deepest level, it’s an act of commensality in the digital age. Commensality is the act of eating together, and studies suggest it’s on the decline in many cultures around the world. 

Restaurant pop-ups and hipster cafes are increasingly recognising the value of commensality, and turning it into a new trend – with sharing tables and ticketed dinner parties that promise conversation and connection, as well as food. 

But for many people, eating together remains a challenge. And posting food online fulfils a deep need that we have to share food – for it to be a collective experience, and not a lonely one. 

Do you post food photos on social media?

Tell us if you do – and please, tell us why. 

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