A few scant years ago you could safely sit down to brunch with your mates with not a single picture being snapped. Even in the first several years of social media taking over our lives, photographing your food was still a bit of a social taboo, slightly embarrassing.
Somewhere between 2012 and 2013, by my reckoning, the floodgates opened and even the dogs ordering puppycinos (yep, they're a thing) were suddenly posting their every morsel and sip on social media.
As a result, social media is rapidly changing the way we eat and drink.
Food is designed to be snap-worthy
Sick of always having to pick some useless garnish off the top of your plate? Sure, silly garnishes aren't new, but the desire by restaurant and café operators to make dishes stand out on Instagram has a lot to say for the presence of useless garnishes. These include snowpea shoots (guaranteed to get stuck in the throat in the scratchiest way possible), a stupid pile of microgreens, dehydrated red pepper threads (see snowpea throat issue), smears of anything - they just stick to the plate and can't be persuaded off with a fork.
Then there's the fact that OTT foods lend themselves to Gramming and Snapping. Freak shakes and smoothie jars, I'm looking at you. If it weren't for social media, no one with half a brain would go for these milkshakes on steroids, topped with a mega-load of whipped cream, sugary syrups and candy that ensure these monstrosities clock in above your daily calorie recommendation. And smoothies, which did their job very well as they were, have been tampered with to the point where if they're not erupting out of a jar, topped with half a healthfood store, we just don't notice them. Oh, and the smoothie bowl, a ridiculous invention clearly brought about by the fact a mere glass doesn't allow such desirable per-centimetre real estate for all those superfood toppings. Nobody ever needed a spoon to 'eat' a smoothie with in the pre-social (P.S.) era.
It's like we've become jaded with real food and need shocking into paying attention. Weird-flavoured donuts, loaded fries, towering burgers, ramen burgers, insane piles of waffles - foods with shock factor get noticed on social media. But god help anyone who thinks that eating such things on a regular basis is advisable.
Good genes, or healthy eating?
The flip side of all those crazy-unhealthy foods that find a ready audience is the obsession with restrictive eating habits that social media has spurned. Hashtags like cleaneating, wholefoods, iquitsugar, paleo, primal, plantbased, lchf are huge. Each to their own, and good on people who feel their eating habits contribute to their happy and healthy life. The problem though, is that so much social media hinges on the visual, so that having a hot bod/nice face have somehow become the main qualification for being an advisor on diet and lifestyle. Hot tip: smoothies enriched with protein powder or powdered unicorn horn will not have you looking like the picture. These gods and goddesses have great genes, that's all. Social media is giving us the eating guilts and false ambitions, and that's not healthy.
Your dinner’s gone cold, and you’re being rude
Finally, social media is changing the way we eat in a very direct way. We're faffing round with food too much instead of tucking in and enjoying it, and a meal being a social occasion has changed in meaning. I'm as bad a culprit as any with snapping food, both at home and out; my poor husband and kids are well-trained to not touch a plate of food till I've given them the all-clear. Chefs bemoan the fact that the plate they've put so much effort into is past its best by the time a customer lifts their fork.
And it's undeniable that social media has ripped through the notion of a social mealtime with family/friends like a bulldozer. Instead of socialising with the people we're sitting at the table with, we're much more focused on what's happening on screen. An important part of a healthy diet is the way you feel, and how engaged you are with your food when you're actually eating. Since previous studies that have shown that distracted eating - eating watching TV - results in people ingesting more calories, similar findings might well pertain to the use of social media while eating. We'll be trapped in a crazy cycle of stalking the daily food intake of latest wellness warrior while distractedly chowing down on poutine and waffles and swearing to start tomorrow with a superfood smoothie. All while ignoring our friends and family. Social eating, indeed.
Do you think social media is having a positive or negative effect on our lives?
Written by Anna King Shahab. First appeared on Stuff.co.nz.