Being both an avid fan of social media and photo-sharing sites and a keen cook, a lot of the food I create and consume ends up online. I am not alone in this, for many of my news feeds contain pictures of food in all its forms. I would even hazard a guess that food pictures are among the most commonly shared, after selfies and endless pictures of people’s children, of course. Looking at endless pictures of food can be wonderful when seeking some inspiration in the kitchen or complete torture when stuck on a bus, in traffic, on the Old Kent Road with nothing but a packet of mints for nourishment.
I started to think about why we are all so keen to share pictures of our food online, after all, we all eat, we all cook (to some degree) and we all enjoy eating out, whether the local fast food joint or a three Michelin star restaurant. If, as it has been claimed, the recession has made foodies of us all, why do we need to constantly tell others what we eat? One explanation harks back to the old saying You Are What You Eat. Many take this phrase and use it from a health perspective – that the healthier your food is, the healthier you yourself will be. Of course, scientific research has proved this to be true, however there is another meaning to the saying that goes to explain our obsession with sharing, and that is the idea of food as an indicator of social status. As with many things, food is often used to indicate wealth and taste – the recent comments made by Jamie Oliver about the consumption of ready meals among the lower classes not only indicates that there are many people living on food deemed a risk to their health, but also highlighted the level of food snobbery that simmers beneath the health concerns. Putting out pictures of food is a way of creating a window into your lifestyle and opening this window for others. A snapshot of a dish in a hyped, impossible-to-get-a-booking restaurant in the first week of opening is bound to earn you some kind of kudos, as is a picture of a perfectly crafted layer cake with the kind of pipework, sugarcraft and palette knife skills that the rest of us could only aspire to.
It has been a while since I noticed that, whilst food photo-sharing is on the up, people are becoming as selective about what they share as they are about which Facebook photos they are tagged in, which backs up my theory about food being an extension of a person’s self-image. It is rare that you would see a plate with sauce splashed over the side, a collapsed tart or an elbow in a perfectly piped swirl or buttercream – these creations go unrecorded or condemned to a corner of iPhoto, never to be seen again. Despite this, the most talked about and most enjoyed parts of reality cooking shows such as Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off are the parts when things go horribly wrong – a dropped cake, a sunken souffle or a burnt fillet cause the most excitement. In cooking, as with many things, it is the mistakes and the disasters, both our own and that of others, that cause the most improvement. In our quest to portray the image of a perfect cook, we are neglecting that vital part of knowledge sharing – what went wrong. By confessing our mistakes, we open ourselves to the wisdom of others and, in turn, can impart our wisdom to help somebody else. I’m not suggesting that every failed experiment be exposed online for all to see, simply that we instead all stop trying to be experts showcasing only our perfection and sometimes show a few of our flaws.