Why Instagramming your Food might just save Civilization

This New York Times article (which we are, inevitably, reading on our phones) is yet another call to put down our phones and EXPERIENCE LIFE!! As is the video that provoked it:

I get it: I’m that person at the restaurant watching my friends watching their phones, simultaneously annoyed and self-pitying. Both for being ignored by them when they ostensibly wanted to have lunch with me, and also because for many years I did not have a smartphone of my own.

But what is interesting to me is that the article brings the conversation back to, of all things, food. Now I would call this inevitable, but I’m a little biased towards the viewpoint that food is the genesis of all things human (I’m not alone: Richard Wrangham, a Harvard anthropologist, has linked the creation of culture to cooking).

Family around TVThe author, Nick Bilton, compares our current phone-obsession to the early days of television, when families rolled the box up to the table and enjoyed the novelty during dinner. Nowadays, we do everything from Instagram our courses to Yelp our opinion of the meal.

Eating around the TV became gauche, and I think many wish the same would become true of phones at restaurants (or concerts or playgrounds or what have you). One LA restaurant has even experimented with giving a discount for those willing to ignore the screen for the duration of their dining.

But here is one interesting idea to consider: while television made food worse, I would argue that phones just might be making it better.

TV is a passive medium and demands attention. When it entered our homes, it required us to stop life and watch. It ledTvdinner to the invention of a whole new food category – the TV dinner – that relied upon quick, easy warming (not cooking) and effortless eating (stab, bring fork to mouth, repeat), all intentionally designed to maximize tube time.

Now we all know what crap is in TV dinners – they are pretty much the foodie equivalent of heresy. And they taste bad. And they look worse. Thank you, television.

So how are phones different? You still stop your life to pay attention to them. True. But they are interactive in a way TV can’t be; they are social in a more real, immediate way than watercooler talk about what was on last night.

Let’s consider what is trendy when it comes to phones and food:

It is showing off photos of what we are eating and what we’ve cooked. I have one Facebook friend who changes her cover photo nearly daily to share whatever incredibly delicious creation she has produced that day (including, of course, a title in a cute font and an old timey wash on the pic).

It is faithfully reviewing restaurants and religiously checking reviews before setting foot in a new one.

It is sharing and evaluating recipes, making cooking essentially a social experience, the modern equivalent of the village firepit where our ancestors swapped ideas and tested what was good – and safe – to consume.

No longer are cooks confined alone to the stuffy kitchen all day – they need only wander over to Chowhound or Epicurious to find like-minded individuals with whom to share tips, substitutions, or hard-won advice. Cooking is once again a communal experience, thanks to our constant access to social media via the handy little devices that are smaller than a cookbook.

Another boon specifically from our phones (with, yes, a good dose of TV’s help via Food Network and Top Chef) is that beautiful food is desirable again. If it isn’t worth Instagramming, it shouldn’t be on the plate. Presentation has always been important to cooks, but now it is reaching into all levels of society, all types of dining experiences. The TV dinner made food into mindless fuel to be consumed with no care for appearances (honestly, it was better if you didn’t look); Instagram has relaunched the aesthetic value of what we eat, and, in turn, woken up a new generation to the visual pleasure of eating. The first taste is always with the eyes.

Steak au Poivre with duck fat fries

Steak au Poivre with duck fat fries

But the next taste (and thereafter) is of course the most important factor. And this is where all those reviewing apps come in handy. We can immediately tweet the location of a fantastic food truck, or post a status to warn friends off a hot new place that’s only about the scene, not the food. BrunchWe can find out about holes-in-the-wall we might never have heard of and the best dish to order there. Together we push up the ratings of the best food, thereby raising the game for all restaurants. We have begun to demand better tasting food, and that is a trend I am solidly behind.

And then the trend comes home – that Facebook friend with all the beautiful food photos? People clamor for her recipes, so they can recreate the magic. Suddenly we want to cook again, and share this food with our families and friends, and we reach for stronger skills and harder recipes and actually practice to become better cooks, as if we were going to be reviewed ourselves. Not because we are putting on pressure, but because we are rediscovering the Joy of Cooking – and eating!

The elevation of lunch at home

The elevation of lunch at home

All of this together – the sharing, the reviewing, the celebration of visual appeal and chefs who please the palate, the home cook elevating her weeknight meal – has reasserted for us the importance of eating well. And if cooking is what makes us human, then anything that promotes a higher level of this art will only make us better as a species.

So post on!

 

All Instagram photos are my own – the pics and the meals!

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JR Organics Farm Tour 2013

Rodriguez Family FarmFarm TourRecycled Crayon Blockscolour blocksformerly-crayonstwig pencils
rock paintingmorning snackfresh fruitlemonade mustacheescondido farmlandCalifornia farms
hands in the dirtJoe the farmercoolerdon't panicFarmer JoeOrganic farm
tractorcactusbaby tomato plantsbaby broccoliseedlingsrow by row

JR Organics Farm Tour 2013, a set on Flickr.

Lately a lot of people have been asking me about our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). In addition to providing us with a box of fresh local produce weekly, our CSA membership buys us an annual tour of the farm, where we see and learn about where our food comes from. If you belong to a CSA, ask to tour the farm! It’s a great experience, especially for kids.

Label Reading 101—What the Fine Print Really Means

A very simple but eye-opening slideshow displaying a few of the more obvious ways some foods aren’t exactly what they claim to be:

Label Reading 101—What the Fine Print Really Means

How to get kids to eat

How’s that for a title? Think it will get me more hits??

 

Not if you’re a savvy parent, a been-there-done-that-with-two-or-more-toddlers parent. You already know that there are two things you can never “make” your kid do: eat and sleep. I would add, on behalf of certain friends, you also can’t make them poop. Although I suppose there are medicines for that.

Wow, not two paragraphs in and I’m already talking about poop! I must be a parent!

Anyway, on to the “how to” get kids to eat. This post isn’t actually about how to do that. It’s about all the stupid-ass advice that does not get them to eat at all. At least, not if they are my kids, who can smell my desires from miles away and take off running in the opposite direction. My best guess is that all of this advice has been compiled by people who either don’t have children or have extremely compliant (read: dim) children. Ha ha! Just kidding! A little.

 

Advice #1: Have kids help with menu planning.

OK, this actually works. It works fantastically well. And if you want to eat nothing but macaroni and cheese and hot dogs – which admittedly, many of us would – then this is the way to go. You will not have hungry children. You might have some issues with diabetes down the road, but hey, that’s at least ten years away, right?!

 

Advice #2: Take kids shopping with you so they can help pick out ingredients.

What insane parent actually believes this nonsense??

First: what child enjoys grocery shopping? None I live with. Dragging their lazy butts along with me so I can listen to nonstop whining and/or placate with cookies from the bakery (only to face a sugar crash right at checkout time*) does not sound like my idea of a good time for any of us. My grocery trips are my sacred ME time, and you will not take them away from me. You may also go in front of me with your loaded cart. Please. I don’t mind waiting another 20 minutes. I’ve already picked the longest line on purpose. There’s nothing more fun than calling home to say, “Oh sorry, hon, I’m stuck in line STILL!” (while you hear screaming and crashing in the background).

Second problem with taking kids shopping is related to the first piece of advice: they probably will not be willing to assist in picking nutritionally sound choices. Now maybe they’ll go for a little fruit here & there. But if they’re like mine, they’re going to be a lot more intrigued by cartoons on boxes or fancy pasta shapes or verboten treats like candy or beer than they will be interested in going up and down those boring outside aisles of the market. And…cue the whining.

That reminds me of one of my favorite Maggie stories, from about age 2. While I was picking out beer she very loudly announced to the surrounding patrons, “I don’t like beer. I only like wine.” Ah, good times.

Third problem with taking kids shopping is the “help” they give (this will come up again later when we get to cooking; you already know where I’m going with this). If you think it is “helpful” for someone to drop half your cart on the floor (especially glass!), or surreptitiously return items to the shelf that you’ve crossed off the list, or wildly grab extra items that are decidedly not on the list, or demand to sit IN the basket NOT the BABY SEAT thereby crowding out any room for actual groceries…well, then you probably do need some help.

So. Taking kids shopping is just a disaster waiting to happen. We agree?

 

Advice #3: Have kids help with cooking.

I’ll just skip the part where I talk about how this makes everything take forEVER and creates an insane mess for you to clean up later. You already know that part. What really pisses me off about this little suggestion is that it does not work AT ALL. This whole blog post actually came about because a good friend of mine emailed to say, “What is UP with this stupid advice??” Exactly.

Witness Mr K, the nearly-three-year-old, who LOVES helping his dad cook. He wants to be there for every part of the process and takes it in with his little toddler sponge brain. He tastes judiciously as he’s cooking. He suggests more salt, perhaps that nice fleur de sel this time, let’s not be cheap. The Honest Toddler & he would get along well.

Anyway he and his dad have this lovely bonding over their cooking and all is going swimmingly and I hear him saying, “Mmmmmm” many times and “I wuve this!” over and over. So what happens when we sit down at the table?

You know what happens. He won’t touch it.

He’s definitely going to be a chef. Or work at Taco Bell.

 

Advice #4: Make food FUN!!!!!!!!

Oh man, how do we even deal with this level of chipper ignorance? It seems cruel to dismiss such naivete out of hand, so many of us have indeed tried it.

Here’s a secret: the only things that make food fun are grandparents and playdates. Kids eat all kinds of crazy stuff when there’s a Grammy or a friend’s house involved. They’ll nosh on Cuties. They’ll burn through pistachios. (Those are two actual real-life examples of things my children won’t touch at home but they devoured at other houses.) My mom’s big trick is to put food in fun containers for them. Yeah. Doesn’t work at home. At all.

Or my friend who inspired this post, she says, “They both love hamburgers but when it’s fun – made into meatballs and on sticks! <– FUN, dammit!! – they won’t touch ’em!” No. No they won’t.

The fact is, you can do everything right – make the food into a smiley face, dine al fresco or en living room, put sprinkles on broccoli, serve the entire meal on toothpicks out of muffin trays – and if they’re not in the mood for it, they’ll decline to partake in your SUPER FUN DAMMIT meal attempt (on a good night – on a bad, it’s a one-way trip to CrazyTown).

Those are all actual “fun food” things I have tried. That did not work.

There’s no fun silver bullet. Not if you’re the unlucky person who gave life to these little dictators.

 

Advice #5: If they won’t eat what you serve, they don’t eat at all.

Ah yes, the “tough love” approach so many of us grew up with. Or its cousin, the “clean your plate there are kids starving in Africa/China” guilt approach (to which the clever/smart-ass child always replies, “Then send this to them”).

Here’s the thing: this is, once again, a punishment for the parent, not the child. First, because the parent has spent a lot of money & energy on this meal that is not going to be eaten. That sucks. Second, because the parent knows that if that kid doesn’t eat something, he is going to be waking her up all night long to complain of being hungry. Now if you are the kind of parent who locks their kid in their room and says, “tough luck” then I suppose this wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m just not. I’m also not really into starvation as a compliance tactic. So I suffer, not them.

What happens is, eventually, the kid gets to eat something relatively healthy that is packed with protein and/or fiber, so that at least her belly won’t groan so loud all night that you confuse it with your husband’s snoring.

And you once again question why you bothered with dinner at all.

 

The Truth, Plain & Simple: there is only ONE way to ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE that your children will eat a meal. That they will devour it and beg for more. How? How do you accomplish this voodoo, you ask??

Simple.

You make something that only you really want to eat and you assume they won’t touch. Something truly weird, like octopus (true story). Then you make only enough for the adults at the table.

You will be hearing, “I WUVE OCTOPUS!!!” in no time.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

*One honest-to-goodness sarcasm-free truly real tip: if you are faced with children along when you shop, and you go somewhere with bakery cookies, do NOT let them TOUCH that damn cookie until you’re in the checkout line. it’s not to placate in the store, it’s the reward at the end of the trip. This has worked wonders for me.

Food Fight: the Documentary

No, I don’t mean this…

 

 

Just a reminder to anyone in SAN DIEGO that our second movie night is this Monday, March 18, 6 pm at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pacific Beach. We are showing…

Food FightFood Fight
Revolution Never Tasted So Good

I watched the film over the weekend and it’s really upbeat & positive – a nice second act following Food Inc. It is basically about how we have two choices when it comes to food: the industrial system and the local system. The film aims to educate us about both and let us decide how we will “vote with our forks” for the future of food in America.

 

 

For more info, visit http://www.foodfightthedoc.com/

If you can’t make the screening, I understand Netflix has it on streaming, so check it out!

The event is FREE, but we do ask for an RSVP for childcare (contact me or Deann Ayer 202.486.0690 or deann.standrewspb@gmail.com).