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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Join the Banana Revolution

Join the Banana Revolution

I have a new hobby horse. Bananas.

“For well over a century, the banana conglomerates, specifically Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, Bonita and Fyffes, have influenced every level of social, economic, and political history in Latin America. They have controlled the fate not only of the millions of workers who toil on their plantations, but have also been responsible for determining national lending, tax credit, land allotment, environment, and labor policies, even dictating the fate of the highest government officials. The most infamous case occurred in 1954, when the United Fruit Company (predecessor of Chiquita Brands) received the support of the CIA to back a military coup against Guatemala President Jacobo Arbenz, because his land reform policies interfered with the company’s expansion plans.”

I’m not pleased to be learning that many of these giant banana companies not only ravage the earth and abuse their workers, but also employ child labor. Just think: the ubiquitous yellow fruit that is packed in our kids’ lunches or cut upon their cereal might have been picked by a child just like them.

This isn’t once a year at Halloween candy time (which is bad enough); this is daily, for most of us.

Bananas are fascinating anyway – did you know that the strain most of us currently eat is not the strain our parents ate (which died out)? And the current banana will go extinct in the next generation or so, leading to yet a new “regular” banana?

I’m telling you, this fruit is ripe with possibilities. I hope the author of Tomatoland, my most favorite recent fruit expose, is working on it!

Buy fair trade bananas. The link above will take you to Equal Exchange, where you can read more about all of this (the quotes in this post are from the article). In one fair trade cooperative, “the members have voted to spend 80% of the Fair Trade premium they receive ($1 per box) for the sale of their bananas on community medical clinics, teachers, and a school for autistic children.” They’re doing the right thing.

Let’s do right by them.

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).

Free Movie Nights in San Diego! (led by yours truly)

If you live around the San Diego area, please come to my movie nights!

March 4:  “Food, Inc.”

March 18:  “Food Fight”

Movies are FREE.  Please RSVP for childcare.

More about these documentaries:

Food IncFood Inc. is a look at our nation’s food industry and how it has negatively affected our health. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary (2008).

Food Fight offers an overview of American agricultural policy, food culture, and the organic food movement, with a focus on California’s contributions to cuisine.Food Fight

Stasi McAteer will guide us in discussing these films.

Location: St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church

1050 Thomas Avenue, Pacific Beach

For more information and to RSVP for childcare, please contact Deann Ayer at 202.486.0690 or deann.standrewspb@gmail.com

If I’m being honest, I prefer Joe Joe’s…

But still, what better way to celebrate kid week on my blog than the 100th birthday of the Oreo cookie! Get dunking or better yet, try out some of these recipes:

Chefs celebrate the Oreo on its 100th birthday.

And btw, Joe Joe’s (from Trader Joe’s) are really just superior for homemade ice cream. Nothing beats a Double Stuf for dunking.