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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Nutrition Mistakes!

Hello! Wow, I’ve been gone so long – it’s been a busy summer over here. I found a great slideshow today that I just had to share with you. It’s chock full of advice in easily digested bits (sorry) – AND there was even stuff I didn’t know!

So check it out: The Most Common Nutrition Mistakes

Are you guilty of any of them? Leave a comment!

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

Healthy, Meet Delicious

Healthy, Meet Delicious

Very happy to read Mark Bittman’s new column. He’s not only one of my favorite recipe-writers (How to Cook Everything is opened on a nearly daily basis around here), he’s a fantastic writer. Love to read him wax rhapsodic about a meal or pick apart the foodie – I mean, flexitarian – movement.

Still hungry

This is a lovely post from Shannon Huffman Polson over on Patheos. Go read it now. But come back.

Communion_ShadowThe story certainly speaks to discussions we have had in our house, and our feeling that children should never be excluded from God’s table (our former priest Christopher Martin said something similar to her bishop, along the lines of, “I never want there to be a time in my son’s life when he doesn’t remember being fully included as part of the Body of Christ”).

Another reason I often state for communing children is in response to the protest that “they can’t fully understand” what’s happening (also given re: baptism). The simple answer to that is: “Who does?”

I mean really, if you can tell me you fully grasp everything God is doing through the sacraments, you are a stronger theologian than me. And if Jesus really did ask us all to approach the kingdom “like a little child”, then perhaps we adults are the ones who should be holding back and waiting, watching for their instruction on properly entering the mystery.

Polson’s story also harkens back to one of the greatest moments this past Lent for me, when my two year old son ate his communion cracker, then promptly stated (loudly): “I’m still hungry!”

Indeed. How often has that been true for many of us?

And not just spiritually speaking, though we could go on forever about that. Why aren’t we physically satiated by this meal?

Why isn’t this a meal at all?carow1_500x375

Polson’s son is hungry and she waxes rhapsodic about fulfilling his hunger at the altar rail. Only that doesn’t work. Not if her son is anything like mine. A thin wafer ain’t gonna do it.

This past weekend we missed a talk about intentional eating at our church, and later our priest was filling us in and told us he was surprised that people weren’t connecting the meal we eat on Sundays with the act of eating.

But I’m not. Because today’s Eucharist is no longer a meal. It in no way resembles food. That wafer is what I fondly call a Liturgical Prop. Even if you’re one of the lucky folks in a church that bakes weekly – still I ask: does the King of kings feed us only bread, as if we were slaves and not his beloved children?

So until there is more up there – until there is actually a meal to our meal, a feast element to the feast elements – then my son, and Polson’s, and the rest of us…we will probably stay hungry.