In the quantum world of cuisine, seductive shapes and colours pose on perfect porcelain and crystal, torturing the gourmand with unattainable promise. Like almost everything in the Pixel Age, food too has digital form and growing. Ever since Instagram was launched in October 2010, a generation of cell phone food photographers are uploading bytes of exotic salads, fresh oysters in brine with a twist of lemon or surprised looking Mangalorean pomprets—all looking good enough to eat, but alas cannot be eaten. Instagram has brought the tables of the world to our homes as eclectic sculpture. Michelin restaurants, exclusive chef-aries, home kitchens, obscure eateries, the bill of fare at generations-old local restaurants and the tripod stands of street vendors.
Food has been mankind’s obsession for millennia; first as a nutritionary need and later as taste. Egyptian hieroglyph inscribed pictographs of bread on tablets. Portraits by Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo used fruits and vegetables as facial features. The great Post-Impressionist Cézanne’s oh-so-realistic oranges, Wayne Thiebaud’s pastel rows of pies and cakes and Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell Soup tins spoke to a hunger that went deep into the soul: you wished you could eat them, but you cannot. So when?
The father of food art is Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who found the art of preparation and consumption of food can be translated into art mediums.
Then came the roving eye of mobile phone camera that was never faraway from dining tables and food shelves. Instagram was the perfect medium for showing off virtual moveable feasts with picture-perfect food and drink. If food was a social metaphor in pop art times, it is a lifestyle for millennials now. Cuisine is a photograph, eaten with the eyes, illuminated by second-hand light that brings out perfect tableware in relief: tactile but untouchable. The hashtag is the Millennial foodie’s magical cipher that will spread the word of the new food religion that is Instagram.
The medium is changing the way foodpreneurs think of presentation and restaurant design. They are on Instagram, posting pictures of their new creations or of them as food selfies. @nelrestaurant is the Insta handle for the eponymous Sydney’s restaurant that focuses on fresh, local produce and a different menu every six weeks, which are pictures as contrast art.
The strongest competition to selfies now is from food pictures on Instagram, that are slowly percolating to Twitter and Facebook.
There are unwritten rules however. The real Instagrammer will only use natural light except in unavoidable circumstances and will eschew filters; but what the hell, where there are rules there will be rebels. Social media is the Hermes of the modern dining experience and what better way for an establishment or chef to be seen than on Instagram? Instagram is also an alternate photographic career. Information about cuisine is the holy grail of gastronomy. The app has created food legends such as @spoonforkbacon and
@foodminimalist that promise to make you a better chef, place no bar. Healthy Food Instagrammers and @annabarnettcooks give organic gyan. Hong Kong-based @ladyandpups describes her output as “an angry food blog” that is “definitely not iPhone only”. Sneh Roy operates the account Cook Republic, featuring home food using the shutter release method to create the illusion of movement of dishes.
Instagram is the new food revolution, changing the way people perceive food. The food influencers use it to enhance their celebrity status or become new stars themselves. Their legion of followers decide their star power pecking order: British superchef and restauranteur Jamie Oliver has 5.9 million Instagram followers. Top food stylist Sarah Philips (just “@food”) has 5,16,000 followers.
The 26-year-old clean eating blogger, Ella Woodward has 1.1 million followers on Instagram. Indian food influencers are not far behind. Ronak Rajani (#mumbaifoodie) with 3,06,000 followers and Karan Dua with 1,97,000 followers are the new food photographers of the Indian Millennial. Have cellphone? Will eat.