Dine & Dish

Dine & Dish

Have you ever found yourself scrolling through an amazing array of food-related photos on Facebook? Or clicking through countless culinary images on Instagram?

Posting pictures of the food we eat – from a gourmet dinner in a high-end restaurant to a basic bowl of breakfast cereal or a sumptuous snack of fresh strawberries – is becoming increasingly popular on social media. According to one recent report, Americans share more than 50 million photos of food a day on Instagram alone. Take into account all the other social media sites – like Facebook, Flickr, Shutterfly and Twitter – and that number skyrockets even higher.

So why all the focus on food? Although the answer to that question is as varied as the pictures we post, here are some theories about why’re obsessed with “foodography”:

Sharing images of food is a natural way to connect with other people.

Since sharing a meal is one of the oldest human social activities, it’s not surprising that some studies suggest sharing pics of what we eat can help increase our feelings of connection with other people.  Just think of all the responses a single photo of even the most mundane meal elicits – from a quick and simple “yum!” to a lengthy post that generates a full-blown discussion – a single image of food can help bond us together by stimulating conversation and causing us to engage with others.

In fact, according to a survey published by the digital ad agency 360i, which studies trends in social media, the top reason (as reported by 25% of all people) for posting pics of food was to create a “food diary.” In other words, the majority of people who posted pics simply did it to let other people know what they were eating. In this way, much like the act of posting regular status updates, the act of sharing our food intake, no matter how routine, is seen as a simple, yet surprisingly intimate and therefore valuable, way to share a little bit about our personal daily lives.

Posting our own culinary creations and edible adventures is a form of self-expression.  

The second most popular reason for sharing food pics – which came in at 22% of all people’s motivation according to 360i – was to post images of their own culinary creations. Much like the creative do-it-yourself project ideas found on sites like Pinterest, sharing a photo of an amazing meal that you made is a way to express your own creativity. Similarly, sharing images of an especially exotic meal or new dining experience allows us to express our adventurous side by showcasing a willingness to try new things.

Photographing what you eat may actually make it taste better.  

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Harvard Business School, when people participate in rituals surrounding food it actually helps to enhance the pleasure the person derives from eating.  The study, which looked at 52 people’s reactions to eating chocolate, found that those who were given a specific ritual to follow prior to eating found the chocolate to be more flavorful and savory than those who did not follow any specific pre-eating ceremony.

Although they didn’t study the specific act of snapping and sharing pics, the researchers did agree there are enough similarities between the behaviors they studied and the ritualized process of posting pictures on sites like Instagram to draw similar conclusions. Interestingly, the same study also suggested the longer the delay between the start of the ritual and the final act of eating, the greater the increase in palatable pleasure.  So, taking the time to capture the perfect picture could pay dividends when you finally bite in.

Browsing pics of other people’s food can motive us to try new things.

While our motivations for posting may seem rather self-indulgent at times (after all, who doesn’t secretly hope for a string of positive comments to appear under their picture?), all this sharing does produce some undeniable benefits.

Because photos are a great way to introduce us to new foods and restaurants, scrolling through pics of other people’s edible adventures can help motivate us to step outside our comfort zone.  By seeing other people enjoy dishes we’ve never had or restaurants we’ve never been to, we’re more likely to become enticed enough to try them ourselves – thereby widening our own culinary horizons.

So the next time you find yourself browsing through some delectable food pics online, be sure to take it to the next level – and instead of just commenting on what you see, get out there and try it for yourself. You just might find your new favorite recipe or restaurant.

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