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You Are What You Instagram

Written by Anna-Rae Morris

March 26, 2018

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More and more over the last decade, the way we connect through food has become central to our lives with instagrammable meals and restaurant decor, queues around the block for no-booking restaurants, Yelp reviews and social media check ins. For millennia, societies have broken bread together while coming together and connecting. A family gathered at the end of the day, catching up with a friend, even America’s most widely celebrated holiday — Thanksgiving — they all center around a central meal. Food has always been entwined into the fabric of our culture but it seems to be particularly so with a certain age group — my generation, the millennials. A 2013 study by BBDO revealed that 50% of millennials identify themselves as foodies. So why are we so obsessed with food?

 

Eve Turow, author of A Taste of Generation Yum: How the Millennial Generation’s Love for Organic Fare, Celebrity Chefs, and Microbrews Will Make or Break the Future of Food said: "We have formed into a society that’s so accustomed to sitting in front of a screen and typing, for the vast majority of the day. And the truth of the matter is that it’s not exciting all of our senses. Through interviews over and over again, I kept hearing that people want something that’s tangible, that they can see and feel and smell and taste and that we’re the guinea pigs of growing up in that [digital] world."

 

As has been widely reported, millennials place greater value on experiences over material possessions. According to Eventbrite, 3 out of 4 (78%) preferring to spend money on an experience or event than on a physical object. Growing up in an increasingly digital world it’s no surprise millennials latch onto food as something to bring a group together in a physical space and provide a sense of community. We even wear out dietary choices as self-defining labels - saying ‘I’m vegan’ automatically includes someone in an entire community and sub culture of values within society. It tells people something about you and how you choose to differentiate in a world full of choice. Millennials and Gen Z will continue to take the idea that "you are what you eat" to an entirely new level. That is, food isn't just about health and nutrition but what you eat says a lot about your identity.

 

At the same time food isn’t just about bringing people together, but a way to separate them –– those who “know” food and those who don’t. We use food as social currency. Food has become a way to show that you have the luxury of deliberate action with something many people struggle to afford. Knowing the latest restaurant openings, what to order, and where to go is just as much an expression of identity as clothing. Where you decide to spend time and money, and what is inevitably shared on social media, is part of your personal brand. There are an average of 70 million Instagram images uploaded each day, with UK Millennials alone sharing an average of 3 posts per week related to food. With such emphasis on showing where we choose to eat and be seen, we place even greater importance on the social cachet of our food choices. We turn our noses up at 3-star Yelp reviews, low infatuation ratings, and chain restaurants (although we aren’t above an ironic trip for our ‘gram). We use food –– whether it’s the organic kale we buy at Wholefoods, the Sweetgreen salad on our lunch break, or the newly-opened fusion restaurant, as signifiers of knowledge, income and status.

 

At the end of the day, my generation has been labelled as a narcissistic “selfie” generation, which might be right considering that we are under constant digital self-promotion –– or self-branding –– and self surveillance. And, if I’m totally honest, when I turn the lens away from my face and towards my food, part of it may be to claim my place in a community, or to share so that others can experience the same, but really, being a “foodie” may just be another way to say “look at me.”  

 

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