What’s wrong with this picture?
According to some, the fact that it was taken of my meal in a restaurant means it is an affront to proper dining.
Lately there’s been a debate raging on the appropriateness of “foodstagramming” — taking pictures of your food and sharing them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, G+ or other social media — kicked off by an article in the New York Times. The question is: Should foodstagramming be banned in the UK?
Some restaurants in New York City have already outlawed food photography. Some British chefs are trying ban cameras in their restaurants too, according to the Telegraph. This debate is ostensibly about the manners of the people taking the pictures. And hey, I’m sympathetic to chefs who describe the disruptive experience of patrons hauling out a digital SLR and tripod-mounted light and snapping away to capture every course.
Chef Michel Roux Jr of Le Gavroche abhors the practice of taking pictures of one’s food (except, um, when he’s doing it for his daughter, who is training to be a chef) and in the Telegraph article compares it to snapping photographs during a theatre performance.
Some chefs complain the picture-taking interrupts conversation and the meal’s flow (something that could also easily be said about an ill-timed joke, a visit the loo or a revelation about what really happened at the office party).
In my experience, here in the UK foodstagramming is not near as pervasive as in the States, so I have yet to see anyone in the middle of a restaurant circling to a great shot, standing on a chair or using distracting flash.
But even after reading all this coverage I’m not ready to put away my iPhone just yet.
Naturally if you take a picture in a restaurant with other patrons around, you should be unobtrusive and courteous so you don’t mar the dining experience for others. If you want the picture to look half-decent, you should forego flash. And if you’re snapping away while the other person at your table is tapping their toe and holding their fork at the ready, you’ll want to take their feelings in to account too, otherwise there goes next week’s invitation.
Yet the nasty element of this “debate” is its blatant snobbery, which breaks down into 3 main trains of thought:
1. These dang Instagrammers need to just sit down, shut up and do what they’re told, which is to say, enjoy the meal in a prescribed way.
2. Just who do they think they are: William Eggleston? “Just because the picture looks artsy doesn’t mean you are,” tuts a writer in McSweeney’s, who says that these photos are just a way to brag about one’s awesomeness.
3. What makes their life so special that they have to share every little detail — like, for instance, an eye-catching delicious meal?
I’d characterize the anti-foodstagramming sentiment this way: How dare these people take pictures they find attractive of their food, and share them with other people, who follow them precisely because they like these type of pictures!
What chefs, restaurateurs and a certain sliver of the restaurant-going public/media are really lamenting is the end of one kind of dining that marches in lockstep with the chef’s singular vision, and the beginning of another that’s more interactive and participatory for the diner.
Many of these folks have failed to fully appreciate the power of a subtly-taken, beautifully presented and enthusiastically shared picture out to thousands of appreciative followers, and how beneficial that can be to promoting quality food at restaurants large and small.
…There will always be morons lurking out there ready to spoil your evening, but it takes more than an iPhone and a WordPress account to make a social menace; plenty manage it with little more than the force of their own personality….Any sensible restaurant should welcome food blogs, Twitpic and Instagram as yet more ways of getting the word out about the great service they provide, mementos of good food, good times and good company. So be considerate, be sensible, and carry on snapping away, one and all. You have nothing to be ashamed of.
If you love letting people know what you’re eating at the moment, go ahead and get out that smartphone.
Just one word of wisdom: For heaven’s sake, turn off the flash.