Tofu po boy from Lost Love Lounge in New Orleans (2013).
I will drunkenly defend the following to death:
1. The lyrical nuances of 90s smash Butterfly by cultural icons Crazy Town.
2. Grilled pub nachos.
3. Crushed velvet.
4. Men in crushed velvet.
5. The Dome, a Tuffnell Park nightclub with a dubious door policy, from 2000 to 2004.
6. The musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (but never Xander, who gives me the heebeejeebies with his socially inept sexual predatory and his cold dead eyes).
7. The shittiest piss-stained pubs in Camden and drinking Srongbow in their dismal concrete gardens.
8. The HIM cover of Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game, which has been my jam since Greatest Love Songs Vol. 666 circa 1998.
9. The life and work of the UK’s greatest punk outfit, The Stranglers.
And, the wild card at number ten: food photos on social media.
(… yeah, and the rest. I could honestly go on for years which I suspect means I have questionable taste).
Brunch at Boot and Shoe, Oakland (2013).
But seriously, for my sins, I love Instagrammers who just post endless pictures of food. I love Facebook albums that have more pictures of meals than sights, and I love Twitter accounts that specialise in plates over people. From intricate and expensive dinners to fastfood in car parks, homecooked feasts to snacks on the go: I love them. I love them more than I lOvEd TyPiNg LiKe ThIs In ThE NiNeTiEs On MsN. I love them more than I love April from Parks and Rec, but less than I love Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You.
People dislike foodie photos on social for the same reason they hate people who spend entire gigs with their iPhones held aloft: if you’re busy documenting it, you can’t be enjoying it, so if you’re not enjoying it, why are you bragging about doing it by documenting it in the first place? Either that, or because they simply find them tedious. Well, here are some things I find tedious on Instagram:
1. Cars in absolutely any context apart from driver selfies on road trips.
2. Children unless they are being impressive, ridiculous or stylish.
3. Before/after weightloss propaganda.
4. Competition regrams for things that I don’t want.
5. Stills of the Netflix homepage and a duvet to denote cosiness.
6. Literally anything tagged #liveclean unless it’s one of my beloved fats trolling.
7. Inspirational quotes.
8. Ironic Danny Dyer quotes in an inspirational-quote context.
9. Screencaps of text conversations.
10. Screencaps of the results of a reality TV show I have been avoiding spoilers for since January.
Goodbye lunch at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, London (2012).
But foodie pics, foodie pics I can really get behind. I love taking them, I love seeing them. I like piles of raw ingredients, the calmness before the storm of plate composition, mid-feast action shots, empty dishes scattered with crumbs. Smell, taste and texture are so evocative, so very present, in photos.
Cocktails at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, London (2012).
This Instagram of a pink cocktail, for example, reminds me of our goodbye dinner with Bhavna at the Oxo Tower Brasserie, because she’d always wanted to go and it felt like our last chance to take her even though, of course, it wasn’t. The picture reminds me of childhood too, because the drink tasted like rhubarb and custards, those old fashioned sweets from red-topped spaghetti jars that we used to buy from the corner store next door to my father’s favourite Italian deli.
When I look at this cocktail, I remember walking through Southbank afterwards, a buzz from the pricey liquor in our blood, past the book stalls beneath Waterloo Bridge. I remember saying goodbye at the tube station, the way Nisha and I cried on the escalator as we watched Bhavna walk away because she was leaving for Dubai that afternoon.
Of course, these specific memories are very personal and Instagram is all about sharing, but there’s no denying the evocative nature of food: you can practically smell the fried batter and tang of vinegar on chippy Instagrams. Images of meals, drinks and snacks tell stories of a different mood or time, of celebrations and hangovers and busyness, of experiments and achievements, of love and loss, of different cities in different countries in different parts of the world.
Tofu bacos at Ba Chi Canteen, New Orleans (2014).
What I’m getting around to saying is that I love all these photos. and if I hadn’t taken it, perhaps I wouldn’t remember as much detail as I do about the meal, the sounds, textures and weather. I hate reading snide little pops aimed at social media foodies, or that tired sigh of ennui – ‘do you have to take a photo of every plate? Why can’t you just enjoy a meal without taking a photo of it? Are you taking another photo of food?’
You know the type of comment I mean: they reach peak passive aggression at Christmas and I assume it’s because they only eat bland, beige foods like ready salted crisps dipped in Smash, and there isn’t a filter on earth that’ll make that shit look appealing.
Raspberry and fig macarons from Bouchon, California (2013).
And you know what? Anyone who’s ever felt anxious about taking a perfectly legit photo will know that having your photo mocked before the shutter’s even closed feels quite disheartening. Perhaps what I want to do is take a fucking photo of my burrito, then eat my fucking burrito and then post the picture on the internet like a glorious foil-wrapped guacamole trophy. If everyone else can post bland pictures of things they’re proud of – cars, dissertations, offspring, mediocre crafts – why can’t we simply document our achievements too? (Achievements including but not limited to: well honed ordering skills, on point toppings, luxury bitch cocktails, getting out of bed in time for brunch or even a meal that could legitimately be called breakfast – of course, I’m preaching to the choir here, but that is a genuine slither of my CV).
Breakfast at Boot and Shoe, Oakland (2013).
The wonderful thing about camera phones, Instagram and the like is that we’re compiling photo diaries, documenting the everyday minutiae that will eventually seem distant, old-fashioned, comedically of the time. Macarons will be totally naff, a twee equivalent to pastel pink prawn cocktail served in a martini glass with limp lambs lettuce.
Some people like to take endless selfies, some document every power haircut or shopping spree or sunset. Others specialise in snaps of various drinks paired with paperbacks. It’s all good, pals. Continue to create your virtual scrapbook of whatever the fuck you like. Personally, I like my Instagrammers to keep a ratio of 70:30 (that’s food to pets, with occasional wild cards like bookshelves, acrylic jewellery and parties that look cool).
So go forth, eat everything and d o c u m e n t i t a l l.
Follow me @smokintofu. Adios.