Picture the scene. Youre sitting in a cute restaurant and your brunch has just arrived.
Sourdough topped with vibrant smashed avocado dotted with fresh red chilies, a poached egg oozing just slightly with a sunset orange yolk – its picture perfect.
Depending on your level of shame, you might preface what youre about to do with a bashful comment; sorry to be that guy, or, its got to be done, before whipping out your phone and taking a birds-eye shot of your plate.
Theres no denying that Instagram has changed the way we consume food. For many of us, the aesthetic has overtaken the values of nutrition and taste as we strive to show the world just how perfect every single element of our lives is.
Our eternal quest for virtual validation affects the meals we order, the restaurants we choose to go to, what we cook for dinner at home – maybe even the ways we think about food.
But, while you may roll your eyes as your dinner date spends eight minutes getting the perfect snap of your rapidly cooling vegan burgers, its not necessarily an entirely bad thing.
Search #foodporn on Instagram and you will pull up more than 200 million posts. Clearly, there is a serious appetite for food pics. We love sharing them and we love scrolling through them. Its comforting, inspiring and, admit it, those cheese-pull boomerang videos are borderline arousing.
But beyond the superficial pleasures, are there any wider benefits of scrolling through images of other peoples dinners into the wee hours?
Ryan Carter is a personal trainer and nutritional therapist with 390,000 followers on Instagram. He shares simple, healthy meal ideas for people to try at home and thinks there are huge educational benefits for people who can access his advice online, for free.
There is so much content out there, which is great to feast your eyes on. It provides both education and inspiration for food ideas, recipes and tips, says Ryan.
Anything which can add value to peoples lives is a benefit in my opinion. Instagram has allowed me to share my own passion for cooking by showcasing recipes, my philosophy of nutrition and my lifestyle based on my journey.
Instagram allows you to engage with your audience and have a more personal experience. They can interact with you directly and engage, which is revolutionary. I have connected with some amazing people, made good friends from around the world, even meeting some of them in real life.
But Ryan does admit that the focus on food on Instagram may have some dangers. He thinks that its all too easy to be taken in by powerful, addictive messaging online, and when it comes to diet, that can quickly develop into problematic or disordered eating patterns.
From diet trends to calorie comparing, fear mongering to fierce arguments and trolling – it can lead to all kinds of insecurity issues, he explains. This not only affects our diet and the food we eat, but also our personal well-being, as well negatively reinforcing our relationship with food and ourselves.
Its a view that is shared by Sophie Bertrand, a registered associate nutritionist at Rhitrition clinic.
Some of the clients I work with feel pressure in regards to sticking with certain portion sizes and eating in a certain way, explains Sophie. We must remember that everyone is unique, and a lot of these foodie accounts are not a clear representation of ones diet.
I would suggest that if the accounts you follow are having a negative impact on the way you eat – unfollow them – and stick to those that inspire you and promote anti-diet and positive messages around food.
It all comes down to us, adds Ryan. How we interact with social media and the modern day tools at our disposal. Whether we empower ourselves with the correct information, or give social media all the power.
But how much power do we really have to step away from the pervasive influence of Instagram? Even if we log out, influencer culture has impacted the way food is presented to us in the real world as well as online.
In the notoriously competitive restaurant market, chefs and owners know the value of a viral dish.
A recent study found that 13% of Londoners choose to go to a restaurant based on how Instagrammable it is, so its a commercial no-brainer to cater to this need by providing attractive plates of food in an enviable setting.
Employed well, this use of Instgram-focused marketing can be invaluable in helping new and emerging businesses build an avid following.
BOBs Lobster started as an upmarket food truck, serving seafood extravagance on casual paper plates – quite literally on the street. Instagram quickly became the tool that helped to establish them in a tough marketplace.
Lacking many of the tangibles and branding references of a traditional restaurant, we have always been obsessed with the things that we could control, such as quality, fun and visual presentation, explains the founder of BOBs Lobster, Rob Dann.
The plates we use in the restaurant are a specific white that enhances the food… Im assured.
From the very first day launching the food truck, we served our dishes with branded greaseproof paper or framed by a branded wet wipe. Even now, with a permanent restaurant, we have retained some of these details specifically for social media purposes.
Rob has even created a special #foodporn menu, which features ahi tuna tacos; sashimi grade tuna in a ponzu dressing, spiked with wasabi guacamole and chipotle crema in crispy wonton taco shells.
Their most famous dish is the lobster mac n cheese, which uses native lobster tail, a lobster bisque béchamel and three cheeses. They even think about which cheeses to use to achieve the perfect cheese pulling shot.
Finally, six months ago, after much appeal, we got a lobster emoji! Rob enthuses.
For Rob, Instagram has been invaluable – his restaurant had no marketing budget, and the power and call to action that social media has provided has been unbelievable.
Everyone is a restaurant critic and everyone is your marketing agent, explains Rob. Everyone is on it, including landlords and agents, and Im sure our Insta presence was a factor when we were invited to open our first permanent site in London Bridge.
Instagram has also facilitated countless other opportunities and collaborations with incredible brands such as Laurent-Perrier, Royal Ascot, Lulu Guinness, Penguin Publishing, Borough Market, to name but a few.
In the mission to keep customers excited in an over-saturated market, chefs and their marketing teams are tying themselves in knots to come up with wild and wonderful edible creations. Because there is no advertising tool more powerful than going viral.
Remember the perfect rolls of ice cream from a few summers ago? Freakshakes? Or KFCs brand new glazed doughnut chicken sandwich? These creations arent devised for their superior taste or flavours – theyre made because they can guarantee a line of Instafoodies queueing out the door to get their #CheatDay content.
Dominique Ansel is the creator of the world-famous Cronut. The legendary invention is a croissant-doughnut pastry, and arguably one of the very first viral food sensations – but that was never the intention.
When we launched the Cronut we were just kind of at the beginning of the world of Instagram, Dominique tells Metro.co.uk. It wasnt what it was today. So the growth and popularity of this product was pretty much organic.
There was talk on social media, but it was covered in the papers, magazines, on TV and word-of-mouth.
It was the spring of 2013, and just three days after the Cronut was launched there was a queue of more than 100 people outside Dominques New York bakery, all desperate to get their hands on one.
For me, Instagram is a great tool to talk about the new things we do and why we do it, says Dominique.
Its not a platform that should only be used to sell. You have to use it as a way to engage and share with other people.