Every time I’m at a restaurant and see someone stand up from their seat to get the perfect Instagram-ready aerial iPhone photo of their meal—and this happens fairly frequently—I have to avert my eyes to avoid feeling overcome with a wave of ire. I can’t really explain why; the perpetrators aren’t hurting anyone or kicking a puppy or anything, but taking a picture of your food before you eat it seems so, so silly to me. I feel like somebody’s mother (not mine, because she’s one of them): Sit down! Eat your food! Don’t be ridiculous!
But new research suggests that my moral superiority may be all in vain. “Intrigued” by this phenomenon, Sean Coary, Ph.D., and Morgan Poor, Ph.D., both food marketing professors, conducted three studies with almost 400 participants altogether, and found that taking a picture of your food before you eat it leads to “more favorable” feelings about the food, particularly when it’s an indulgent meal. “When we take a photo of something before eating, we create a momentary but intentional delay in consumption, allowing all of the senses to be engaged and building the anticipation of enjoyment,” Coary explains.
So the food photos we’re posting to social media en masse aren’t just affecting our self-esteem based on how many likes they rack up—they’re actually impacting how much we enjoy what we eat. “Diners want to remember the visual aesthetic of their food, especially when it’s something indulgent,” says Coary.
This contradicts the results of a similar study that took place back in 2013, wherein research results showed that the more you looked at your food, the less likely you were to enjoy it. And yet! The study also determined that focusing on composition rather than taste provided a sort of “loophole” that would enable you to photograph your cake and enjoy it, too.
Numerous restaurants and food brands have picked up on the fact that consumers are obsessed with photographing their meals, and Poor predicts that it’s only the beginning.
A recent “Top Chef” episode judged contestants’ creations not on the taste, but by how many likes the presentation managed to get on Instagram. For Bon Appétit’s March Culture issue, the magazine hired professional photographers to shoot a 43-page feature spread—using iPhones. Moral: if you, like me, become infuriated whenever you see someone staging the perfect food ’Gram, maybe we should relocate to North Korea or something. This is the only way.