THE BLOG
10/15/2014 09:55 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

Instagram Food Photography and the Search For Meaning: Part II

I finished my last post about Food-stagraming on a somewhat cynical note. I have learned, from my years as an undergrad, to take a cynical stance on most issues, to doubt perceived authenticity, and instead choose to view that authenticity as a façade for something sinister or exploitative lurking beneath. I believe that's why I was so inclined to draw the conclusion that my Food-stagram phase is just a hobby designed to boost my self-esteem and fill the time. My Food-stagrams are a source of embarrassment among my friends, who tease me, albeit good-naturedly, for succumbing to the trend. It makes sense that I would view the Instagram food world through a sarcastic lens.

However, if there's anything my alma mater, and my friends, have taught me, it's that challenging ones view is essential for a more complete understanding. Indulge me now, readers, as I attempt to justify my Food-stagraming through an altogether different lens: I genuinely like doing it, and it's something I would, in fact, like to pursue professionally. My pictures are not cries for attention, but the construction of an important portfolio, which proves not only that I know my way around an avocado, poppy seed, and corn-flavored ice cream cone, but that I can capture it and make it look beautiful.

Let's look at some Food-stagramers who 'gram not for the like, (okay, maybe also for the like) but for the sake of food - the beautiful, awe-inspiring thing that is food - itself. Among the accounts I mentioned last post, (see: @betchesluveatinginnycx012) one finds the gems, the accounts, both personal and professional, which take food photography to the highest level. There is @thefeedfeed which garners a community under the hashtag, #feedfeed. This account is dedicated to regraming home cooks, who photograph their ginger infused butternut squash soup under the most delicate lighting conditions; whose cinnamon banana bread has been created and photographed with such care, one can only conclude that the chef/photographer spent hours at work. Food52 (@Food52) is similar to the feedfeed: its bio reads, "Helping people become better, smarter, happier cooks." This website's Instagram account features beautifully homemade and photographed concoctions.

High-quality Food-stagraming extends into personal accounts. @gilliehouston posts mouthwatering stacks of pancakes and sheets of cookies worthy of a professional; look closer and you'll see she's an intern for Food Network Magazine: her purpose is both personal and professional. Here is someone's whose Food-stagraming can directly affect her career. Baker Ben (@benskitchen) is a student from Cape Town, who is constantly churning out some new flaky, homemade pastry; he has a particular proclivity for citrus. Is Ben Food-stagraming just for the likes, because he has nothing else to do? More likely it's for the sake of his future food-related career - and because it's gratifying. A similar amateur, who should probably be considered a professional by this point, is @dennistheprescott, who builds lobster claw toped burgers with homemade pretzel buns and bourbon-infused cinnamon rolls in the same breath (gram). These people invest such time and love into their photos of food that it's almost impossible to denounce them as "doing it for the likes." Some people love food. Some people take fantastic photos. These people Instagram their food. It's as simple as that.

Food, for those lucky enough to have it in abundance, (and that's an entirely separate conversation) is more than just nourishment; it is, for some, an all-encompassing way of life. For these Food-stagramers, it is a form of self-expression. In the same way fashion has risen out of the realm of the necessary and convenient, and become an art form, so, too, has food transcended the level of the necessary and become, to many, art.

So let's reexamine my denunciation of my own Food-stagraming as an activity with low utility meant to boost my self-esteem and fill the time. I do not doubt that it partially serves that purpose. Everyone likes getting likes; that is not the issue in question. I assert that my Food-stagraming is also something much more substantial, something which I, too, might base a career upon, or from which, at the very least, I might seek a real sense of gratification. I love taking good pictures of my food. It makes me happy.

The first date my girlfriend took me on, a year ago, was to a Snack Dragon Taco Shack, on the Lower East Side. I never would have sought out such a place on my own, but she insisted that the food was good enough to warrant the trek (which at that point was substantial) and it was. We've been eating our way around NYC ever since, and I've been capturing most of our meals on Instagram. For me, the Food-stagrams are a reminder of the relationship I've built over the past year, and a celebration my newfound love for food, which she has helped to cultivate.

@a_polkes if you're interested.