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Loss of appetite from food photos?

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  • Loss of appetite from food photos?

    Loss of appetite from food photos?

    By Jessica Teich | GLOBE CORRESPONDENT DECEMBER 10, 2013

    A 2013 study claims that the more one looks at photographs of food, the less they will be with satisfied with their meals.


    A 2013 study claims that the more one looks at photographs of food, the less they will be with satisfied with their meals.

    A steadily growing foodie culture, paired with perpetual access to social media, has given new life to amateur food photography. Everyone is snapping and sharing photos of meals they’re eating or about to eat or take out, from cheesy pasta bakes to chocolate-y extravaganzas. On Instagram, search #foodporn and you’ll find more than 18 million results, and on Pinterest, millions more. And though the tasty-looking photos might seem to foster foodie culture, the photo inundation is adversely impacting consumers.

    A 2013 study revealed that looking at crave-worthy photos weakens satisfaction once actually dining. In the study, as reported in September’s Journal of Consumer Psychology, one group of participants was exposed to salty food images, and a second group was shown sweets. Afterward, both groups snacked on peanuts. Those who had viewed salty food photos reported significantly less enjoyment. Researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of Minnesota credit this to sensory overload. The longer a person is exposed to one flavor, the less satisfying the treat becomes.

    “Looking at images of food activates similar regions in the brain that are used in perception,” explains Brigham Young professor Ryan Elder, a coauthor of the study. “So when I’m seeing something salty, my mind automatically imagines that experience.” Elder says that simulated consumption leads to decreased satiety, and navigating through pages of food photos has a similar end result.

    As an example, says the professor, “I went to a restaurant, and I’m taking and looking at a bunch of pictures of my food prior to eating. . . . I’m likely to not enjoy it as much as I would have, had I not looked at images at all.”

    By feeding their interest, foodies wind up dampening their dining experience. Even so, mouthwatering images continue to saturate popular media. “People love to see really, really good food,” says Branden Lewis, chef and culinary arts instructor at Johnson & Wales University, “but I don’t think that’s a new thing.” Lewis recalls his mother’s Good Housekeeping publications and the Jell-O molds that caught her eye. The difference today, he says, is “the availability of photos that can be taken and shared.”

    The popular mantra, “pics or it didn’t happen,” might be applied here. A dish is only relevant if publicized en masse. “Students are much more active in taking pictures with their phones,” says Jessica Habalou, assistant director of food and wine experiential programs at Boston University. She’s noticed a marked increase even in the last few years. “It does demonstrate how fixated we are on the visual of a plate.”

    Most users, however, are not professional, or even accomplished, photographers, which often results in less-than-appetizing photos. To keep dishes appealing, Lewis advises Johnson & Wales students to be mindful of balance, from flavor to color to shape. For the novice Instagrammer, he suggests “natural light, no flash – ever. And [secondly,] on occasion, mix up the point of view,” like extreme close-ups and off-centered shots.

    Elder, the Brigham Young professor, is beginning to explore why consumers feel compelled to share each bite they take. “Showing your food . . . is showing a little bit about your personality and who you are as an individual,” he says.

    But as Habalou points out, even if the image is beautifully composed or earns hundreds of “likes” on a social media site, photographing your food ultimately damages the dining experience. “While you wind up your camera and choose your filter,” she says, “your plate’s getting cold.”
    Interesting. I've never photographed any foods.

    Boston Globe
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

  • #2
    My SIL occasionally takes pictures of food (not just posed shots, but servings in restaurants and/or at private affairs), and has done so since long before facebook and camera phones came into existence. But, she was the food editor of our local paper back then, and now does things like edit cookbooks and she has a food blog that she writes (for which she is paid; she isn't just someone who blogs about this or that because she feels like it).

    I don't particularly consider it untoward or obnoxious if people take pictures in their own kitchen, but unless it's for a genuine, professional reason, I think that the habit of people snapping pictures of the plate that was just delivered to them in a restaurant is getting rather out of hand. That's your plate for your enjoyment, that the chef has prepared for you. It's annoying having flashes going off in the restaurant every time food gets delivered.

    It wouldn't really surprise me if this "visual food overload" eventually does quash appetites. We do "eat with our eyes" a great deal. We also eat with our nose, and we even eat with our tactile senses in our fingers. Whose mouth doesn't water a little more when cutting into that very tender steak that seemingly cuts like butter? I don't think anyone who has spent a great deal of time around one particular food smell or another hasn't, at least temporarily, lost their appetite for that particular food item. I know several people who have worked in fast food who literally couldn't stand the idea of ever eating another french fry, for example. I don't think that I'd really have the appetite for a steak if I spent an extended length of time on the back side of the butcher's counter, either.
    It's been ten years since that lonely day I left you
    In the morning rain, smoking gun in hand
    Ten lonely years but how my heart, it still remembers
    Pray for me, momma, I'm a gypsy now


    • #3
      I've worked as a server and as a line cook, sous chef (way before that meant anything important). Wherever I worked, no matter what the menu was, I shortly only prepared fish (if available in that kitchen) or a plain cheeseburger - no fries for my own food.

      I couldn't eat Mexican for years after working in a Tex-Mex kitchen, same with salads, Italian, whatever.

      I've never photographed my food nor looked at other regular-people food photographs. On a message board if someone posted a pic of a special cupcake or whatever, that's fine. Otherwise, I don't look and don't care.

      There's something kind of wrong with this current food fetish thing. The best food is food you like and don't think about much. If you are thinking about food more than a few minutes a day, you might have a problem if you aren't a food professional.

      Bigger people are like, "You eat huge meals, you must love food (care about the prep, ingredients, etc.). Nope, I eat the same types of things all the time, don't care about variety, looks, prep, etc. I eat plain most of the time and that frees you up mentally quite a bit.

      Nobody takes pix of plain foods.
      "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."


      • #4
        I probably have close to a thousand food-related photographs for Urbanspoon. In that case, it's not really to revel in the look of the food but to offer an example of the décor and type of food served at each establishment. Nothing fancy, no high quality camera, just a smart phone and some easy post-processing at home.

        As they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words" and I've used pictures of food to decide on new places to eat. When you're talking about spending $60-70 for a family of three dining out each day, I'd rather know what I'm getting into a little beforehand versus riding blind.

        I am, sadly, guilty of posting food or food-related pictures to social media, but I like taking pictures of all kinds of things so all kinds of mundane, irrelevant things wind up on my Facebook and G+ pages. (I'm also not a particularly good photog, but I figure if I do it enough I'll eventually get better, even if my equipment is sub-par.)
        “Any sufficiently advanced capitalism is indistinguishable from rent seeking.” ~ =j