Historically speaking, food has always been an incredibly important part of culture. Whether as a means of bringing people together, or a source of information about the culture of a given place, family, or individual, food is a common thread across every community, whether considering Emory University, the United States, and the world—we all have to eat. Because we all have to eat, the different ways we think about it, talk about it, and actually do it are unique and thought-provoking.
Food blogging has always been something that I’ve been tied to through Instagram. While Instagram “food bloggers” usually have full, internet web pages as well, I’ve always been led to their more formal blogs through their Instagram pages. My first memories of food Instagram pages are those I would come across on the earliest version of the app’s “discover” page, where pictures of gooey macaroni and cheese and thick slices of pizza would sporadically appear. Clicking on them would typically bring me to pages dedicated to cheese, chocolate, or similar indulgences. As the world of Instagram expanded, it quickly became clear to me that this food trend was more than just a few isolated accounts using the platform to promote their guilty pleasures. I began to notice a two-pronged pattern of these food Instagram accounts—one cohort was dedicated to all of life’s edible indulgences, while the other was dedicated to a trendy healthy-eating lifestyle, food made with various health-food alternatives and supplements.
This dichotomy is an interesting one because of the obvious polarity that is existing within the same space. In a sense, it operates as a microcosm of real life, with all of these guilty temptations pulling you one way, with the relatively angelic, health food bloggers yanking you back.
Food and healthy eating habits are contentious because of the implications they have in the space of both physical and psychological health. The world we live in is one full of dozens of different body types. For some people, healthy eating matters, for others, at least in their physical appearance, it has no bearing. From a personal standpoint, I grew up with a best friend who never, and still doesn’t, have to even remotely think about what she puts into her body—she was blessed with the metabolism of an Olympic sprinter, yet I can probably count the number of times she’s been inside a gym on one hand. Especially as a woman, I am aware of how difficult this food aspect of life can be for people before we even begin to consider the implications that social media brings to the table.
The topic of food Instagram accounts is full of material to consider from every angle, but this idea of the direct impacts these accounts have both on physical and mental health are of particular interest to me. It is not only important to consider the effects of an indulgent food “trend,” but also to consider the possibly negative effects of the health trend as well.
On both sides of the spectrum, there is a ton to explore. Whether focusing in on the (mostly female) groups that actually run these food accounts, or the food bloggers whose accounts have a lifestyle component in addition to their food focus, delving into the background elements of the food blogging world is also important to me. Often, the people who run food blogs such as “@TheInfatuation” or “@CheatDayEats”—accounts that are the epitome of the “indulgent” group—are actually seemingly happy, healthy, and fit. This dynamic is a confusing one, because, at least in my eyes, it projects this image that people can indulge the way these bloggers do and still look the way they look and feel as good as they claim to. On the flip side of this, the “health food” blogger group is also an interesting case study. Blogs such as “@RachLMansfield,” which focuses on healthy, but still tasty and satisfying meals and desserts, projects a similarly confusing message. Mansfield is a tiny, petite woman, yet the pictures of food she posts on her account, both in content and quantity, still do not seem conducive to a healthy lifestyle. While her food is “healthy,” the high fat, high quantity content she posts in a day still seems to amount to highly caloric diet.
In a nutshell, what I’m trying to say is that, like all social media, all we see as consumers is what people post—we don’t see what they actually do or how they truly live. So, the seemingly conflicting images of these happy, healthy, and fit people posing with massive quantities of food can seemingly be detrimental to those who don’t think to question if what they see online is how things are in reality. Does “@CheatDayEats” really eat that entire stack of 10 chocolate chip pancakes, or that quadruple decker grilled cheese, and would Rachel Mansfield really look the way she does if she ate every last bite of her massive almond butter granola “health” bars? Maybe yes, maybe no. The answers to those questions are not really what is important. What is important to consider, however, are the effects this world of Instagram food has on the people who are viewing it from the outside—the screens of their phones—and if this aspect of social media has a quantifiable impact on psychological and physical health.
I am very excited to explore these questions further, both through journalistic and academic sources, as well as through what I hope to be honest and frank discussions with my friends and peers.
Links to get the conversation started: