Sunday, 24 March 2013

In defence of Instagramming your meals

You've placed your order, fragrant steam is wafting from the kitchen, and finally the waiting staff set your meal in front of you. What's the first thing you do: tuck in to your first forkful, or reach for your camera?

The Big Buddha on Lantau Island. Photo by Anita Isalska
Whether you've sat impatiently as your dining companion Instagrammed or tweeted their meal, or whether you're the one tagging your friends at that bar or restaurant, social media and meals have been cosying up for quite some time. The trend hasn't just exasperated diners, some chefs have gone as far banning their customers from photographing their food. Perhaps it's because the camera flashes detract from the carefully choreographed ambiance (maybe less of a problem in your local greasy spoon), but some find it an affront to the food to let your souffle sag while you choose the perfect Instagram filter to bring out its creamy undertones. For plenty of people though, it's more about the annoyance of a distracted dining companion than an issue with social media sharing.

Well, with all apologies to friends who will have to wait while I snap a picture of my gluten-free cupcakes, I'm not going to stop Instagramming my food any time soon. Do I think the world is genuinely interested in what I fill my face with day to day? Probably not, but being a gluten-free eater, and part of the net's gf community, I know what a difference all those Instagram pic, tweets and blog posts can make.

Finding MANA! in Hong Kong. Photo by Anita Isalska
Take my recent trip to Hong Kong. I spent a few days stopping over in Hong Kong on my way to Australia (more on my food adventures there later) and while I was beyond excited to see the sights, spending time in a city known for noodles and soy sauce-laced cuisine made my stomach flutter with worry. I might be standing awe-struck in beautiful temples and enjoying ferry rides, but would I be doing so on an empty stomach?

It was social media that saved me. In the days leading up to the trip, I trawled Instagram hashtags for clues on gluten-free eats in Hong Kong. I scoured Twitter and blogs for tips on eating gf and before too long I was bursting with leads on places to eat safely and happily in HK. This blog entry from Sassy Hong Kong was one of the best finds -- I munched on takeaway coconut cake from MANA! in Kowloon Park, and even had gluten-free chicken spring rolls from Noodlemi based on its tips.

Spicy rice noodles with grilled king prawns at Noodlemi.
Photo by Anita Isalska
I ate extremely well in the city, and it's all because of people photographing, tagging and writing about their food online (the actual websites of some of the places I dined at didn't come up in a simple Google search, I only found them via blogs, comments on blogs, forums and other social media).

So when I find a fantastic gluten-free treat, my compulsion to Instagram or tweet isn't founded on some insane belief that the world needs to know what's going into my belly. Or a conviction that the internet needs more pictures of red velvet cupcakes. I know other gluten-free diners, like me, have a keen eye for the gluten-free clues strewn around the internet, so I won't be stopping snapping, tweeting or (over)sharing my food anytime soon. And I hope no one else does either.