Friends know that I’m no stranger to this phenomenon.
I’ve bothered many a friend when the food arrives and everyone is absolutely dying to plow right into their (veggie) burger or their filet mignon. But they don’t. They wait. And they stare at me, almost always with poorly-disguised rage as I awkwardly take out my camera phone and snap a picture (as fast as I can!) before I review the image (as fast as I can!!) before giving them the green light. At which point, they dive face-first into their food.
So why do I do it? I’ve been asked this question on several occasions, and I’m never able to come up with a valid or reasonable answer. So I gave it some thought, asked a few friends, and did some research. Here’s my educated guess.
First, I asked my friend Tiffany who simply responded: “Because it’s fun!”
And she’s right! It is fun, god dammit! I really enjoy doing it, but apparently so do many others as seen on this Tumblr blog titled “Pictures of Asians Taking Pictures of Food“.
Is it because it’s fun for them as well? Is that why they do it? Or does the reason run deeper than that?
I came up with a hypothesis: the tendency for people to take pictures of food results from a strict upbringing that emphasizes the importance and value of food.
Now, it’s always so easy to blame the parents for… well.. anything, but hear me out.
Most parents, and more-so with those born in the baby boom era than the Generation X although not by a very large margin, are very effective at putting food up on a pedestal—especially if they were born and/or raised in a developing country.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is a direct result of the fact that most Asian countries during this time (i.e. 1946 to 1980) were still developing, or have even experienced war or post-war situations. Stories of famines, drought, and extreme poverty were carried down in the form of stories and even deeper still in the form of core values and beliefs. Food is vital. Food is valuable. Food is to not to wasted. Food is precious.
I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old phrase after leaving food on your plate: “There are starving children in _________!” Usually the blank is either replaced by:
a) Speaker’s native country
b) A developing nation (e.g. India, China, Ethiopia, etc.)
Some restaurants, especially Asian buffets, make it an enforced policy. The signs on the wall or the fine print on the menus will read: “Do not waste food!” There will most likely be a monetary penalty per food item that you cannot finish, like $0.20 per sushi that you left on your plate. (Way to be greedy! Or really hungry when you ordered…)
So wasting food is bad.
But the trend is changing of course. In China, it is a common courtesy during a business meeting for the guest (i.e. the person who ain’t paying the bill, despite the obligatory fuss they raise when the cheque arrives) to leave some food behind on their plate, bowl, tray, or whatever it is that they’re eating in or on.
Why? Because by consuming all the food the host has provided you with, it is a sign of disrespect since it means that the host has not provided you with enough food and, hence, said host is a terrible host. By leaving leftovers, it’s a way of showing that your host is so generous that you can’t finish the amount of food he or she is presenting to you (even if you’ve still got room in your belly…)!
But I digress. I think I’m on to something here with this hypothesis.
I’ve been told that the pictures of food that I take actually look better in the image than in real-life before they ate it. And that gives me a sense of satisfaction. I was able to not only capture the food, but improve its appearance and make it look more appetizing. And not only that, I’ve immortalized the food (which is, by now, long gone and being turned into a mush in somebody’s gut).And, as a photographer, I love the fact that food photography is exactly the opposite of “people photography” (“peopletography??”) despite using the same techniques!
What do I mean by this? Well, typically when a photographer is taking photographs of people, if it’s a wide shot, it’s a shot of the landscape. And if it’s a close close of a person, it’s a portrait.
However, with the same techniques, the results are reversed with photos of food: If it’s a wide shot, it’s a portrait. If it’s a close shot, it’s a
macro landscape (with valleys of starch, rivers of gravy, and fields of salad greens!). You get the picture.
Some might see food photography as form of foodie snobbery (i.e. I’m better than you because… just look at what I’m eating!), but I say it’s more than that. It’s fun. It’s
art artistic. It’s even a way of immortalizing good food, showing your appreciation for the current privilege to consume such great dishes, and (if you are geotagging your shots) even marketing and promoting your favourite places to eat on behalf of the restaurant owners! How’s that for sending your compliments to the chef!