Is Instagram making us fat?

First, a caveat: I’m part of the system. Let’s call it the Social Food Media Juggernaut.

As a writer and content-maker focused on food & wellness, I write plenty of blog posts, share recipes through Pinterest and Instagram, even make those cute little recipe videos that show up in your Facebook feed. I’m part of the SFMJ.

Yet I’m often utterly dismayed by the SFMJ. The recipes and photos that cycle through my social feeds look delicious enough. But holy smokes! All you need to do to understand our nation’s obesity problem is to search ‘food’ on Pinterest.

Fried food. Stuffed food. Loaded food. Food that’s loaded and stuffed and thenfried. Unicorn food. Knockoffs of food from Red Lobster. Food made with bottled ranch dressing and boxed cake mix and canned soup and Just. So. Much. Cream cheese.

Maybe it’s just me. But, ugh.

Clearly, it is just me.

The word ‘recipe’ is the third most-searched word on Pinterest.

Per an article posted on Business.com in February, there were, at that moment, 168,375,343 posts on Instagram hashtagged #food. That was three months ago; think of how many more there are now.

Starbucks has 14 million followers on Instagram.

Posting pics of food — whether it’s a gorgeous recipe Instagram with perfect props and natural light or a blurry snap of that plate of wings you hoovered at the sports bar last night — has become an obsession.

Why? According to insight from psychologist Susan Albers on PsychologyToday.com, we love showing off how virtuous — or how naughty — we are via pictures of what we eat and drink. We post to impress with that super pricey meal at that very exclusive restaurant. Sometimes, we post to gross other people out.

Mostly, we post food photos because we want people to understand us. French philosopher and prototypical foodie Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

With all these yummy things constantly streaming in front of our eyes, don’t you wonder what it’s doing to us? Honestly, my Instagram feed makes my stomach growl. I spotted a video for perfect oven roasted potatoes on Facebook and made them twice in a week. I bought rainbow sprinkles.

Look more closely, and you’ll see overt cues that tempt us to eat more, to eat unhealthy food, to cook with cheap mass-produced packaged foods. Microwave Cake-In-A-Mug! How cute! That’s 200 calories for you. Cheese Fondue in a Bread Bowl! There’s about a decade’s worth of carbs and fat. Crock Pot Chicken and Mushrooms — great! Let’s use canned soup AND dried soup mix AND cream cheese!

Want some irony? Check out this screen shot of my recent Pinterest search:

What’s more, this pornographication of food makes us more conscious of how something looks than how it tastes, and may make us value food less. A headline in The Guardian back in February hints at this problem: “Instagram generation is fuelling UK waste mountain, study finds.” The story references research suggesting that Millennials, inspired by photos in their social feeds, are experimenting with exotic ingredients, impulse-shopping and creating Instagram-worthy dishes, only to throw out leftovers and items they’ll never use again.

It goes on: “A post-war increase in household food waste is due to changes in how we value choice, time and money in relation to food,” said food historian and broadcaster Dr. Polly Russell. “Gone are the days of eating the same food, on the same days of the week, week in, week out. Most people today, particularly younger generations, demand variety. However, with a menu which changes often, it is more challenging to control waste and plan ahead.”

Big Food is paying attention. Guess who capitalized on the whole “unicorn” food trend sparked on Instagram? Starbucks, that’s who. The 400-calorie drink created a “significant” bump during its five-day run in April, according to the company, which promises even more “unique” drinks to come. Oh, goodie. More 400-calorie drinks.

You bet: I watch those superquick recipe videos. I search ‘#foodporn’ on Insta.
But I’m ever more mindful of what I — as a writer, teacher and recipe developer — put out in the world, so that I’m not contributing to the overconsumption.

By the way, check out my recent recipe for Buttermilk Biscuit Muffins. ;-0