Some Restaurants Are Banning Taking Pictures Of Your Food And I'm Totally On Board With It

Social interaction sustains us, so does ingesting food -- and when both are of the highest quality in a place designed with respect for that, taking a quick pic with my iPhone feels like giving the entire event short shrift.

Jan 23, 2013 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

People take photos of their food. This is a thing that happens. With the foodie trend reaching "Portlandia"-worthy heights, it’s no small wonder that some restaurants are cracking down on people who spend at least one-third of the meal together, crouched in front of the table, trying to “fully capture the essence” of their grilled cheese.

I am not universally opposed to food photography. I’m not even slavishly devoted to the idea that only professionals should be taking photographs of food. I count several professional and amateur cooking and baking sites among my favorites. (I refuse to call them "food porn" sites because unless it’s a website where someone is humping a torte with wild, frenzied abandon, I’m not going to further fuck up my relationship with foods by sexualizing it, except for pudding. Because rubbing my skin against some pudding skin? Me. Ow.)

But I do think that when we sit down to eat a meal outside of our homes, it is almost always lame to start clicking away.

My feelings aren’t solely directed at the quality of the pictures taken and then shared, though sure, that’s a part of it. Some of them are good photographs. They are well-lit, expertly angled shots of the fish head soup that makes you click "like" before you can help yourself. Mostly that is not the case. This is because most people are not professional or even quasi-schooled photographers.

Most people taking food photographs have little other than their self-proclaimed status as foodies, their Instagram accounts and their smartphones to recommend them. This is  what a former professor of mine would call "knowing just enough to be dangerous." I count myself among their masses. My photographs of a birthday cake don’t evoke the joy the event, or the tastiness of the treat. Instead they call to mind death’s inevitability and gluten intolerance, if anything at all.

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This cake and the party were great. This photo just makes me sad. 

This could very easily become an Andy Rooney-type rant, with me all bellowing, “You are not a photographer, you are not a food reporter, you are a dude or lady person among other dudes or lady persons, and I promise you no one cares about your artfully arranged tower of onion rings unless you are offering them one. Or seven.”

But that would be disingenuous, and also my eyebrows are woefully not up to the challenge Rooney slapped down.

Because my distaste for people taking photographs of their food isn’t just about the poor quality of a fine product. Nor is it strictly about the finer points of social mores -- though I agree with the idea that if I’m forking over (haaaaa, accidental pun, sorry, Jane) a considerable portion of my paycheck to eat at some place like Per Se then I shouldn’t have to contend with a barrage of flash bulbs. My annoyance at the habit isn’t even born of a high-horse disdain for the navel-gazing in the aughts, or the “culture of oversharing," because I am self-aware and write about my poop on the internet.

I don’t like people taking photographs of their food at restaurants because it takes the food out of its context. Whatever people might say -- and I’ve heard it so many times from so many diet proponents -- food is inherently social. Do you need to have food around to have a good time with someone? No, of course not. But there is something primal and nourishing in sharing a meal with people you enjoy.

Social interaction sustains us, so does ingesting food -- and when both are of the highest quality in a place designed with respect for that, taking a quick pic with my iPhone feels like giving the entire event short shrift.

Not to be too grandiose, but I keep thinking of that William Blake quote (she said, slapping her literary dick on the table). “A robin redbreast in a cage puts all of heaven in a rage.” It's about context, and when you separate the food made for you in a restaurant from one, you’re belittling the entire experience.

Do people taking food at restaurants irk you? Do you think restaurants banning pics are going too far? Who is your favorite photographer -- I really love Diane Arbus because I am drawn to portraiture.