It’s Food. Just Eat It!

By / Magazine / July 10th, 2014 / 1

I’ll be honest: when it comes to social media, I’m decidedly antisocial. No Twitter. No Instagram. A moribund Facebook account. I don’t even have a cell phone (I can hear the gasps of incredulity; and yes, I do have electricity and running water) and am pretty much ignorant on the subject of texting (or other practices that rhyme with it).

And the more times I have to stay stopped as the light ahead turns green while the smartphone zombie in front of me blissfully thumbs away, eyes cast lap-wards; the more times I’m cut short in mid conversation with someone because they absolutely must stop to read and respond to The Most Important Text Message Ever; the more times I’m driven batty by the incessant buzzing, pinging and flashing of the damn things in the most inappropriate places, at the most inopportune times, the happier I am that I don’t own an iLeash or one of its pestiferous ilk. Lol (as it were).

Now, before I’m written off as an old fuddy-duddy and/or Head Weaver of the Royal Order of Luddites, it should be noted that I am not at all against the wonders of technology (though I am of a vintage that remembers when an app was something served before an entrée). What I am against is when techno gizmos cross the circuit ribbon-thin line that separates “convenience” from “distraction.” Yes, dear readers such as you could claim that one person’s distraction is another’s convenience, and it’s all a matter of perspective and that I should basically just drop it. However, doing so would leave me considerably shy of my word count. And as much as I don’t want to come across as not being receptive to your suggestions, I’m going to have to respectfully bow out of considering opinions other than my own at this point. Would you rather be writing this? Right. Didn’t think so. So just relax.

Okay, where was I?

Oh, yeah … so, like, the irony of smartphones is that they aren’t used much as phones, at least as far as I can tell from the perspective of a non-addict. I mean really, talking is so landline. Instead, these “phones” are message senders/receivers. Fine and dandy, I suppose. But then some propellerhead had to come up with the bright idea of jamming in a camera, elevating mere message boxes from the realm of purely irritating to that of actually dangerous. Sure, any presumed right of personal privacy is now out the window. Whatever. The real frightening part is that the banality of some tweets now extends to all things visual. Which brings me … um, sorry, did I just hear you mutter the word “finally”? … to the subject at hand.

The “phonecam” lets people – who in many cases shouldn’t be taking pictures – take pictures (or even shoot videos) of all sorts of things they shouldn’t be taking pictures of, in places where pictures shouldn’t be taken at all. I could cite a plethora of examples plucked from the pages of daily newspapers, but let’s try to be original. What about, oh, I dunno, pictures of food. Taken in restaurants. And typically sent out to a host of unlucky recipients.

This all-too-common practice can be grating on a few levels.

First off, food photography, as any food photographer knows, is an art form. It takes good lighting, an eye for composition, expert technique, time and patience to make a food shot look appetizing. In other words, things you don’t typically encounter at your typical restaurant dinner with a typical diner. So when you take a quick phonecam shot of that spectacular ragù di anatra con tagliatelle and text it to your friends, the following conversation likely supervenes on their end:

“Hey, honey, the Smiths just texted me a photo of their main course at Villa Tuscano tonight.”

“Oh? What is it?”

“Dunno. Maybe road kill.”

“Yum. Glad we’re not there.”

So if the goal of sending out these kinds of photos is to make those receiving them drool with envy and want to rush out to Villa Tuscano, you have decidedly kicked things way into the rough. And thanks to you, Villa Tuscano probably lost a few potential new customers. In fact, the whole food photo-taking-sending endeavour begs the question as to why, exactly, it’s done. This will no doubt present an interesting area of study for future behavioural scientists.

Anyway, for every person who doesn’t want to receive these “feasts for the eye,” there are probably a dozen more who wish they weren’t taken in the first place.

“It’s food. Just eat it,” scolded über-chef David Chang as he infamously banned diners from indulging in amateur food porn at his MomofukuKo flagship in NYC. This, of course, prompted howls of indignation from (largely) “food bloggers” as well as those armed with the lethal, “If I’m paying two hundred dollars for a &^%$#@ meal, I have the right to take a &^%$#@ picture of it! Humph!” logic bomb. (Yeah, and if I’m spending two hundred dollars for a &^%$#@ meal, I have the right to stand on my chair and crow like a &^%$#@ rooster. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.)

See, there’s a distinction between taking a quick, non-invasive photo and crowing like a rooster, or being intrusive with your camera. It all comes down to the annoyance factor. And maybe the difference between being mildly affected and totally bonkers.

“If the flash is off it doesn’t bother me,” says Steven Davey, someone who has no doubt seen plenty of this kind of thing (possibly including crowing like a rooster) as restaurant critic for Toronto’s NOW Magazine. This seems to be at the centre of the issue. You are entitled to do almost anything, anywhere (within the limits of the law and good taste), so long as your indulgence isn’t annoying/grossing out those around you. This is called having manners which, admittedly, seems to be falling out of favour these days. Ask Danny McCallum, Executive Chef at Toronto’s upscale Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse, if you want proof.

“We do tableside Caesar salads,” he informs. “The makers are constantly having their picture taken without being asked, and I know some of them really don’t like it, and, in fact, refuse to have it taken. Sometimes things get out of control with big cameras and flashes, but mostly it’s OK.”


Photographing restaurant staff, other diners, etc. without consent? No way. Hauling out a DSLR the size of shoebox and turning your table into a mini photo studio? Forget it. Using a camera with the flash on in a restaurant? Not particularly welcome by others. But handled with some tact, there shouldn’t be a problem in snapping a quickie or two. Some restaurants have actually been known to help patrons get good photos of their meals without interfering with the well being of others. And some restaurants serve food that pretty much asks to be photographed.

David Wolffe who, along with wife Donna, runs The Caledonian, an authentic Scottish Pub and Restaurant in Toronto, sees many a foodie shutterbug. “Yes, we get lots of people taking food shots,” he admits. “Our take is hopefully it is in good jest, as we serve what some would deem to be odd food.”

I suppose if you’re serving beer battered pickles and deep-fried Mars bars you kind of are begging out the cameras. Then there’s the matter of the traditional Scottish stuffed sheep’s gut.

“Hey, honey, the Smiths just texted me a photo of their main course at The Caledonian tonight.”

“Oh? What is it?”

“Dunno. Maybe, um, guts ….”

Remember, just because you can ….


Tod Stewart is the contributing editor at Quench. He's an award-winning Toronto-based wine/spirits/food/travel/lifestyle writer with over 35 years industry experience. He has contributed to newspapers, periodicals, and trade publications and has acted as a consultant to the hospitality industry. No matter what the subject matter, he aims to write an entertaining read. His book, 'Where The Spirits Moved Me' is now available on Amazon and Apple.

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