By Livia Nassius
On Instagram and Facebook, heck almost on every social media platform, food is beautiful and everywhere. There seem to be countless food and travel bloggers (and wannabe bloggers) out there, crowding Instagram to the point that every search on the app contains them. And don’t get me started about the perfectly Instagram-ready bistros and brunch spots popping up all over the place, including in Barcelona, where I live. It’s too much picture-perfect Instagram/blogging candy to handle.
Food influencers aside, there are all the food start-ups, from Blue Apron to VizEat, bringing strangers together to share cooking experiences and meals together. Food + Instagram + the internet = a blooming, lucrative industry that can only go up from here.
What’s behind the iPhone lenses and alluring filters, the staged plates of food and cocktails in exquisite locations, the scrolling-induced food envy and the endless video watching of BuzzFeed’s Tasty feed? Take it from me, a self-proclaimed foodie and a social media marketer by profession: This sort of hype and cultural fixation on food in the digital realm has to be based on more than looks alone.
I realized, upon moving to France for my Erasmus year (our student exchange program in the European Union) in uni, that student food can be good food (and that wine, in France, can be bought for 1 euro!). More importantly, I learned that the best way to make new friends is with food. Whether in your student residence, at a cheap takeout or at a very French bistro, candle-lit with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and all, food brings strangers together.
“This sort of hype and cultural fixation on food in the digital realm has to be based on more than looks alone.”
Some eight years ago, before the golden age of #instafood, I remember sitting down to a spontaneous dinner with Erasmus friends I had just met that day. No one pulled out their phone — there was no holding people back to get the perfect shot before digging in. It wasn’t a glamorous setting, just humble student accommodation with stools and foldable chairs. We ate baguette, cheese and some simple salad, and shared a bottle of that 1 euro wine.
It was the most simple lunch ever, yet it’s rich in memory. Foreigners, all of us, we were basking in the newness of the most stereotypical French food we could find — it’s almost embarrassing to remember. But we were excited to be in a new place, surrounded by new people and kind of nervous. We were all vulnerable, cut from the safety nets of home. And that’s what made the moment, and many subsequent similar moments, so powerful. We made a momentary connection with one another and then solidified it over a shared meal.
That’s nothing new, I know. But, when one is a foreigner, in a new land, searching for new friends, it can be a rediscovered revelation. Food is key. (Alcohol helps too, but that’s another essay altogether.)
Creating a new family, one you choose yourself, is the foundation of starting out in a new country (or city) from scratch. This family is not connected by blood, but by shared experiences, shared perspectives and values. How do you find it and build that? Dinners, lunches, brunches!
“When one is a foreigner, in a new land, searching for new friends, it can be a rediscovered revelation. Food is key.”
When people sit down to share a meal together something happens — a bond is formed. The happy bustle of people arriving at your place with their contributions to a dinner party or potluck, whether it’s cheese and wine, or dishes from their homeland; then, the best part of all — that delicious silence that descends on the table as everyone digs in. Even the simple act of handing dishes of food to one another or passing the salt and pepper — this basic and foundational act of sharing is the very thing that keeps us alive.
So no wonder we’re obsessed with food on our Instagrams, Facebooks and blogs. How could we not be? But vitally, we must not forget the essential why it takes up so much of our cultural space and why we value all these forms of content so much. It’s not just about the pretty digital pictures. It’s about real-world connection.
Dinner is better when we eat together, as the old adage goes. But I’d like to push it one step further: Life is better when we eat together — and often.
P.S. The dish pictured above is calçots, the famous variety of scallion eaten grilled with a special dipping sauce in the colder months in Catalonia, Spain.
Livia Nassius is a marketer currently focusing on the ever-changing world of social media. A keen observant of the weirdness of human nature, she’s lived adventurously in Canada, Belgium, France, Poland and Sweden, and now calls Barcelona home. She’s an avid reader, traveler, foodie and craft beer lover.