A question for the ages: If you spend an hour in the kitchen creating a wholesome, nourishing, delicious meal from scratch and don't Instagram it, did it ever really happen? (More importantly, who is actually eating all those smoothie bowls on Instagram?)
Nigella Lawson, whose new cookbook hits shelves this week, recently wrote in the Guardian about the many ways in which the internet has changed the way we cook.
The internet has given us access to different cultures' ingredients, with pantries likely to stock equal amounts of harissa, miso, and barbecue sauce, and a more connected global kitchen, with recipes traveling between cooks on different sides of the globe at lightning speed.
And, thanks to Instagram, there's more emphasis placed on the aesthetics and camera-readiness of our food than ever before. "It can make a cook despair," she writes. "When I post a picture of a stew, I feel I have to remind people — who find the messy brownness unappealing — that 1) stews are brown and 2) brown food tastes the best." With Instagram, cooking is no longer just for private consumption — it's performance. And that's enough to give any home cook a bit of performance anxiety.
All those wholesome farro bowls and cacao nib-dusted matcha smoothies are, indeed, as lovely to look at as they are to eat. As Amanda Mull explored for Eater earlier this year, Instagram has had the curious effect of transforming the role of food from that of nourishment to that of performance and status. Instagram food is aesthetic fodder, and in the land of Internet points, a monochromatic slab of baked mac 'n cheese can't hold a candle to sushi burritos or matcha lattes.
But to paraphrase Nigella, it's often the homely, aesthetically unappealing dishes — you know, the drab brown stews and khaki gravy-slathered casseroles — that bring us the most happiness. "It doesn't really matter to me whether people post pictures of stews on Instagram or Pinterest, but it does worry me if they stop cooking them," she writes. "Not because it would be a bad thing, but because it would be a sad thing."
As someone with both an Instagram account and a staunch love for the beige diet, I get it: a broth-splattered vat of beef stew or a trough of chili will never net as many likes as, say, a perfectly styled shot of fluffy cloud eggs on a sleek marble tabletop. But stew comforts me in a way that whipped egg whites can't. Throwing together an ad-libbed mess of beans that results in a delicious chili brings me a satisfaction that feels different from closely following a complicated recipe to the letter (or standing in line for an hour just to get my hands on a Cronut).
A little chaos is a good thing. And, like a beloved pair of sweatpants or a decadent couch-bound Netflix marathon, sometimes the things that bring us the most comfort aren't always the most aesthetically pleasing.
Plus, some meals are just too good to stop and photograph.