Picture This

A recent article about using instagram to study nutrition in areas designated “food deserts,” published in the Atlantic raised many interesting issues and opportunities for food scholars. For me, the most interesting element of this study is not the nutritional quality of the food depicted, but the strong argument that these images make against the very concept of the food desert as a benighted place. We typically instagram our food when we like the look of it, when we are enjoying it so much that we want our friends to see it too. The images included in the Atlantic‘s article are clearly of this kind, celebratory rather than critical or disappointed. What these images tell us is that on the other side of each camera phone is a person who is delighted with their options, at least in this moment. They feel lucky and proud and ready to eat. This is not to say that access to a wide range of foods–including those associated with your own cultural foodways–isn’t a genuine social good, but rather that we can’t assume that those who lack kale don’t love what they have instead.When we criticize something like a bacon egg and cheese sandwich as not “real” food, we implicitly paint the person who loves it as either ignorant or powerless without acknowledging that people do make choices within their own contexts–economic, geographic, cultural–and that those choices carry meaning as well as calories. As we advocate for health we also have to honor the joys and meanings people find in whatever they love to eat.