Why I take pictures of my food

constructing and preserving nodes of memories

I try to take a picture of my food each time I eat. Here’s a snapshot:

I have gone from apologizing for being Asian, to telling people that I’m self-quantifying, to explaining that I’m collecting data for my future memoir, to being unapologetically nonchalant about it.

Our memories are faulty

They are so faulty, that if you google memories are faulty, you’ll find a never-ending stream of research on it.

By default, I only remember the pain and disappointment from my past. There are entire blocks of years in my life that I cannot recall a single happy event, and I took that as an absolute truth.

Then, Facebook launched Timeline. I remember looking through mine, presuming how much my life had sucked, only to re-discover all the memories that I had conveniently forgotten, in favor of storing only the painful memories. I scrolled through places I have travelled, the food I had eaten, the people I was with. My life then might have hurt, but it was not empty without meaning.

But I wouldn’t have remembered those events if I didn’t have an opportunity to revisit them again. That was when I knew that I couldn’t trust my recall, that preserving my memories needed deliberate intention.

Constructing nodes of memories

Taking a picture of what I eat is a simple way to construct nodes of memories. I define a node as an entity that would pull up other streams of information upon access. As with networks, the more nodes we have in our memories, the more connections can be made, the better the information becomes and the easier it flows.

Food is also the most consistent and convenient subject. I may not come across observations of beauty in my environment to stop and take a picture, but taking a picture of food before I eat is easy enough.

Here’s what comes with a picture:

  • Visual of the food
  • Geolocation
  • Date & time

These are what I can recall from accessing the snapshot of that memory constructed by the picture of the food:

  • The taste
  • My reaction, whether it was delicious or not
  • My mood
  • The people I was with, if any
  • Weather of that day

These are what I may potentially recall by making connections between nodes:

  • Where I was before and after
  • Surrounding physical environment, objects and energy
  • The general phase of my life at that point in time — the feelings I had, the people that impacted me, what I was going through, what I cared about, among other wordless emotions that I had felt


This is a pineapple bun. I had this in Richmond, Vancouver in April 2012, because Elaine, whom I got to know at a co-working space, swore by it. I remember feeling a combination of loneliness and comfort, exacerbated by the Chinese community at the restaurant.

I typed the above in a minute upon finding that picture on Path. I remember even the name of the restaurant. If I didn’t have this picture, there’s almost a zero percent chance of me remembering any of that above. Just from a picture, I can remember the expression Elaine had when she was describing the bun to me, where we both sat at the co-working space, other people I had met at the co-working space, taking the skytrain to Richmond, the room where I lived at that point of time.

Not just for ourselves

Imagine a world where cavemen didn’t paint on those cave walls. They didn’t paint because of narcissism, they painted because that was their way of making sense of their world.

Now, imagine a world where our future anthropologists wanted to find out more about how we lived. It will be fascinating to have data not only about major events or important figures, but the ordinary details of ordinary people.

Preserving memories

We believe what we want to believe, and a lot of what we want to believe comes from the narrative that we tell ourselves. I started to preserve my memories out of survival. I know I cannot trust my brain to reflect the truth to me. Taking actual ownership over my memories allows me to construct a different narrative from the one my brain is constructing.

A friend told me, if you keep on trying to take pictures, you wouldn’t be present in that moment. She’s not wrong, but if I don’t keep on trying to take pictures, I don’t even remember I existed in those moments. I may not even realize some moments existed for me. If we don’t remember a moment, were we ever there? Was that moment ever meaningful?

I preserve the past, in order to learn to love the present, in hope that I can love the future more.

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