You Are What You twEAT!
A sufficiently developed technology is indistinguishable from magic. Being the great growling engine of change, technology has changed the way we live, think, and communicate. However, have you considered its impact on our dining rooms?
The technological advancements in the food industry are flabbergasting, to say the least.
Robots have been seamlessly integrated within the food industry over the past couple of years. The operation of the assembly of packets and placing the food inside them is an entirely automated process in certain industries. The use of Artificial Intelligence has made many complex techniques easier to implement. E-commerce has gained popularity in the food industry. Fully automated robotic kitchens are already in effect. Although it may sound like something from a sci-fi movie, food 3D printers do actually exist.
But the most entrancing query is: Do you really think your food choices are your own?
In this age of constant information bombardment, we can never really guarantee free-will. Technology has now seeped into our food choices too!
When we are at restaurants, we would have seen people impatiently waiting for their food, not because they are hungry but because they are excited to share the snaps of the dish. Since there is no love stronger than the love for food, showing it off can be fun. But no one tends to bother if that love is always harmless as it seems.
Currently, the most-liked photo on Instagram is an egg. Pizza is the most Instagrammed food followed by Steak and Sushi. On Pinterest, there are more than 1.7 billion recipe pins. BuzzFeed’s Tasty, a food-oriented page on Facebook, has over 3.5 million followers.
One of the latest social media trends is watching people eat food online. This is called Social Eating and it started in South Korea.
The phenomenon of “Mukbang”, a portmanteau of the Korean words for eating and broadcasting, is now a worldwide trend after its inception in 2010.
There are influencers setting up their entire careers by harnessing these trends in vogue. You might be amazed when you come to know how much social media has altered our relationship with food. Let’s take a look at the impact of technology on our daily eating habits.
Though the impersonal nature of connecting with others from behind a screen receives criticism, the anonymity of social media actually has its advantages. When a health condition is too painful or embarrassing to talk about in person, an online forum can provide a safe space. Also, the time when magazines were the only sources that contained articles about diet and food seems distant. New trends in food come up daily across all social media platforms and it makes people more aware of what they are eating and keeps them informed about current food trends. There are plenty of Instagram and Facebook pages that focus just on food as well.
The knowledge gained from social media can be potentially used as a tool for public health interventions. Social media is most promisingly an aid when it comes to diet plans and healthy cooking. There are even apps like Fooducate and Easy Diet Diary available that tell the ingredients and calories in an item and thus helps us to suit ourselves with healthier options. In addition, apps like Health IQ provides information on topics like food allergies and childhood health. Many innovative appliances that help in healthy cooking are available. There are even countertop ovens available that will notify you via SMS when your meals are cooked to perfection.
But on the contrary, social media can foster unrealistic expectations of health. When the images online present perfection, people may end up feeling that healthy eating and physical fitness are unattainable. Dietitian Erin Palinski-Wade once said.
“Social media can give the impression that creating ‘perfect meals’ and meal prepping can almost be effortless”
Also, people comfortably overlook the fact that the number of followers isn’t necessarily an indicator of expertise. It’s always best to rely on a credentialed professional in the real world than an influencer on Instagram.
Are the feeds feeding us?
We seem to be subconsciously accounting for how others behave when we are making our own food choices. In February 2020, a survey was conducted by Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences to research the impact of social media on the food choices of 369 university students. Aston University health psychology Ph.D. student Lily Hawkins, who led the study alongside supervisor Dr. Jason Thomas, said:
“This study suggests we may be influenced by our social peers more than we realise when choosing certain foods. We seem to be subconsciously accounting for how others behave when making our own food choices.”
Participants of the study reportedly ate an extra fifth of the portion of fruits and vegetables themselves for every portion they believed their social media peers consumed.
This implies that our online social circles play a very important role in our food choices. When we see our friend’s Instagram story of a sizzling brownie, it is completely natural for us to experience a spike in our appetites, and even end up ordering the same brownie on a food-delivery app within the hour.
In recent times, people can share the result of their cooking experiments online almost immediately with thousands of people, and this triggers an inevitable urge in others to try it out themselves. The food trends were once published in magazines and newspapers exclusively. Now things are much easier. People can directly communicate with others about their favorite dishes and discuss innovative approaches to cooking and presenting.
Many people have started Facebook groups and forums to discuss their challenges in sticking to a diet or ways to prepare food. Some of them have also adopted new diets and lifestyles-based on hashtags trending on Facebook and Twitter. All this definitely proves that social media has a profound influence on the choices of people regarding food.
Does it influence the Food Industry?
When it comes to the food industry, it’s still uncertain whether social media is a boon or bane. The growth of social media has influenced what the food growers and restaurant owners sell.
Social media offers brands exposure to various restaurants, giving them the opportunity to connect with their target demographic to promote their products. It also makes it easier for customers to find out key information, such as opening times or details of menu changes. In addition to this, social media has given consumers the power to spread information to hundreds of people in a matter of seconds. For the restaurant industry, which relies heavily on reviews and recommendations, this means every customer now has the power of a well-acclaimed critic.
Social media can also damage a brand’s reputation if complaints and criticisms are not handled properly. There are many examples of such companies that completely went out of sight right in front of us due to the intervention of social media. Most of us comfortably share such demeaning news without even getting our facts checked.
Social media affects the restaurant industry in ways stretching from customer loyalty to public reputation. In fact, a one-star improvement in rating tallies to a 5–9% increase in revenue. Social media has increased the need for restaurants to not only offer delicious food, but also aesthetically appealing plates and great service as well.
Foreign Cuisine and Crazy Fusions
Everyone would have checked out foreign cuisines at one time or the other. We cannot call ourselves foodies if we haven’t craved for Bangkok’s street food or Mexican tacos at least once in our lives. The influence of social media in popularizing the various cuisines is undeniably huge. Food often depicts the culture of the area and now, social media has made it easier to appreciate it.
Have you ever tried mixing up different food cultures, and ended up with something irreparably disastrous?
A lot of recipes have been born due to these crazy mix-ups. When people watch certain cooking shows or scroll through their feeds filled with food snaps, their inner voices inevitably tempt them to try cooking up those “attractive” dishes. Social media can be held at least partly responsible for some of the disasters in many kitchens.
But just a friendly reminder to all those who fill our feeds with food! Being constantly bombarded with the eating routines of others may be unpleasant at times.
At this point, we still don’t know what the future has in store for us. Maybe we’ll have a robo-chef whipping up meals in our kitchen, or even a 3D food printer to replace our microwave. Either way, technology is evolving at a rapid pace. It’s not only influencing the way we think about and consume food, but it’s also helping us make better, and more informed decisions.
However, technology is a useful servant but also a dangerous master. It would be wise to have a second thought before letting it intervene in our day-to-day lives.