Look at that thing. Take it in.
The photo you see before you is a full lobster, including its shell, sitting on top of a pizza. As you examine this image, you might find yourself wondering why one would put a lobster shell on top of pizza, instead of, say, just the edible parts of the arthropod. You might also find yourself wondering why there are little “legs” made of red pepper slices laid out on the pie. Is this a small child’s contribution to “crazy food day” in Ms. Peterson’s second grade social studies class? Was it made for a longshoreman’s retirement party?
Unfortunately, it is neither of those things. It’s an actual dish served at an actual New York City restaurant, and it represents the pinnacle of a trend that’s been in the making for some time. And now it’s time for it to come to an end.
If you’re an Instagram user of any frequency, you’re surely familiar with the role that “food porn” plays on the platform. It’s everywhere. And much like with actual pornography, the heaviest users are starting to become desensitized to the tame stuff. That means that these days, if you want to get people’s attention, you better be willing to do some freaky shit. Things you might not be comfortable with.
For example, let’s say you’re a restaurant owner trying to market your establishment on Instagram. A photo of some random thing from your menu isn’t going to do the trick anymore. Those ever-so-sought-after millennials aren’t going to comment “YASSS” on a thoughtfully plated piece of sustainably raised fluke crudo. It’s not stimulating enough.
If your goal is to get Instagram’s most excitable users excited, you’re going to have to dumb things down to absolute stupidity. You’ll need to appeal to whatever part of the young human psyche finds pleasure in absurdity. And you’re probably going to have to do it with sprinkles.
Better yet, got an egg? Put it on top of something. Anything. It literally doesn’t matter what. Drench any otherwise mundane piece of food in runny yolk, and pretty soon you’ll have twenty-somethings lined up at your establishment, not necessarily to eat your genius creation, but certainly to take a picture of it.
And so goes the cycle of stupidity.
So what does this all mean? It means that if you are a business who makes its money by selling food and you plan to market yourself via Instagram, you had better be ready to play the game. Time to stock up on some eggs and sprinkles, and put them on fucking everything. Maybe even buy some lobsters.
Or maybe don’t.
Maybe if it takes some frankenstein food abomination to get people to pay attention to what you’re doing, you’re doing something wrong. There are certainly plenty examples of smart business owners succesfully marketing on the platform, Dominique Ansel being one of them. The Cronut™ will be studied in graduate level marketing classes for decades to come. But that’s a unicorn example and — most importantly — Cronuts™ are actually really good. That lobster pizza is not, and neither is that funfetti birthday cake avocado toast that just popped up in your feed.
Let’s be clear that this is not an appeal to restaurants to stop marketing themselves. Lord knows it’s hard enough to figure out how to do that in the first place, especially with limited resources. Nor is it an appeal to the people of Instagram to stop liking and sharing these things, or wanting to experience them. This is simply my public wish that we all decide right now to agree that some things are food, and some things are just stupid.
And it’s not hard to tell which is which.
Chris Stang is a James Beard Award nominated writer and Co-Founder of The Infatuation, a restaurant discovery resource with a large Instagram presence that is probably somewhat responsible for all of this.