There was a very strange moment last night, one that was so surreal that I felt I had left my body and was viewing myself in the third person. I was trying to take a photo of my food and I found myself…shuffling the broccoli and cauliflower with my hands because I wanted a ‘more balanced presentation’ of white and green. The lamb was right out of the broiler, glistening and still slightly sizzling, the entire house was perfumed by its intoxicating scent, I was drooling out the corner of my mouth, and instead of digging in, I was stacking them, like playing cards, and rearranging bits of vegetables. It was an…interesting experience, to say the very least.
I don’t usually take photos of food. I don’t usually take photos period, but perhaps least of all food. I can have very many wonderful and incredible meals without having worried about taking a picture of it first. There are of course, a few exceptions.
- If I make the food, I record the food. Part of my objection is the idea of people ‘living by proxy’. You can’t find some sort of satisfaction or fulfillment in what you are doing, so you find it in what others do. You verify and legitimize your existence by collecting other people’s works. ‘Look at me as I dine here’, I must be living a good life. However if you make the food, I think you should take some credit for it at least. You worked hard. You triumphed. Or maybe you failed, I don’t know you. Doesn’t matter. It’s worth taking a picture of your efforts. Have some pride. Show off. Get those likes because you actually earned it. You didn’t just order it off a menu. Most of the pictures of food I’ve taken have been things I’ve made. And I’m especially proud of that.
- Memorable meals. This can be one of two things. Either the occasion, more so than the meal, was memorable and so therefore the food becomes second billing to the company or the event and is simply included in the pics, or the meal itself was so phenomenally memorable, maybe once in a lifetime, that it is worth preserving the memory (or stealing the technique). For example, my dinner last Friday with my brother and aunt. His last meal before his flight, a rich and meaty rodizio with some incredible cuts of beef, I wanted to take pictures and remember this important moment. Or, the BEST MEAL OF MY LIFE. Last year when my friends and I splurged to the great extent of actually successfully nailing a reservation at Momofuku Ko. Oh my god. Listen. I will dedicate an entire separate post just to that meal. Suffice to say it was INCREDIBLE. I HAD to take photos of the dishes because they were so fascinating, so intriguing, so delicious. And I’m a thieving bastard so I’m totally bootlegging what I had.
- This is your craft. There are some incredible food bloggers out there sharing their culinary adventures either in the kitchen or on the road or a combination of both. But they have taken the time and effort to develop this seriously and professionally. Taken courses. Gotten the right equipment. Does everyone and their mother need to know you had waffles with some whipped cream for breakfast on your blurry phone camera? Probably not. But maybe you’ve got this incredible recipe for the crispiest, fluffiest waffles ever and it’s worth sharing or you’ve taken a mecca to the motherland of all waffles, Belgium, and you’ve found that hole in the wall nondescript masterpiece waffle and you have to share what this waffle is all about. Yeah then you’re probably also the kind of person who will have the right equipment and eye and technical skill, and god maybe a filter or two, and more so than that you have the vocabulary to accompany the picture. Personally, I enjoy reading Cooking without Limits, Cooking with a Wallflower, The Dining Diaries, and iaccidentlyatethewholething among others. Aside from literary blogs I think food blogs are the ones I love to follow the most so I do have others, but I particularly enjoy the posts on these four. Great pictures, incredible food, but most of all, purpose. Stories. Experiences. Recipes. Passion. Accept no substitutions.
I definitely think social media has taken food pics way too seriously and valued them too highly for the quantity and quality of them now floating around. Every brunch, every cheese plate, every meal is photographed and documented. It’s not just the consumer who has been taken over with this weird obsession. How many videos or pictures on your Facebook or whatever have you seen of these new ‘gimmick’ restaurants? Any thing and any way for a photo opportunity. I think the most recent one I saw was restaurants that bring a giant hollowed out wheel of Grana Padano cheese and a hot plate with a pan of some pasta with cream sauce. It’s then cooked table-side, then you have to wait and watch as they heat up some alcohol, then pour it into the wheel, then it lights on fire, then you pour the pasta (which has been probably overcooked by now) into the wheel and then you toss and turn and scrape and then finally it’s served but honestly…to what effect? Does the pasta taste better for all that, or does it just look better? How many places are going to light giant wheels of cheese on fire before we realize we’re adding more pomp and circumstance but not really much flavor?
When aesthetic runs away from function, purpose is lost. Have people gotten so bored with food, or so stifled in their creativity, that they are resorting to what will be the next viral YouTube or Instagram hit? Here’s a great example: burgers. When did burgers become some elaborate three story affair? You can’t even hold these things anymore! A good burger is well-seasoned quality meat, cooked well, on a fresh baked bun that keeps its firmness yet absorbs all the patty’s juices. It’s crisp lettuce, melted cheese, onions, mushrooms, and maybe some avocado or bacon if you’re feeling luxurious. But it’s first and foremost a practical food. Handheld, flavor-packed, honest food. What the heck is this then?!
What’s the POINT?!
This problem is far beyond just food, though it’s definitely fun to indulge in that particular gripe. It effects also another great passion of mine, martial arts. We don’t live in particularly dangerous times, and you can’t really make a living being a ‘martial artist’ anymore. So the ‘martial’ part of most martial arts has been lost, leaving just the ‘arts’. Someone saw tai chi a long time ago and realized it could be useful for joint and muscle health and flexibility as well as meditation, but maybe they forgot that in Chinese, ‘tai chi’ literally translates to ‘grand ultimate fist’, as in ‘this is the art of kickassery’. Nowadays tell someone you practice tai chi and they’ll ask if it takes you an hour to throw a punch. I’ve met, and practiced with and against, some incredibly talented tai chi practitioners who still remember the practical applications and uses and let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. But a lot of what we see now in movies, and unfortunately propagated in many strip mall dollar version martial arts schools, is showy and flashy but not all that useful. This could be potentially deadly if you mislead your students to think they’ve learned any sort of practical self-defense, but then it is also equally damaging to the reputation and prestige of traditional martial arts. I don’t discredit modern jiu-jitsu or any of the newer stuff, but I think it’s unfair to relegate the traditional, the originals, to just pieces of fluff. Here is a video of Uncle Bill, the man I had the privilege and honor of meeting in a private seminar, showing some students the potential in what their ‘soft arts’ can do.
Ultimately, it boils down to this: if it looks pretty but it doesn’t work, it’s no good. And that’s really powerful. A job that woos you with a beer keg in the lounge and a bunch of parties and little perks like that but doesn’t fulfill you professionally or compensate you fairly is not a job worth keeping. A flashy car that gets stuck in two inches of snow isn’t worth driving. A relationship that hurts, a memory that burns, no matter how beautiful it was in the moment, it’s not worth holding onto. I don’t believe it should ever be a matter of ‘form vs function’. Form follows function. First, it has to work. First, it has to do what it’s supposed to do. Then, you make it pretty. Love hurts. Love is messy. Love is hard work. And then it’s cute. Then it’s what you see in the pictures.
Man: 163 Loneliness: 31