Some people may sit down at a restaurant, quickly scan through the menu and dig in as soon as the food arrives, but not college student-turned-food Instagrammer Priyani Karim.
During brunch (her favorite meal of the day) at Kanela Breakfast Club in Chicago, Karim didn’t need a menu. She had already spent time looking online to figure out what she thought would photograph best for Instagram. When the waitress arrived, Karim promptly ordered a gooey mac and cheese appetizer and a main course of fluffy blueberry pancakes—an uncommon pairing of dishes, but according to Karim, sometimes you have to do it for the Insta.
When the food arrived, she paused before eating to take numerous photos on her iPhone, finding the perfect angle for every plate. She edited her favorite shots for brightness and contrast using photo editing apps VSCO and Afterlight, then posted them on Instagram for her more than 14,000 followers to see.
Karim, a freshman at the University of Chicago, runs @Yum4MyTum, a popular Instagram account dedicated to pictures of mouthwatering food from the Chicagoland area.
Ever since the launch of Instagram in 2010, the appetite for food-centric social media has grown, changing the way people dine and turning the average person into a food critic. Karim jumped on the trend in 2013 when she was in 10th grade.
“I didn’t intend for the account to become as serious as it is now,” Karim said. “I tried to think of the silliest Instagram handle that I could, and I added at least 20 hashtags to each of my posts.”
What started out as a joke among her friends turned into a full-blown passion.
“After noticing each of my photos was receiving a substantial amount of likes, I started to put more effort into my posts,” she said. “I think it’s cool that there are over 14,000 people—even if they’re strangers— who are actually paying attention to what I’m eating.”
Yet Karim’s dedication to her food Instagram is motivated by more than just the likes. She genuinely enjoys sharing her passion for food with others.
“I’ve been a foodie for as long as I can remember,” she said. “My passion has been influenced partly by my family—they’re big on traveling, which has given me the opportunity to try different cuisines.”
Karim has tried unique dishes from all over the world. Some of her favorites include Cacio e Pepe pasta served out of a bowl made from cheese in Florence, coconut ice cream served in a real coconut in Thailand and crispy rice sushi from Nobu in New York City.
While it seems like running a popular food Instagram is just one big eating adventure, it doesn’t come without costs. It’s not always easy to balance college life and social media demands.
“The hardest part of running my food Instagram is keeping my followers engaged,” Karim said. “I’ve noticed that if I go too long without posting, I’ll start losing followers or receiving fewer likes.”
Karim explained that in order to keep the attention of her followers, she needs to find a good balance between posting new content daily, but not posting too many pictures that it overwhelms her followers’ feeds. Quality pictures have become somewhat of an obsession for her.
“I’m subconsciously always thinking about if what I’m ordering will look good in a photo or not,” she said.
The desire to post this many pictures would cost a lot of money for anyone, but it places a bigger burden on a college student whose main food source is supposed to be a dining hall. Dining hall food doesn’t translate very well to Instagram, according to Karim.
“The food in our dining halls isn’t particularly appetizing nor is it aesthetically pleasing,” Karim said. “Food Instagrams are so important because they show us cooler eating places that exist. A photo of dining hall food wouldn’t be helpful at all.”
To combat this problem, Karim has to spend a lot of her own money eating out to maintain a steady flow of pictures. When she’s running low on saved-up photos, she relies on submissions from her followers who direct message photos to the account or use the hashtag #Yum4MyTum on pictures on their personal accounts.
“A good account in my opinion is one that posts consistently and features things that are either unique or just really appetizing. I try to make sure that the photos I post are of foods that my followers would actually want to eat.”
Although maintaining a food Instagram can be a lot of work, it definitely has its benefits.
“Running @Yum4MyTum is more of a hobby than a chore,” Karim said. “Leaving campus [to go out to eat] is a nice way for me to de-stress. Plus, I always have an excuse to go to new restaurants.”
Karim has found other perks of the job—free stuff. Several food brands like Halo Top Ice Cream and JustSalad have reached out to her through the email in her Instagram bio for advertising in exchange for free goodies.
These food companies are examples of how the food Instagram trend that @Yum4MyTum is a part of is shifting the food industry altogether. People now rely heavily on food Instagram accounts like Karim’s for recommendations.
“In the past few years, Instagram has become an important resource for finding restaurants that are new or have innovative menu items,” Karim said. “Somehow it captures things that are trendy and happening, and reviews in magazines don’t always do that. Visuals are always easier to relate to than written reviews.”