Alana Steinberg is a perfectly normal Harvard student. She goes to class, lives in a dorm, and might even go to a party or two on the weekend. She also happens to run a Boston-centric food Instagram with over 4,000 followers.
Started just over a year ago, Boston_Bites showcases both her own culinary adventures and those of her loyal followers. We sat down with Alana to find out more about the process of starting an account, the culture of food on Instagram, and her hopes for the future (think: support the local businesses).
Spoon: Why did you decide to start Boston_Bites?
AS: I started Boston_Bites as a way to get out and explore the city, because when I travel, my favorite way to experience culture is by the food. I like to get lost and find cool restaurants, which is what I did when I was studying abroad in Italy. I found Instagram to be a good way to keep myself accountable to go out into Boston. It’s also an excuse to not eat in the dining hall.
Spoon: When you were starting, what tools did you use to gain followers?
AS: At first, I used a lot of hashtags. I would tag different food accounts that I know either repost or check the photos that they’re tagged in. It’s a good way to gain a following. Food-related tags are something that I still do as a way to go beyond the Boston_Bites community.
Spoon: Do you have any specific hashtags that you use with every post?
AS: #BostonBites is always the first one. I have a list of other ones that I just copy and paste, with just the big ones, like #food, #eeeeeats, #foodporn. Usually I’ll do #Harvard, #BU, or #BC, depending on which are of the city I’m posting from. And then I’ll add on relevent hashtags.
Spoon: And after that?
AS: Mostly word-of-mouth. I told my friends about it, and they told their friends, and it just naturally grew.
I also like to repost images that people send to Boston_Bites, because it helps grow a community where people are encouraged to share their eating experience, find new restaurants, and see the culture of Boston that they may not have seen before.
Spoon: What do you look for in a good picture?
AS: The most important thing is that the food look appetizing. In the end, it comes down mostly to composition and lighting. It’s really difficult to take pictures in a dark restaurant. My friends can attest to how ridiculous I look when I steal their phones to use as flashlights, and I’m holding it high above my head so it’s not harsh. There are photos of that happening.
Also, creating interesting angles. Food doesn’t always look the best from on top, and it really depends on what the most appetizing way to show the food is. Also, no filters. Edits are okay, but I don’t want to see a glowing piece of pizza.
Spoon: Do restaurants ever want to partner with you for events or free food?
AS: That’s been a recent development, and something I’ve been really excited about. I really love collaborating with local restaurants, not just because I get free food. More importantly, it helps me support local Boston businesses.
The most recent one that I worked with was Patty Chen’s Dumpling Room, which is an American-Asian fusion dumpling restaurant. I’m also working with DoorDash Boston, which is sort of like Uber for food. Shameless plug: if my followers use my code when they order, they get $10 off and free delivery.
Spoon: Is there a culture behind food Instagrammers?
AS: Yes, there is. The mainstream food Instagram is what I try to avoid. You see things that the person clearly isn’t eating, like a stack of bagels with a lump of cream cheese covered in sprinkles. You’re not actually taking a bite of a pound of cream cheese. I want to show people things that I enjoy eating, not that I enjoy taking photos of.
Spoon: That was gonna be my next question. What do you think of the #foodporn culture?
AS: The pictures are interesting and make me hungry, but it’s not what I’m aiming for, which is showing people Boston’s culture through food.
Spoon: Some people have called it unhealthy for the obesity problem in America.
AS: I feel like it would be a lot to say it’s “unhealthy.” I think it’s a manifestation of the American food culture, and just one way that the social media and food cultures have merged.
As someone who’s also a body image peer counselor, I want to make sure people eat things they enjoy, but that also make them feel good. I can’t imagine someone eating those foods; it’s probably fun, but it’s not something tangible or realistic.
Spoon: Which food accounts are your favorite?
AS: MissNewFoodie and HungryGrls are my favorites, because they use awesome food puns and that is my thing on Boston_Bites as well. All of their captions are incredibly on point. I like to look at the other Boston food accounts, like BostonFoodies or BestFoodBoston, to find new restaurants that I haven’t tried.