Growing up in the Digital Age with parents who reminisce about the time before cell phones, I learned to view technological innovations with a critical lens. While these advancements revolutionize the industries they are designed for, they also alter other realms of our lives. For instance, with the rise of social media, individuals have become increasingly more connected, exchanging information at unprecedented rates. Looking at this digital progress alongside food trends, we find that a byproduct of omnipresent social media use is the shifting of food standards from high-powered flavors to colorful and visually-appealing presentations

There are countless areas requiring deeper exploration into their relationship with technology. The food industry, in particular, has exhibited substantial growth with the advent of improved production, marketing, and distribution processes. Since the emergence and pervasiveness of new technologies has undoubtedly shaped the way humans interact with their surroundings, social science analysts have attempted to identify whether they will result in progression or regression, hopefully establishing an effective path to move forward. Current research reflects the notion that widespread technology has both enhanced and polluted our relationship with food. 

Food Fiasco: Declining Appreciation for Gastronomy

Hannah Marshall

Recent developments in the design and function of social media platforms have significantly impacted users’ consumption habits. One of the more widely recognized changes in today’s digital food culture is the trend of photographing and sharing meals on social media. Driven by the element of augmenting one’s own reputation, consumers are immensely passionate about the visual aspects of their food. The influx of continuously shared digital content has forced users to post vibrant, eye-catching content in order to draw followers’ attention. As a result, restaurants and stores have remained instantaneously updated on consumer trends in order to match demand. Ranging from eye-popping rainbow bagels to ooey-gooey mac n’ cheese, chefs and restaurants have adjusted their menus to offer meals that look great on smartphone cameras. With rapidly disseminating information, food trends spread much quicker, while lasting for shorter periods of time.

Unfortunately, by emphasizing the importance of visually-appealing foods, the food industry has lost followers and their appreciation for taste. One of the best representations of the shift from flavor to presentation is the “food porn” movement. The hashtag is home to over 209 million posts of appetizing food via photographs and videos. Restaurant recommendations are no longer dependent on word-of-mouth suggestions, but based on these striking displays of menu items. This trend has also bled into the design and location of restaurants. Now they must provide customers with an unparalleled experience accompanied by beautifully presented meals. These platforms have thoroughly altered the experiences associated with every aspect of food consumption.

The marriage between food and technology can be a blessing in disguise

Hannah Marshall

While some argue that the emergence of new technology and social media have pushed consumers towards a superficial relationship with food, they have also enhanced their knowledge of the history, properties, and ingredients within it. For instance, the rise in popularity of cooking videos has created a community of foodies expanding their background in the area with easily-streamed content. These videos are informative in multiple ways, ranging from international recipes to the origins of dishes to the chemical properties of their ingredients. Companies like Tastemade, Buzzfeed Tasty, and NowThisFood have grown their users’ cooking repertoires through educational and captivating content. Certain design features, like the rapid speed and colorful ingredients, make the videos more engaging, which encourage viewers to cook themselves. The exposure to multiple cooking videos can also inspire creativity and demonstrate skills. In merely 45 seconds, cooking videos can expose users to skills that previously required some kind of culinary background. Above all, these videos convey the art behind cooking and the passion within food.

Multiple other channels have granted the general public access to extensive information in gastronomy, some of the most influential being search engines. Platforms, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, help expose individuals to diverse cultures and their unique cuisines. When users search for specific recipes, algorithms present them with different variations of the same dish. Instead of finding only one recipe for spinach-artichoke dip, readers encounter ones made with sour cream, entirely raw vegan ingredients, or even Mexican undertones. Before the development of the Internet, recipes were entirely inspired by local cookbooks and newspaper articles. As a result, dishes prepared at home and restaurants were largely limited to the geographic area. The advent of the Internet combined with increasing globalization has allowed for chefs, companies, and consumers to be more welcoming and varied in their dietary preferences. Consumers expanding their palettes has forced businesses to produce more diverse and creative foods.

Ultimately, the rapidly changing Digital Age raises important questions about what lies ahead for the culinary world. While traditionalists fear the future of the food industry within a technology-dominant society, people should remain optimistic. New innovations are frequently met with a critical eye, but within the gastronomical realm, technology can be the perfect icing on the cake.