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Why do we take pictures of our food?

In a sweaty, back alley restaurant in Trujillo, Peru, the shy Peruvian waiter approached my table with a vibrant plate of ceviche. Placing it upon the handwoven tablecloth, there lapsed a good three seconds where all I could do was stare. Then, before reaching for my fork, I instead reached for my camera.

I'll admit it. I'm one of those people who take pictures of their food. I know a lot of you are as well. It's only an occasional occurrence, as I'm not known to photograph cereal I'm gulping down when late to work. I only immortalize my food in megapixels when the plate in front of me goes beyond my culinary expectations. If you present me with a plate of food and I take a photo of it, consider it a compliment. While I recognize this is a curious trait, the following is an attempt to justify what exactly drives me, and many others, to feel the need to photograph their food.

First off, this exact plate of food is never going to be here again. If I don't capture it now, the moment will be lost to the acids of digestion and gone forever. This plate of food before me--particularly if it's traditional, regional cuisine-- is as much of a cultural attraction as any monument listed in a guidebook or brochure. While in Trujillo, I must have taken 35 pictures of the Huaca de la Luna, an ancient Moche temple that's stood for 1700 years. With that sort of history, there's a good chance I could come back ten years from now and snap the exact same photo. This plate of ceviche, on the other hand, is never going to be here again. It's a fleeting moment that needs documenting before it disappears forever.

Second, I photograph dishes I can tell are going to be either unbelievably incredible, or gut wretchingly awful. When looking back on my photos, I want to have the ability to say "that meal was unspeakably good" (steak in Argentina) or "why does my meat still have hair on it?" (mystery meat in Ecuador). Every plate of food I consume has a story behind it, and just as I would with any other attraction, I want to be able to reminisce on how that food contributed to the greater moment as a whole.

From a cultural standpoint, regional cuisine is as important as any other item you may choose to photograph. Just as the 800 year old Roman fort towering about the coastal Spanish town of Tossa de Mar exudes a Mediterranean charm, so does the steaming plate of paella served with a pitcher of sangria in the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. The dense fog that 's consuming the western coast of Connemara, Ireland is as intrinsic to the Irish experience as a heaping bowl of seafood chowder washed down with brown bread and Guinness. Though taking a photo doesn't make the food taste any better, it nonetheless is a stamp of cultural approval as if to say, "I was there, and it's as good as it was meant to be". The same way you would take a picture of the white sand beaches of Koh Chang, Thailand, so should you document your peanut covered bowl of chicken pad thai.

Finally, what's wrong with photographing your food simply for the way it looks? Irrelevant to taste or culture, when food is infused with the richest of colors or the presentation is painfully exquisite, the plate before you becomes nothing less than art. If my enchiladas in Baja, Mexico are served to me with the red, white, and green sauces in the form of a Mexican flag, that deserves two seconds of my time.

So yes, I am one of those people who take photos of their food, my lust for classic and curious cuisine a patch I will wear proudly via my zoom and macro lens until I am happy and hopelessly stuffed.

Filed under: Food and Drink, Asia, Europe, South America, Thailand, Ireland, Spain, Ecuador, Peru, Central America, Caribbean

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