How is an authentic dining experience connoted through contemporary food photographs? According to Richard Tressider (2010) in his paper on the semiotics of Marks and Spencer’s food advertising, a common trope is to use a ‘rough wooden platter’ or a ‘distressed wooden table’, to connote a sense of ‘the authentic, original, or organic.’
A quick look at the official Marks and Spencer Instagram account confirms this, as do many celebrity chef’s Instagram feeds, such as Jamie Oliver’s. These mainstream food images evoke communal myths about how we live and how we eat, conjuring idyllic domestic settings and aspirational homes. The pictures suggest rustic yet elegant dining spaces, spacious kitchens, and beautiful gardens.
One of Instagram’s main draws is its participatory nature. We are no longer passive consumers of the aspirational image; we are content creators who perpetuate and participate in myth-making. Amateur photographers and enthusiastic foodies perform carefully crafted and curated versions of the dining experience. Food is styled and presented on an assortment of surfaces which connote the authentic, the natural, or the organic, from a patinaed tin plate, to a weathered piece of slate.
This trope, with its aesthetic roots in visual culture, has been incorporated into mainstream food service, resulting in restaurants and pubs competing for more inventive ways to serve food. The Instagram feed ‘We Want Plates’, which is devoted to documenting this practice, explores the comic possibilities that exist between the myth and the reality. Enthusiastic amateurs contribute photographs of their own authentic dining experience which show food dripping, sliding off of, and seeping into wooden boards and slates. This element of competition has led to more outlandish objects appearing on the dining table, from the bizarrely inappropriate (selection of meat on a clipboard??) to the ludicrous and unsanitary (dessert in a flip flop??!)
These scenes, captured in poor lighting conditions, with little attention to composition and styling, provide a hilarious document of the stark reality. They unwittingly parody the more serious, mainstream food images of popular culture, highlighting the potential for absurd results when 'style over function' decisions are taken to extremes. They gently ridicule our obsession with, and romanticisation of these rustic boards and slates, and our pursuit of the aspirational lifestyle.
Tresidder, R. (2010) International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol 30. Reading food marketing: the semiotics of Marks & Spencer advertising?!
Images appropriated from the following Instagram accounts: