This Week in the Mercury


Monday, April 19, 2010

Food Paparazzi: Just as Bad as the Real Thing?

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Hey! Foie Terrine! Over here! Hey!
  • Hey! Foie Terrine! Over here! Hey!
You were enjoying a meal out with a friend. The pleasant atmosphere had relaxed you, the food was very good, and the conversation engaging. Then:

A few minutes later, as a server walked past with a plate of foie gras terrine, 18 food bloggers aimed their cameras and prepared to fire anew. "This is the game we all now play," chef and owner Ludo Lefebvre said through gritted teeth. "We cook, we smile — and the people, they don't eat. They get their cameras."

On the heels of a New York Times article addressing the issue of people who photograph their food, P.J. Huffstutter of the LA Times has also decided to grapple with the subject. But the focus isn’t just on those who snap pictures of dishes they’ve made at home, it’s aimed at a more pernicious shutterbug: the “food paparazzi.”

Digital cameras are now being sold with “food” settings; Flickr is rife with snapshots of long digested dinners; a meal in Portland without a flash or three is becoming increasingly rare. What’s to do, if anything?

When I first started this gig, two years ago, I almost never saw people taking pictures of their food. These days it’s more likely I’ll see someone taking multiple pictures of every plate that hits the table. It annoys me to no end. It must have something to do with the flash, and the sense of miss-placed priorities. The flash is distracting to say the least, but the miss-placed priorities (eat the fucking thing!) are simply grating.

Don’t tell that to this LA food pap:

"I'm sharing my experiences with my friends," said Hong Pham, 33, a Los Angeles radiologist who runs the food blog Ravenous Couple. "Why shouldn't I share what inspires me?"

To paraphrase Christian Bale: “You got any fucking idea about, hey, it’s fucking distracting having somebody taking a picture in the middle of the fucking dinner service? Give me a fucking answer! What don’t you get about it?”

Ahem. I am not in any way a saint when it comes to this issue. There have been very rare occasions when deadline pressure forces me to take photos of my own meal to run in the Mercury. In these situations I feel incredibly conspicuous, and more than a little sheepish. I also feel like there’s a distinct possibility I’m jarring my fellow diners from the enjoyment of their meal.

Yes, the Mercury does send out food photographers. Generally, knowing they’ll make a scene, they shoot the food during off hours (to get help from staff) and during the day (to get better light). In that way, their impact to a restaurant’s atmosphere is minimized.

For some reason, the food-paparazzi thing feels more like a break in the social contract. I consider it as rude as texting in a movie. But restaurants are funny places when it comes to this kind of behavior. I’ve dined beside plenty of tables where someone’s decided the newest overwhelming horse-sweat-and-lilac Calvin Klein fragrance was just the thing to pair with a delicate pasta dish, or that a romantic dinner was the best place to have an emotionally raw and awkward break-up.

I’m in complete agreement with Huffstutter :

In some ways, the culinary world brought this on itself. As public interest in fine dining has grown, more restaurants have been catering to those appetites in settings far more casual than those of their predecessors. Yet for all that was gained with such expansion, something also was lost: civility.

I really don’t have anything against photographing your food. Hell, if you take a look at my own Twitter feed you’ll find dozens of porny food photos I’ve taken of various meals. However, they were meals I made myself… At home. And that’s where I wish the food paparazzi would leave their cameras. How about you?

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