Tuesday, February 7, 2012

“Can I take a picture of that?” Social Media and Food

They're in every restaurant, tilting their plates for the best angle, chiding people not to take a bite yet or get sauce on the table. They document their meals and are getting a lot out of it. During the past few years, eating has become social. Not just social in that you converse with your dining companions. A good meal can be shared with thousands in seconds. Smartphones and small cameras are extremely portable and quick. How can social media enhance your culinary experiences? Let’s break it down.

1. Twitter

Twitter is an incredible place for a foodie. Everyone from your local barkeep to a national food critic to a magazine editor to your favorite coffee shop probably has an account. They post recipes, pictures, tips and sometimes sales for twitter followers. In the past week on twitter I have seen: Mario Batali answer cooking questions in an informal Q&A, a frenzy over world Nutella Day (February 5th), menus for food carts near Penn, restaurant tips and countless bites from the lives of the food obsessed. Penn Appetit tweets (@PennAppetit), and I highly recommend anyone interested in food to sign-up for a free account. Twitter can suggest people to follow but searching for your favorite restaurants, chefs, brands and friends is a great place to start.

2. Pinterest

Pinterest is an online pinboard that allows you to collect links from around the web (see the sampling of this author's "Living to Eat" Pinterest page). You install a small bookmark that lets you grab any image from any website and add it to a board. The boards can have categories (food and drink, things to buy, places to visit etc.) How is this relevant to food? People pin recipes from tons of food blogs and Pinterest sorts it by category. Browsing the food and drink category will definitely make you hungry.  The home décor category will make you want to renovate your kitchen. Click any picture that looks good and you’ll be taken to the source. You can check out the recipes and the blogs. You can follow a board if you like one user’s taste in food and their pins will show up in a feed. You can also re-pin a recipe to one of your boards to look at later. I have a board full of recipes I want to make in my apartment next year (I don’t have a kitchen now). Pinterest is invite only (or you can request one and get on in a few days). Comment on this post if you want an invite and I’ll set it up.

3. Foursquare

Smartphone users know that your phone can be an incredible source of food knowledge. Apps like yelp give you restaurant recommendations wherever you are (I successfully used it in France). One of my favorites is Foursquare, the app that lets you check into the places you visit. Not only do you save money with Foursquare (I get free coffee, coupons and other perks for checking into places with specials), you get the inside scoop. People leave tips at their favorite spots highlighting favorite dishes, good places to sit or weekly specials (the picture shows Foursquare tips from Ocean Harbor Dim Sum--we chose well). On a recent visit to Distrito, Foursquare tips led me to my favorite dish, a mushroom flatbread. Foursquare also has an explore feature that recommends nearby places based on your check in history. A search for sushi, coffee or chocolate gets great results and is accessible on a desktop.

4. Photography apps

 Now that you’re eating well, you want your food pictures to look good. Photography apps for the iPhone such as Instagram allow you to add filters to your photos and enhance the lighting. Fun borders add an extra flair. Another favorite of mine is Diptic. It's a cheap app that lets you make photo collages based on a variety of templates. Making a Diptic is a great way to share the variety of dishes at a meal without posting tons of pictures of small dishes. You can export your Diptics in regular or high resolution, and they look great.

Social media has taken the food world by storm and there are countless ways for you to participate. There are so many tools (share more in the comments) that channel a collective passion for food into restaurant reviews, new recipes and overall better eating experiences. In the words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be?”

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