The #foodporn tag on Instagram updates with pictures of edible delights from around the world.
“Instagrammers,” a term for Instagram users, pig out on a poppy seed bagel sandwich with bright green avocado, fiery tomato and melted cheese without consuming a single calorie. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and that phrase holds especially true with pictures of food. Words fall short at describing the varying flavors, textures and colors of food. A photo becomes food for the eyes.
Scientists have researched the relationship between images of food and the subsequent feeling of hunger. In 2012, researchers at Germany’s Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science found that the neurosecretory protein hormone “ghrelin” in blood increases due to visual stimulation from photographs of food. Ghrelin controls both eating behaviors and the physical processes of food metabolism.
Tucson is home to many Instagrammers who post food-related content to get the ghrelin flowing in users’ blood, while encouraging them to try out local restaurants.
Adam Lehrman started his company Tucson Foodie in 2008 to chronicle his search for the best food in the city. In addition to maintaining the website, which has more than 60,000 unique visitors per month, Adam also runs the Instagram page, which has more than 7,000 followers.
Lehrman said he does like to use Instagram for some of its features.
“It’s an enjoyable experience: hashtagging, getting a good angle,” Lehrman said, “but there’s not a way to track views, and it’s not made for driving web traffic.”
Lehrman said he made an Instagram for Tucson Foodie “to show people our eye for food.”
Instagrammers can take a bite of another Tucson-based Instagram account, @merit_foods.
Merit Foods of Arizona Inc. is a family-owned food distribution company in Tucson with an Instagram page that features photographs of food from restaurants that buy from the company.
When marketing director Miranda Morrison began building Merit Foods’ social media accounts, Instagram was her primary focus because it is less-regulated than Facebook, she said. Facebook makes businesses pay to “boost” their posts so that they appear higher on users’ newsfeeds, while Instagram is free for commercial use.
Morrison said she wants Merit Foods’ Instagram account, which has more than 4,000 followers, to be a hub for potential customers to scroll through photos and restaurant features. It also allows for interaction with customers through comments and direct messages, said Morrison, who has been with Merit Foods for more than two years.
Food-based Instagram accounts out of big cities can have hundreds of thousands of people following them.
The account @hungrybetches started about two years ago, thanks to Michele Mansoor, 21, whose collection of New York City food photos captures 304,000 followers.
Mansoor said she started the account as a joke, but “it evolved into something bigger after I became more interested in the quality of the photos and the consistency of the posts themselves.”
A self-proclaimed “foodie,” Mansoor said she is also a creative person, which explains the artistic nature of the posts. Her photos are high-quality, colorful and framed in a way that makes you want to reach into your phone and take a bite.
“Instagram is basically a virtual billboard for companies to promote their products,” Mansoor said, “and to drive people to eat their food all based on the visual appeal.”
Mansoor typically geotags or credits the posts on @hungrybetches so that followers can find out where to purchase the food themselves.
With Instagram, she said, food can now go viral.
“There’s a whole new culture emerging around food Instagram accounts,” Mansoor said. “Nowadays, there are food trends like there are trends in clothing or music, and I would credit this to Instagram in particular.”
There is also a sociological aspect to sharing images of food on Instagram.
“A great number of people find some sort of validation and appreciation through sharing stories about food,” said Signe Rousseau, a lecturer at The University of Cape Town, in her book Food and Social Media: You Are What You Tweet.
This validation reveals the bigger issue behind hundreds of thousands of people following accounts that simply post photographs of food: society’s obsession with eating.
“Virtual food, in all its shapes, sizes, and variations on fat content, reflects an astonishing appetite for thinking about food,” Rousseau said.
Instagram allows user gratification by just eating with your eyes.
Lindsey Wilhelm is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.