The Evolution Of Instagram And Its Impact On Food Culture

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It’s hard to remember a time before we habitually took photos of our food before eating it, arranging a scrumptious spread and holding your phone high above the table to get that perfect overhead shot in pre-COVID times for your Instagram Feed or documenting your from-scratch sourdough baking journey on Stories. 

The social media platform celebrates its 10-year anniversary today. I chatted with CJ Hernandez, partner solutions manager at Instagram, to discuss how the platform has changed in the last 10 years, how the pandemic has shifted food-focused content and the future of Instagram.

Hernandez explained that food has always been a popular interest area for the platform, and in the last 10 years the focus has shifted away from aesthetic photos of food (though those are still popular) to the people eating and making the food and the stories behind them. “Food is really OG Instagram,” Hernandez said. “When we think back to the early days of Instagram, food was one of the original popular interest areas on the platform. In those early days, all the food content was beautiful photos of food. Now we see people putting themselves and their personality at the forefront of this content.” 

This increased focus on personality is especially apparent and crucial for Instagram influencers who primarily focus on food content. “It gives their followers a chance to get to know them and create a deeper connection,” Hernandez said. “It’s also a way to differentiate their brand from all the other food accounts that are out there.”

The introduction of video on Instagram has given everyday users, professional content creators and brands an opportunity to further connect and engage with their followers. “When video was first introduced to the Feed, then long-form capabilities came with IGTV, it gave people an opportunity to go a lot deeper with their audience, whether it’s showing a recipe or taking you on a food tour around a city,” Hernandez said. “Now with Reels, short form entertaining video, food creators have leaned in much more to video content.” Kevin Curry (@fitmencook) for example, posts recipes on Reels with captions and ingredient lists in English and Spanish. “He’s delivering recipes and doing it in a really creative, fun and concise way. He’s also making it accessible to more people by making it bilingual.”

Hernandez has also seen a strong sense of community and building around niche interests on Instagram. “While the Instagram of yesteryear was a lot about that thumb-stopping, extreme burger type of content, now it’s more about building niche communities around things like plant-based, keto and other trends in the food space,” he said.

The type of content we consume and create on Instagram has seen a drastic change in light of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’ve seen this real phenomenon of phone to table,” Hernandez said. “Now that everybody is at home, everybody is a home cook and Instagram has transformed into an alternate type of Food Network in everybody’s handheld device.” As content has shifted from food served at bars and restaurants to at-home cooking, Hernandez noted that people are turning to Instagram for inspiration and to find accessible recipes that you don’t need a culinary degree to make.

Features like Instagram Live and IGTV have become increasingly popular in 2020. In the food space, Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski (@antoni) has been going Live and later posting his Quar Eye: Cooking Lessons in Quarantine series on IGTV, Ghetto Gastro (@ghettogastro) hosted a virtual Juneteenth celebration, and many other creators have been going Live and saving their content on IGTV for followers to revisit or catch up on. “I think that people are looking to recreate that in the moment feeling when we can’t be together in person,” Hernandez said.

As for the future of Instagram, Hernandez predicts a continuation of this shift from brands to individuals. “Creators are such a superpower of Instagram, and I think we’re going to see the people within this space continue to drive growth and engagement, and Instagram is building tools to help people actually turn it into a living,” he said.

“My hope and dream is that in 10 years, and hopefully a lot sooner before that, we’re going to see a platform that is doing everything it can to represent diverse voices and people who have traditionally been underrepresented in the food and beverage industry, and make sure that everybody has a fair shot and equal playing field,” Hernandez said.

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