Are Food Photos Table Grace for the Digital Age?

Anxious Bench | 7/21/2019 | Staff
kringkring (Posted by) Level 4
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It was a lovely evening in Bayeux this past June, and my parents and I had found a quiet bistro serving “authentic Norman” food. Acting braver than I felt, I decided to start with the “sailor’s platter”: shrimp, snails, and oysters. As soon as our appetizers arrived, I did what any self-respecting citizen of the digital age does: took out my iPhone and snapped a picture.

But if critic Theodore Gioia is right, not only has “photographing food has evolved from a niche hobby into a generational habit,” but sharing those images on social media “has elevated our diet choices from private quirks into a cornerstone of public identity.” Writing earlier this month for The American Scholar, Gioia admitted that it would be easy “dismiss these photos as brazen self-promotion or a symptom of millennial self-absorption… Slurs such as ‘foodgasm’ and ‘food porn’ often taint these photos with the suggestion of lechery.”

Food - Instagram

But he thought there was a more sincere, even ancient impulse behind food Instagram:

As odd as it sounds, I do not see pornography in these images. I find prayer.

Pictures - Incarnation - Ancient - Instinct - Ritual

I believe these pictures are a new incarnation of an ancient instinct: the ritual of tableside grace. Derived from the Latin gratia for “thanks,” grace is a specific type of prayer given before or after a meal to express gratitude and to invoke a blessing. It is an exercise in devoting reverential attention to life’s bounty, and through this enriched attention, achieving an expanded sense of belonging. “It becomes believers not to take food … before interposing a prayer,” Tertullian wrote in the third century, “for the refreshments and nourishments of the spirit are to be held prior to those of the flesh, and things heavenly prior to things earthly.” Grace is more than gratitude—it is gratitude ascendant, aimed above the earthly...
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