In an affluent area of central London there stands a gleaming 7-foot-6-inch gilded statue of King Charles II. Charles was generally regarded as a pretty OK guy. He leaned towards benevolence but had a notorious penchant for hedonism, fathering something around a dozen children among his seven mistresses. Less than two miles away lays another gilded monument to humanity’s excess. The Glamburger, which costs $1,700, stands at a humble 7 inches tall, its gleaming buns bearing the weight of not just a half pound of Wagyu beef and New Zealand venison (among other ingredients), but the collective guilty pleasure of the food-loving public.
That guilty pleasure can be summed up as #eeeeeats, #EatingForTheInsta, #foodie and God knows how many other hashtags being cast about in the Instagram aether. If you have a phone or a social life, you will, like me, have noticed a hell of a lot more people taking pictures of their plates lately. There are tutorials, accessories and endless words devoted to the subject. But why?
I jabbed more than a few of my friends with this question while they composed their ice cream sandwich opuses; more than a few ice cream sandwiches weren’t shared with me as a result. As far as I could work out, this phenomenon is the humblest of the #HumbleBrag. Translated, it says, “I’m here eating this tasty-ass meal while you swipe at your phone over a burrito microwaved for one.”
The instafood phenomenon might be one of the few places where Chuck from Des Moines who’s good with the grill is on the same playing field as the guy going to London for a gold-plated hamburger.
This wave of amateur food photography one-upsmanship was the exact reason that a London restaurant Honky Tonk — which is themed after some Guy Fieri, Uncle Sam, James Dean bacchanal — decided to work with Groupon to introduce the Glamburger by raffling off a chance to sit in its gilded midst and take a well-filtered photo before digging in for the first of many three-figure bites. It’s also the reason that more than 20,000 people entered to win. That record-setting burger begins life as an improbable combination of global ingredients. A half-pound of Kobe Wagyu beef is blended with venison and wrapped around a molten core of black truffle Brie. After the patty is flame broiled, it’s piled high atop a gilded bun with lobster, saffron, Beluga caviar, Himalayan salt, bacon, Japanese matcha, mango, “champagne jus” (which is not a real thing), grated white truffle, a duck egg (which is also gilded), lettuce, tomato and a healthy schmear of mayonnaise, just to add a taste of peasant life. Consult your local backyard grill master and he’ll let you that 15 ingredients cannot possibly make for a good burger. But that didn’t stop executive Chef Chris Large when he plated and served up the first Glamburger late last year. The associated Instagram photo got 14 likes.
Meanwhile, your niece’s well-arranged snap of a Chipwich just crested two thousand. That’s the thing about the Instagram brag: while showing off isn’t exactly new (the Egyptian Pharaohs did it in Giza, Louis XIV did it in Versailles, and hell, Diddy did it like yesterday), the foodie shot is kind of egalitarian. With enough time, skill, cash or cookbooks everyone can make something that’s genuinely worthy of a quick like and a couple hashtags. In a weird kind of way, the whole instafood phenomenon might be one of the few places where Chuck from Des Moines who’s good with the grill is on the same playing field as the guy going to Honkey Tonk for a gold-plated hamburger.
The instafood trend is just a small part of the democratization of finding public praise, and while you don’t need to like it, it definitely deserves respect. So even though the table next to you has spent an hour arranging the silverware just so around a middling plate of eggs Benedict, keep in mind that everyone needs to show off a little bit — and isn’t a quick snap at brunch better than acting like that guy in the DirecTV commercials? So snap away, I say — but for God’s sake, hold the Champagne Jus.