Food doesnt have to be photogenic and the best recipes are thrown together. The TV cook on how the internet has changed the way we eat
I have always taken photographs of everything I eat. You could argue that holding up a meal with a cameraphone is marginally less embarrassing than in the days when you had to take your photos to the local chemist to be developed. I was always looked at a little oddly when they gave me back my holiday pictures: instead of a fat wallet of shots of my young children, it was all market stalls and plates of pasta.
So its perhaps surprising that, at first, I found it easy to resist Instagram. I like the world of Twitter, and didnt think I wanted to be swamped by images. But around three years ago I did sign up, and even learned to enjoy it. Im too obsessed with food not to want to immerse myself in it whenever and wherever possible. And, very often, Im inspired by what I see online.
Increasingly, though, I can feel overwhelmed. Instafood is a strange place: so many quadruple-tiered ombr-iced cakes (how on Earth do you even slice them, let alone eat them?); so much perfectly styled food there only because it looks pretty. Could smoothie bowls ever have been a Thing without Instagram? Are they even a Thing off it? I have never knowingly met anyone whos eaten one.
Of course, Instagram is a visual medium, no less than television, so its always going to favour photogenic food, but still, it can make a cook despair. When I post a picture of a stew, I feel I have to remind people who find the messy brownness unappealing that 1) stews are brown and 2) brown food tastes the best. It doesnt really matter to me whether people post pictures of stews on Instagram or Pinterest, but it does worry me if they stop cooking them. Not because it would be a bad thing, but because it would be a sad thing.
Instagram is not the only new influence on home cooking in recent years. And by home cooking, I mean, cooking done in the home. I know that, for many, the term conjures up a nostalgic world of steamed puds and shepherds pies traditional, old-fashioned fare, our version of cuisine grandmre. Now, I love this kind of cooking but, for me, home cooking isnt limited to any particular type of food. Cooking, no less than language, is a living thing: it evolves; we evolve. Those of us who cook cannot help but add unfamiliar ingredients, new to us, but part of long-established cooking traditions elsewhere. Our kitchens cannot be fixed in the past. And Im not talking about strenuous, overthought efforts to Make It New. The great modernist dictum is not a helpful precept in the kitchen, and the innovative can all too often be inedible. But when we cook, we have to Make It Now.
Anecdotal evidence eating at friends houses, or chatting with people about what theyre cooking that night shows an energetically varied and richly multicultural repertoire these days. A weeks cooking will take in pasta one night, a Thai curry another; yes, shepherds pie, but also tacos. Im not saying we always honour a cuisine as we cook from its canon, but then, we are not always trying to replicate a traditional recipe, but allowing ourselves to be inspired by it.