Clinical Dining

Shortly after my first child was born, my wife gave me a video camera. C’mon, every dad has to have a video camera, right? I used that sucker quite a lot, early on, but after a year or so, it got used less and less. I haven’t touched that camera in 10 years or so, primarily because I realized that I was no longer participating in the action. I was documenting it, trying to get the “perfect shot.” Those perfect shots often took 5-10 minutes at once, where you were more focused (no pun intended) on keeping the camera in frame and not really paying attention to what was truly going on.

The exact same thing happened to me with dining and the internet. I would go out to eat, taking my camera along. I ultimately found myself more concerned with taking lots of food porn, so that I could share my experience with my “friends” on eGullet. I paid less attention to my dining companions — my real, honest to goodness friends — than I did with my camera and the lighting.

That pretty much stopped a couple of years ago, however. As I spent more time with bloggers and the like, I realized that the people who spent so much time on the photographs weren’t all that fun to be with. It’s not that I didn’t like them, but they weren’t enjoying the meal itself. They weren’t engaged with the others at the table. I asked myself, “Am I like that?” and the answer was a resounding “Yes.”

Sitting at the table, sharing a meal with friends and family, is an activity that in many ways defines us as human beings. Our events of celebration and sorrow typically revolve around food. Every culture has their food-specific holidays, and the evening dinner is still considered to be the highlight of our daily family routine (although it’s certainly on the wane). The meal is incredibly important to us, socially and nutritionally.

But when the meal loses that social dynamic, I lose interest in it. The foodie with the camera makes me feel the same way as the person who has to tell me how many grams of fat are in every dish I eat. They take the fun out of it, turning my meal into a clinical exercise.

Yeah, I’ll still take food pictures now and then, and I’ll even chronicle every dish in a meal occasionally. But I’m glad that’s the exception and not the rule, as I truly love to interact with those around me and to appreciate the food that’s before me. Boy, meals are so much more fun now.

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6 Responses to Clinical Dining

  1. Alan says:

    I have friends who take what I think to be an excessive amount of photographs at various events, whether it be a dinner or a concert.

    Some time ago I very consciously decided that I would rather have the memory of an event than a photograph of it, especially if that photograph interfered in any way. What got me to thinking about the subject in the first place though were various food sites where people would showcase their photos, almost as if they were bragging about the opportunity to dine at a restaurant, not the experience itself.

  2. Hmm. I do agree that people should be involved in an event instead of ‘documenters’ of the event, however, I have the WORST MEMORY EVER. Taking a quick snapshot, for me, reminds of the experience I had and triggers everything associated with it. I believe one of my colleagues calls it CRS (can’t remember sh*) and I find that to be applicable to me. Although one or two photos is typically enough to get the job done.

  3. pinstripebindi says:

    I’m into bento lunches, and I always take a photograph for my blog and for a community I belong to. But I make it a point to take it when I pack it, and not when I open it up to eat it.

    I’m sort of a reserved person, so I don’t feel like looking through a lens cuts me off any more from taking part in something; but it’s a fine line and I can see how some people would have that problem.

  4. Margie says:

    You know, I was talking to my husband about this very thing. I just recently started my blog and, of course, a food blog is ultimately more interesting with photos. But, I just can’t bring myself to take pictures of my meal at a restaurant. It feels like I’m being rude. Not just to my companion(s). I just feel like my mother wouldn’t approve. You know, like you aren’t supposed to put your elbows on the table? I’m sure she would tell me to put the camera away. I think you’ve summed up very nicely what I was not quite able to verbalize to my husband. I guess my blog will just have to be a little boring because I’m not sure I can feel right about the picture thing. It’s like talking on your phone when you’re at the dinner table. You might as well not be there at all.

  5. Fuzzy says:

    Oh Alan, gosh do I agree.

    Oh margie, are we related? My grandmother’s spinning would power a gigawatt power station if I did such things.

    Varmint, I am right there with you on the “being engaged” and the “social dynamic” thing.

  6. MitMoi says:

    I H.A.T.E cameras and taking pictures. So far, I believe my blogging is engaging enough without the pictorial component. However, back in Dec – when I wrote about Cake Suicide by Insanity (12/04) it certainly meant a lot more to have a photo.

    I have an amazingly talented friend who went to the UK with me. His pics of our meals (still not all written about) are great – and I think it’s because he can do them so fast – and it doesn’t take away from the experience. But I LOVE the camaraderie of eating with friends and sharing.

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