All the Biggest (and Most-Liked) Moments in Instagram Food

Instagram food has become an essential part of our daily diet — and almost everyone is hungry for more!

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Remember your first Instagram post? Ina Garten does. It was a whole roast turkey that she photographed in the middle of January 2014, when she was testing recipes for her next cookbook. She got 114 comments on it — not bad for a first-time post but a far cry from the 134,384 likes and 2,764 comments she got for a photo of her garden this summer. We all have to start somewhere and, as Ina will confess, she wasn’t sure back then that she wanted to do this Instagram thing at all. Her assistant, Lidey Heuck, had been urging her to try it for months. When Ina finally gave it a go, she she was hooked: She found posts from all of these artists, designers and chefs she had loved for years — Miguel Flores-Vianna, Victoria Hagan, Sarah Leah Chase. “I would be on Instagram now whether it was my job or not,” Ina says. “It’s the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to bed. And I dip in and out all day. I just love the visual nature of it.”

We can all relate to Ina’s story: Instagram has changed our lives. Many of us can barely remember a time when we put out a cheese board, took a sip of a cocktail or cut into a cake without photographing it first. The app has become, for better or worse, our daily diary — and a lot of that involves sharing photos of what we eat. This behavior has had a profound effect on our food habits. We are eating with our eyes: Nearly a quarter of Americans say they have chosen restaurants based on how the places look on social media, and a whopping 70 percent of millennials say they take a photograph of their food before they eat it. This means our food now has to look as good, or maybe better, than it tastes. The result: Visually driven creations like rainbow bagels, doughnut walls and ridiculous milkshakes have taken over our feeds.

“Over-the-top food is not going away,” says Instagram communications manager Ashley Chapman. “Avocado toast designs, acai bowl designs, crazy cake pops, latte art — that’s very much a part of Instagram.”

Of course, some of these trends survive longer than others: Remember Starbucks’s Unicorn Frappuccino? It came and went in five days in 2017, but avocado toast started blowing up in 2011 and now has 1.2 million hashtags and counting.

The trick, for successful food ’grammers, is finding a new angle on the trends. Food Network social media director Toren Weiner, who oversees the brand’s accounts on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, has to dream up around seven news posts every day. When he showed up at New York City’s popular ice cream spot Morgenstern’s to shoot a video recently with senior content manager Allison Milam, the two needed something that would get people talking, and they knew exactly what that would be: Avocado Ice Cream Toast (avocado ice cream spread on toasted Japanese white bread, topped with olive oil, condensed milk and salt) and the Hot Tin Roof Picosos Classic (a sundae made with bourbon-vanilla ice cream, chocolate fudge, Picosos peanuts and Junior Mints). As owner Nick Morgenstern made each treat, Toren and Allison got extremely close with their phones, capturing the process from every angle. The two of them were practically on top of Nick while he scooped and schmeared, and when the sundae was done, they took the masterpiece outside to get the final shot. The light was fine in the shop, but “people associate ice cream with being outside,” Toren explains. This kind of detail can make all the difference. Sometimes he and Allison will wait for traffic to die down so they can take the ice cream in the middle of the street where it looks more dramatic. “We do what we need to do,” Toren says. “We’ve gotten so close to grills and pizza ovens that our phones have actually turned off from the heat.”

Like all of us, Toren and Allison are constantly learning what people want to see on Instagram, and they’ve noticed that fans respond more to posts that look off-the-cuff and not too perfect. “When things are really produced they don’t perform as well,” he says. “Things that are a little raw do better.”

This is great news for pretty much anyone with an Instagram account because it is becoming harder and harder to stand out with over-the-top, perfect food. Baker Amirah Kassem of New York City’s Flour Shop made a surprise-inside rainbow cake for a kid’s birthday party in 2017 and it exploded on Instagram, becoming one of the most popular and most copied cakes ever posted.

Could someone replicate this phenomenon today? Unlikely. We’ve become almost desensitized to insane, oversize, exploding, oozing, Technicolor creations, and it takes a lot more than sprinkles to get the world’s attention now. Food celebrities, bloggers and other Instagram stars have realized this, too, and they’ve also learned that fans don’t necessarily expect, or want, perfection. People want to see something real: the messiness, the mistakes, all of it. “On Instagram, the pendulum is swinging back to authenticity,” Ashley says. “You’re not just seeing that final shot. You’re seeing the behind-the-scenes.” Ina can certainly attest to this: She posted a picture of herself before a Barefoot Contessa shoot with her hair in giant curlers and it was one of her most popular posts of all time. We like her roast turkey, but as it turns out, we like a peek at her life even more.

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