Try opening Instagram and scrolling through today’s new posts without seeing one picture of food. It’s not possible, is it? Millennials, the most active demographic on social media, are one of the most food-obsessed generations in history. Mesmerizing pictures of rainbow bagels, raindrop cakes, and lavishly topped toasts hold prime real estate on our feeds, and it’s no secret that to some, the excessive “food porn” posts are tacky, annoying, or just plain dumb. But is the prolific presence of food-stagrams actually contributing something unhealthy to the social space? Is it negatively impacting society? I’m genuinely asking, because beautiful photos of food are one of the reasons I prefer Instagram above all other social media platforms, and it’s not just because I work in food. Scrolling through food images, to me, is captivating, calming, intriguing, satisfying, and oftentimes inspiring. (Plus, I would rather look at photos of ice cream cones without an agenda all day than read some of the absurd commentary that takes place daily in my Facebook feed–but that’s neither here nor there.)
Maybe this is one of the reasons why I find myself feeling unsettled after reading about Land O’Lakes’ new campaign to fight hunger.
Land O’Lakes, one of the largest producers of butter and cheese in the country, recently announced a new campaign called Delete to Feed, which is intended to raise awareness for and help to eradicate hunger in the United States. The campaign, which lasts through mid-October, seeks to make a difference through donating a target goal of 2.75 million meals to Feeding America–but their strategy might not be quite what you expect. The butter company is encouraging participants to delete their food posts from Instagram in order to raise awareness of food insecurity across the United States. In order to participate, you have to connect your Instagram account to the Land O’Lakes site and delete one of your past food-related Instagram posts. In return, the company will donate 11 meals for each food post you delete.
Look, I get it. “Delete to Feed” is a clever play on words, and the campaign itself is timely. Using Instagram is a logical way to target Millennials and the company is prompting people to do something that doesn’t require a lot of effort or monetary exertion on their part. Additionally, attempting to spread awareness while raising money to combat hunger is an incredibly worthy cause. Their goal is admirable and necessary, and the results of the campaign may benefit thousands, if not millions, of people. With all of that said, their strategy kind of misses the point.
I understand that the single requirement to contribute to the campaign is a symbolic act meant to prompt us to reflect on our own lives of excess and luxury. To plenty of Americans, food isn’t just a vital staple for survival, it’s also a subject of casual (or passionate) interest, and of popular culture. Food is our amusement. Something that, at it’s core is simply a means to sustain life, is a source of entertainment for plenty of us. As someone who finds joy by feeding my passion for cooking and works in an industry that’s sustained by people who maintain similar interests, I cannot criticize having a fascination for what feeds us. At the same time, I respect the core idea behind asking people to reflect on the fact that their luxury is someone else’s lack in order to incite a response. But I think in this case, the requested response is wrong.
When your goal is to incite action and spread awareness for food insecurity relief, deleting pictures of past meals doesn’t exactly seem productive. Will it incite a moment of self-awareness and reflection for the individual who partakes? Hopefully so. But it seems like the one actionable requirement for supporting a campaign intended to make an impact should call for forward-looking rather than backward.
Why not use such a wide-reaching campaign to spread the word about those who go hungry? Deleting old pictures doesn’t erase the fact that they were posted. It doesn’t eradicate the fact that I had a meal when someone else didn’t. Feeling empathy and even shame in private does nothing proactive to combat the issue. Instead of clearing out our personal profiles of 2-year-old photos of food pictures that are no longer relevant, why don’t we post new photos that will inform others of the issue? Why don’t we flood social media with awareness rather than hiding past posts out of a guilty conscience?
Again, I’m not faulting Land O’Lakes. I applaud them and the campaign for doing something about the issue rather than sitting idly by as people continue to go without. However, the same people who can delete an Instagram post are people capable of actively partnering in the fight against food insecurity. Companies who have the funds to back campaigns like these could be using those resources to move people to do just a little bit more than delete pictures on social media.
September is Feed America’s Hunger Action Month. Did you read that? Action. Hunger affects 48 million Americans, including 15 million children, every day. This doesn’t have to be the narrative forever. There are numerous, actionable ways you can fight hunger in your own community by volunteering, donating, and spreading the word. Click here to learn how you can take action today.