Foodie photography

A hunger not found on Instagram

3 mins read

I was hungry and playing on Instagram.

It was too late to forage food outside, so I looked at food photographs. No, it did not satisfy my hunger, instead it made me think.

People were sharing photographs of fancy foods being eaten at fancy places.

When I looked at my Instagram profile, I too, have some of the same photos—different places, but the same.

Scouring through hashtags I saw #foodie #foodiesofInstagram #foodiegram #bougie and #bougie stopped me dead in my tracks.

    When did food and eating become #bougie?

Growing up in the household of a postal carrier, we often received gifts from the people on my grandfather’s route.

Lined on the credenza, were baskets filled with cheese, meat, crackers, cookies, cakes, and candies all stamped with “gourmet.” We repurposed them into Christmas decorations. They were festive enough.

As days moved towards the holidays, we would give the variances of treats away to people who dropped by unexpectedly with gifts or without. One-by-one, food baskets left the house without being opened or explored.

Occasionally, there would be one left behind and on a day between grocery store shopping and no snacks, we would crack it open and eat.

That was my introduction to gourmet food or rich white people food as I called it then.

I recalled those baskets the night I noticed #bougie, and I posted an update on Facebook.

Quickly, I typed #foodless in both Twitter and Facebook’s search engines with no expectation whatsoever.

On Facebook, I found a humorous post and a Norwegian cookbook using the hashtag.


On the other hand, Twitter was more revealing. Most of the tweets using #foodless were either people saying they were hungry for something specific though they clearly had other food, and there were a few social service organizations using the hashtag to discuss hunger and food deserts. No one used the hashtag to say that they were hungry and needed food.

While searching #foodless my Facebook friends commented.

The first few comments were from people stating that they were too sick to go out and shop or that their kids were gone so they didn’t shop as much and food was not a priority.

They missed the point.

But one friend said that she knew what it was like to be foodless, to need food because there was no money.


Two seconds later I received an inbox message from a friend who shared a testimony about being #foodless.

Photo credit: Austin Chan

We went back and forth, sharing experiences, and talking about solutions. We left off promising to be safe spaces should the need arise.

A few minutes after that another message from someone discussing the reality of food insecurity within the ranks of those who are considered employable and #bougie. In that discussion was a confession of sharing photos of fancy food, but not having a dime and possessing an empty refrigerator.

I cried. I confessed. Been there, done that too.

The final message of the evening was someone chiding me for making people ashamed for posting food boasts.

I assured the messenger that, that was not my intention, and I would be a hypocrite for doing so. Maybe I struck a raw nerve by asking if they would ever post on social media that they needed food.

Really needed food. I have yet to receive a reply.

The Educated Poor Class

Sharing a roti and curry dinner with friends.

More messages followed, and every last one of my messengers were educated with degrees, professional, and considered grown. They are also considered people who should have the capacity to feed themselves.

Student loan debt, layoffs, under-employment, caring for aging parents, and medical problems have pushed them over a financial edge, making them less elite and more working poor.

Or just plain poor.

So, they are fed by an underground of friends and family who assist in keeping appearances, because appearances count. It is not that they are putting on airs of prosperity.

The people I spoke with are just trying to get another well-paying job or simply fighting to stay sane.

Sometimes sanity shows up in the occasional treat to lunch or dinner resulting in one of those fabulous food photos we see on Facebook and Instagram.

We won’t see #foodless or any hashtag that tells the real story.

Ergo, we have turned the simple act of eating into a space where people are too afraid to say that they are hungry because their circles and the people they follow post $100 chicken plates and $40 cocktails.

In some ways, we have taken the love out of food, by excluding those who may want to participate, or just buy a plate, but cannot afford it—leaving a sentiment that food is almost unreachable..

Nope, this is a hunger you won’t find on Instagram.

Robin Caldwell is a food publicist and educator who has a passion for black women chefs and the plate economy.

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