Is Social Media Ruining the Boston Food Scene?

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Jolyon Helterman recently addressed our culture’s growing obsession with documenting what we eat in a Boston Magazine piece Tweets, Shoots & Leaves. Very simply, he asked if foodies uploading pictures to Instagram, rushing to review new joints on Yelp and seizing upon uber-popular dishes, are ruining the dining experience for us and our chefs?

The answer from this author? Yes.

Admittedly, the way in which our culture connects around food is changing. While feasts have been drawing people together for hundreds of thousands of years, it is only within the past century we have witnessed the degradation of family dinners because of technology. TV dinners anyone? Social media is different however. Instead of simply absorbing messages from “the boob tube,” Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram make us real-time publishers.

Helterman thinks our intentions with all this sharing are not as benign as they seem.  In fact, beyond the “fear of missing out,” as social scientists call it, it seems we are just trying to out-do each other.

Bombarded with tweets and updates and snapshots of our peers seemingly living the good life, we panic about our own shlumpy existence. So we slavishly follow the buzz, loading up our dance card with venues and cocktails and buttery morsels bearing the crowd-vetted stamp of approval.”

While the idea of “showing off” is nothing new from a human behavioral stance, it is interesting that while chronic posters fear missing out, they are the architects of their own misery. By engaging in distracting behaviors, an habitual Instagrammer will be too worried about which angle to shoot the plate, or increasingly flummoxed over a filter that can balance bright sunlight. Unfortunately, he won’t look out that nearby window, taking in the neighborhood he traveled to for this divine meal. When the plate arrives, he should savor the colors and smell. Instead? Click. Post. Like.

Another quandary Helterman presents when detailing his experience at West Bridge with the famous Egg in a Jar. When certain dishes “blow up” on the culinary scene are we depriving ourselves of learning what else a restaurant has to offer?  While Yelp reviews yield guidance of dishes to try, no chef aspires to be a one trick pony.

Perhaps over-hyped dishes are ultimately dashing our hopes and stifling culinary creativity.

“I get a little bummed when people think the sticky bun is the only thing we do,” says Joanne Chang, owner of Flour Bakery. “If we don’t have them, they’re crushed, as though there’s nothing else in the bakery worth trying.”

Chang has every right to be dismayed. At any mention of the North End, I usually hear about cannoli and Mike’s Pastry. A strong indicator my conversing companion doesn’t know the neighborhood and is a tourist. Yes, this may include you, even if you’ve lived in Boston your whole life. If you go to a dining establishment, seeking only to try one item the masses have aligned themselves with, are you anything more than a culinary tourist? Foodies evolved the term “foodie” so they could distinguish themselves and rise above the pedestrian, however a culinary tourist is just that. After all, a social media addicted diner doesn’t walk away with a real sense of the restaurant, or what the chef was trying to accomplish.  Very much like the hurried tourist, he just goes home with a bunch of pictures and little enlightenment.

Per Helterman’s concerns, here are some ways to shake up your taste buds:

4 Ways to Cure Your Foodie-philia
1. Stop Calling Yourself a #Foodie:  It is overused/misused and you sound like an ass.
2. Put Away the Phone: A phone out during dinner is just rude.
3. Refuse the Romance of Trendy Ingredients:  Do you love the ingredient or it’s rarity?
4. Go Somewhere Unexpected: Simply wander into somewhere you’ve never heard of, resist Googling and eat. (Or keep reading WLBT, where we love to take you off the beaten path!)