Food on your phone

A selection of Rory's food

I've been testing the patience of my social media friends and followers to the limits this week. What's new, I hear you ask. But photographing your every meal and sharing the pictures on Instagram and Twitter is almost guaranteed to annoy.

But that was at least part of the point of the exercise. As part of a joint venture between Tech Tent and another BBC World Service programme The Food Chain, I was exploring how mobile phones have affected the way we eat. The idea was to take a photo of my breakfast, lunch and dinner over a number of days and see how it changed my attitude to my food.

Now, as my friends will point out I already do take quite a few pictures of food - but almost exclusively restricted to baking. Since I started learning how to make sourdough bread, I have shared rather too many proud pictures of my latest loaf. But this was different.

For one thing, it meant breaking a stern rule at meals in our household - and I suspect many others - that there should be no phones at the dinner table. My family looked on with exasperated amusement, prepared to tolerate my transgression, but in other social situations it still felt rude.

A quick look at Instagram, Facebook and other places where people share photos reveals that photographing your food and drink is now a commonplace activity. Chefs are using social media to show off their latest recipes, food bloggers are sharing their latest discoveries - and loads of us are just snapping away at birthday cakes or exotic cocktails.

Some restaurants are none too keen on this. One New York eaterie found that it was taking far longer to get people through the process of ordering, eating and paying for their meal, partly because they were continually stopping to take pictures - or handing the phone to a waiter. Others have banned photography altogether.

I had lunch at a London restaurant this week with a very tolerant man - he had after all built his fortune on mobile technology. But after a while he pointed out that my food would be cold if I didn't stop taking pictures.

As the week progressed, I realised the exercise was having an effect on what I ate and how it was presented. As well as snapping away at my meals, I was also using a mobile app which counts calories, and I found that the very act of recording my food intake made me try to be sensible. That mid-morning croissant with a cup of coffee? Not worth the bother if I have to take its picture. Left over birthday cake brought into the office by a colleague? Better not…

There were artistic considerations too. After a couple of days porridge for breakfast looked a bit boring - so I turned to a boiled egg which made a better picture. Soup is my standard lunch at the office, but sushi looks a lot more exciting on Instagram. Someone pointed out that I seemed to have peas with every meal - I had to seek out another vegetable.

After five days of worrying more about how my food looked and what it said about me than whether it tasted good, I was relieved to put the phone down. I had learned that capturing images of your meals is a good way of making you think about your relationship with food, but that, in company at least, the dinner table should be a gadget-free zone.

Tune in to Tech Tent on Friday afternoon to hear more - and to Food Chain this evening for the insights of a psychologist and a food photographer on my experiment. Now, I really fancy two slices of buttered toast... unphotographed.