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Eating in the Internet Age

It is becoming increasingly clear that the average London millennial is somewhat obsessed with food. As we are so often told and know so well, however, we are equally obsessed with technology. The two passions go hand-in-hand. We look at, order, and joke about food online. Gags about pasta and recipe videos fill our Facebook feeds and artfully composed brunch snaps pepper our Instagram galleries. The effects of such changes run deeper than might first be imagined. Increased connectivity has led to people being far more knowledgeable about food now than they were a decade ago, and more demanding customers have forced greater quality and choice in the food industry. An inexhaustible wealth of options face the discerning, modern-day urban diner. Technology has truly set the food scene alight... can there be any drawbacks to this fruitful coalition?

Illustration by Anna Seibæk Torp-Pedersen

The rise of the smartphone has seen the boom of food delivery services, perhaps the most visible impact of technology on how we get our food. Demand is high: 2017 has seen the emergence of socalled ‘dark-kitchens’, operated by Deliveroo. These are kitchens with no sit-in dining rooms producing food from popular chain restaurants purely for the delivery market. Launched in April, and expanding in September, there are now ten across London. Leaving the confines of your flat becomes increasingly unnecessary. Why lug yourself out and go through the trials and tribulations of conversing with fellow humans, you might reason, when just a few taps, a (hopefully) short wait and a quick ‘thanks’ at your own front door stands between you and your favourite restaurant dinner? Beyond the simple benefits of getting out more, this also has led to people cooking less, regardless of how many fun videos are watched online and then swiftly forgotten. The old concepts of ‘bonding over food’ and kitchens as the hearts of homes—clichés, maybe, but reflective of truth—are tested.

It is a common complaint that phones have given people psychological licence to be absent from group conversation in restaurants and cafés. Gone are the days, it sometimes seems, of having nothing of interest in the world apart from the food on, or people around, the table. The omnipresence of the phone proves all too dominant in the technology-saturated culture we live in. Some might say that people may as well be eating alone. Indeed, there has been a recent increase in solo dining in restaurants, with 78% of people feeling individual eating is more socially acceptable than it was five years ago. Whether or not everyone would feel comfortable doing so, it offers many a much-needed dose of ‘me-time’, a chance to relax and reflect, away from the bustle of contemporary life. Inextricable from this, however, is the ‘you’re never alone with a mobile phone’ attitude that has been facilitated by the proliferation of free wi-fi on offer in eating establishments. Troublingly, 34% of 18- to 24-year-olds see their mobile phone as a perfectly adequate surrogate dining companion in place of a friend.

Comparing the food trends and eating habits we all partake in to those in earlier years and decades, the relationship between technology and food today is clearly one of paradox. We know more about food, yet increasingly rely on delivery services. We have more ‘friends’, yet often opt out of public interaction. More people know what we eat, but more than ever before we eat alone. Perhaps a revitalization of a partly-lost food culture is required which an old Roman proverb endorses with pleasing simplicity: Where the pot bubbles, friendship lives.

This article was first published in SEE:ONE, The Courtauldian’s printed publication. You can find the full first issue of SEE here:

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