Taking Pictures of Food

I’ve lived in Oregon for nearly eight years. Besides my Keens, my Decemberists shirts, and my reusable bags, the most Portland thing about me is that I take pictures of my food.

As a Southerner raised by Midwestern parents, it probably goes without saying that food has always been an important part of my life. Both of my parents were good cooks; my dad was the type who could take the random ingredients in the fridge and create something amazing. After every meal, he’d ask, “Did you get enough to eat?”

A man with salt-and-pepper hair and glasses sits at a table full of plates and glasses.
My father, presiding over Thanksgiving c. 1994 or 1995. That’s me on the left. I didn’t lose that smug look until I was 20 or so.

Ma was a proponent of “Food is Love,” as evidenced by her legacy of desserts like Death by Chocolate.

A bowl of chocolate pudding, browines, Cool Whip, and toffee pieces
Om nom nom

One of my biggest regrets is not learning more about cooking from them when I had the chance. I had zero interest in cooking as a teen. I was, alas, the type of feminist who disdained all things “girly” and cooking was the biggest representation of that, even if it was my father who did most of the cooking in my family. Other than making the occasional grilled cheese or scrambled egg, I stayed away from the kitchen.

As an adult, I’ve embraced the idea that girly/feminine does not equal bad. I enjoy the process of cooking, and of learning new recipes and new ways to combine ingredients. I work online, so I spend two hours working with only a Word document to show for it. I spend two hours in the kitchen, and I have cake or bread or sandwiches.

And I like to think I appreciate food now in a way I didn’t before. I mean, I still have the palate of a five-year-old.

A pile of Chicken McNuggets
All I’ve ever wanted from life. Picture from Wikipedia

But I can appreciate the effort that goes into making food, and the inventiveness and creativity cooking can require (and reward).

I lack a phone that can send pictures to Instagram, so I just take pictures with a digital camera and then post them on Facebook. I can take as many photos as I want, since the camera is digital. But why do I take these pictures at all?

Memory aides, pure and simple. Sure, I’m a hipster millennial, but these photos remind me not only of the meal, but of the fun I had before and afterwards. Sharing the pictures is a way to invite others to join me. “I can’t feed you in person, but I hope you know I’m thinking of you and wish you were here.”

After a lifetime of food, my memory latches on to it. I remember Mom making endless cookies during the holidays, the sweet powdered sugar mixing with the earthy pecans (used instead of almonds) of her Austrian moon cookies. I remember Dad standing over the grill, beer in hand, carefully nurturing his chicken. If I’m lucky, I can remember the tang of the barbecue sauce. My cat Alegria always had to have a bite of what I was eating. I don’t miss her looming over my plate as I eat, but I miss sharing my food with her. Food is love.

A cat eats a pat of butter.
Alegria eats some butter.

Now every vacation and holiday, I take pictures of every meal.

A hamburger with cheese and bacon
A hamburger from Honest Abe’s Burgers and Freedom

This simple burger is from Honest Abe’s Burgers and Freedom, in Lincoln, NE. Besides being delicious, it is a reminder of a trip I took in 2013. It was a whirlwind weekend of friends and fun. During the trip, I got to see friends I hadn’t seen in years. I got to revisit my favorite haunts from college, and feel a little sad about all of the changes that had occurred over the years. A reminder that as much as I want everything to stay the same, it can’t. And that’s a good thing, because this burger was delicious, and it didn’t exist when I lived in Nebraska.

A plate of scones, jam, and clotted cream
Scones from English’s Quintessentially British

These scones are from my recent trip to Las Vegas. On this day, I got to spend the day with a friend I haven’t seen since 2008. We had delicious food and a day of shopping. We tried on clothes and played with all the makeup samples at Sephora.

I would, of course, remember my vacations and friends without these pictures (and I have pictures of me with my friends). But the food triggers more detailed memories. The taste, the smell, what lead to it, and what came after.

History, memory, nostalgia, love. That is why I take pictures of food.

8 replies on “Taking Pictures of Food”

Pretty much, especially for me with Korean food as I hadn’t had much exposure to it in the States. I can look back at those pictures when I didn’t know the names of ANY of the dishes and go, “Favorite…love it…craving it…eh, not so much because it has a weird texture…” It’s also a reminder of times with friends, etc.

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