Co-Written by Pratisha Borborah & Cihnnita Baruah

Source: Getty Images

Media plays a multidimensional role- it acts as a source of information, entertainment, news and public opinion, influencing perceptions, choices, attitudes and behaviors of individuals among others.  Among this multifaceted role played by media one such role is that of articulation of identity. An important part of identity construction is how one identify oneself and this process of identification is to a larger extent influenced by media. As such the larger question which emerges then is – Is social media an agenda setter? Is it a platform to express one’s identity? Or is it an outlet for an individual to define her way of leisure, happiness and         boredom?

The pandemic and quarantine have provided people with ample amount of time to explore the platform of global information network and use it accordingly, from making use of ICT by educators across the world to take online classes, to companies providing and creating platforms for their employees to work from home. Internet has suddenly gained a renewed sense of importance. The social media giant houses like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram have seen a huge upsurge in different countries during this period of lockdown. Italy which have become one of the epicentres of death due to the spread of the virus, has experienced a 70% increase in time spent on Facebook-owned apps such as Instagram[1].  While some are posting ‘throw-back’ travel pictures, others are posting about their new regular lockdown experiences at home. Setting new trends as well as ‘going viral’ are becoming quite popular with the help of these giant houses. With clubs, restaurants, movie halls etc all closed, people can still opt to be a part of these trends through social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat have made each one of us writers, activists, actors, photographers and presently chefs.

With the beginning of the lockdown, one such trend that began was the craze among people to cook food and share the pictures online. Quarantine has turned everyone into chefs trying to make different cuisines and posting it with hashtags like #foodporn, #foodstagram etc. While some started trying cuisines from different other states or cultures, others took the opportunity to crack jokes or memes about lockdown food scarcities. Food has become a part of global revolution during the time of pandemic. People across the world are seen sharing food recipes, food challenges as well as having theme dinners. Research analyst Paula Navarro examined how food behaviors changed with the pandemic. Through the medium of different social networks, food cooked at home automatically turned into something sophisticated with proper garnishing and presentations. Navarro writes

Since the beginning of the quarantine, for example, more than 369,000 mentions worldwide on social media were about people sharing their bread making ventures. Some renowned chefs, and brands such as Burger King France jumped on this trend to share the recipe for homemade Whopper, which amused many YouTubers who tried to reproduce the recipe of the famous Whopper[2].

One of the major trends during this period of lockdown was Dalgona Coffee also being called as ‘Quarantine coffee’.   We have come across numerous pictures of our friends, family members and acquaintances posting pictures of their Dalgona coffee. Kin to Dalgona Coffee was a Whipped Nutella that went viral. However, with different countries coming up with their own viral stories, India too came up with their version. People started turning their kitchen into a street food corner. Stories of street food like Momo, Gol Gappa etc were regularly shared and posted in Facebook and Instagram. What proceeds this is the trend of liking, commenting, excitement, jealousy and challenging each other on social media. Individuals also took this opportunity to use social media to showcase their sense of belongingness to their community during the festivals of Rongali Bihu in Assam, Poila Biasakh and many other communities which celebrate their new year in April. People used Faceboook, Instagram, TikTok etc to share pictures and videos of delicacies with hashtags such as #quarantinebihu #missbeinghomeinbihu etc. This shows how media creates a sense of representation where images, words and characters or personae are put to use that conveys a sense of identity and values to individuals. These ideas and values are constructed, and they play an important role in imparting ideology. According to a study conducted by researchers at Aston University’s School of Life and Health Sciences, UK, following such trends can affect our food choices. As a matter of fact, there is a common saying that – “You are what you eat”. The choice of food practices of an individual is also partly influenced by one’s identity in the society. However, mostly it is assessed in the light of the maintenance of cultural identity among populations. Food practices in multicultural societies like India can be considered to be a reflection of everyday multiculturalism and people’s affiliation of food to traditional and cultural practices.

Nevertheless, with this lockdown practices, a new relationship has been presented on the plate. It will be interesting to see how these posting of new food habits will bring a shift in the lifestyle of people post pandemic. Academic journals like Appetite published works which shows how social circles influence eating habits. These are seen in different WhatsApp forwards and Facebook posts about immunity food habits to stay healthy and immune during lockdown. Turmeric, ginger tea became a part of daily routine to maintain body immunity.  Moreover, the idea of ‘following the trend’ is also a way of earning happiness, acceptance and social capital in these social media platforms. Becoming viral or being on trend also is a way of sharing the stardom and experiencing happiness as a form of temporary pleasure. While being happy or sad is solely responsible on the person himself/herself, these kinds of emotions are very much constructed by our social environment. While social media platforms are giving everyone to share their ideas and aspirations, they are also creating a feeling of neglect and ignorance. It tends to create loneliness for those who could not afford that part of leisure, food and an online world where people believe to earn fame through the number of followers and friend requests. While on one hand it is presenting a beautiful picture of someone’s life, it is also adding a pressure to maintain that belongingness.

Today, food cooked is not just to survive but it is a part of visual culture. One is not just cooking food but cooking food with proper presentation. It is not just the taste of salt or spice but also how visually attractive it is to be posted on social media. Thus, the symbolic meaning of cooking food with social media goes beyond ‘eating healthy’ but to construct an identity of one’s own in the virtual world. One is easily known with the food one cooks, with the trend one set and with the food story one share.

 

Pratisha Borborah is Assistant Professor, Cotton University and Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Email: pratisha23.jnu@gmail.com

Cihnnita Baruah  is Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Email: cihnnitabaruah@gmail.com

[1] http://www.netimperative.com/2020/03/26/facebook-traffic-surges-during-lockdown-but-ad-business-takes-a-hit/ [accessed on 27/04/2020]

[2] https://wearesocial.com/blog/2020/04/in-lockdown-the-food-revolution [accessed on 27/08/2020]


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3 Comments

  1. Authors have touched on a very important aspect of our daily life which has changed us in a subtle yet ingenious way. The urge I feel to post whenever I cook something is almost uncontrollable. But then we as human beings first and netizens later, have to decide how much of our private space we want to give to the world outside and how much influence we want to exert and feel upon us. This article of my dear friend Cinnhita Baruah and Pratisha Borborah elucidate with much ease such tug of war I have often felt inside me. Thanks for sharing

  2. Avatar Sanjan Bora says:

    Nicely written and very well compiled. Expecting for more such similar writeups.

  3. Avatar Priyanka C says:

    Nicely written piece by Pratisha and Cihnnita. Among the trending cooks these days, few are devoted to follow the trend like dolgona coffee to go viral in social media, others prefer to experiment new dishes to stay unique like the whopper as you mentioned and there is this last category who believes in utilizing optimal ingredients available in their kitchens during the pandemic scarcity to ensure prolonged food security. Either ways 2020 has numerous chefs in making and the credit goes to our inevitable social media.