How Instagram Became The Biggest Source Of Shabbat Dinner Anxiety
Recently, I decided to drop out of all my food-based Facebook groups — there are only so many pictures of homemade macarons with perfect “feet” I can take without feeling bored. I love to cook—and eat—but when I prepare a perfect batch of challahs, my first impulse is not to take a photo and post it on social media. I’m too busy making a memory to capture it for posterity.
However, the kosher recipe world has gravitated, along with the rest of food writers, to kosher food blogs and Instagram accounts of favorite chefs. Never before have kosher recipes been more accessible, or more sophisticated.
“Social media has made it easier for the kosher cook to come up with ideas,” says Laleh Masjedi, who runs a Facebook group, ‘What’s for Dinner Household Tips/Tricks’. “It gives inspiration to moms and others who cook often, so they feel inspired to keep on cooking. And also, it gives kosher moms an outlet and a community of support.”
“We don’t all have mothers and aunts and grandmothers around to teach us like people did in previous generations,” explains my friend Marilyn. Kosher food celebrities like Jamie Geller, Joan Nathan, and Esther Wolbe can fill in the gaps in a cook’s education, explaining kashrus and demonstrating traditional Sabbath and holiday foods.
The photos add additional allure. “I can talk until I am blue in the face about how delicious a dish is, but when you see a photo of it, and your mouth starts watering, you’re a thousand times more likely to actually go and make the dish,” Miriam Pascal, food writer known as The Overtime Cook and , says. Not only that, but readers can post a question or comment knowing the chef herself will respond. “Though my platform has evolved into a magazine column, a cookbook, and more, at the heart of it is still my direct and interactive discussion with my fans and followers.”
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Yet, the peer pressure around food — both eating and cooking well — has increased dramatically, with the advent of Instagram in particular.
Elisheva Dorfman, a licensed therapist specializing in eating disorders, says that people are more likely to post photos of food that they perceive as healthy. “They’ll post a photo of the green juice, but they would never post a photo of the Kit-Kat bar they ate a few hours before the green juice,” she says. “It makes it look to the world like they eat perfectly and induces feelings of shame and guilt in others when their diets look different.”
In fact, researchers from University College London published an article in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders in March 2017 which suggests that women who use Instagram are more likely to struggle with orthorexia, an eating disorder in which sufferers obsess about eating in a way they perceive is “healthy.” (To counteract this, Dorfman posts on Instagram under the moniker don’t_fear_food.)
Dorfman feels that Instagram food culture also puts pressure on home cooks. Jewish magazines as well as bloggers often present dishes which highlight expensive cuts of meat or other costly ingredients, as well as a level of perfection and variety unattainable to many.
“I don’t feel pressure when it comes to myself or my family,” Dorfman says. “[However,] I do feel pressure when it comes to hosting Shabbos meals. I see some of the menus sometimes, including all these homemade dips, and I don’t feel I can keep up.”
This is a stress I’ve experienced myself, and even Miriam Pascal, the kosher food professional, admits to it. “On the one hand, I don’t ever apologize for takeout, shortcuts, or any other ‘real life’ moments, nor do I hide them from the public,” she says. “On the other hand, I do put a ton of pressure on myself when I’m hosting a seudah or inviting guests. I don’t know if the pressure is because of what I do, or because I genuinely do love to cook, to create new dishes, to feed people. People definitely have major expectations of me when they come to my house.”
Although I find snapping photos of my own cooking and posting them distracting, others feel it adds to the culinary experience. “I can remember a great meal that I made, or one that my husband made us,” says Kylie Ora Lobell, an L.A.-based writer. “I get warm feelings when I am able to reflect on that food and that time spent making it, or how much thought and care my husband took when he cooked for us.”
While my friend Marilyn doesn’t often share such photos—“My best cooking is usually done moments before Shabbos.”—she enjoys viewing them. “It’s inspiring. Maybe I’ll try making those things one day.”
With Passover around the corner, kosher food media will doubtlessly attract many consumers seeking recipes for both traditional and novel holiday fare. And I’m sure I’ll be among them. It’s far more affordable and convenient to pull up recipes from a computer or phone than hunting down cookbooks which haven’t been dragged through my chometz-filled kitchen.
Just don’t look for any photos of a seder plate — or chicken cacciatore, for that matter — on my Facebook feed.
Rebecca Klempner is a wife, mother, and author living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in many online and print publications, including Tablet, Hamodia, The Jewish Home LA, The Jewish Press, and the Forward.