Obsessed by chocolate, keen on coffee and mad about prawns, gourmands from 222 countries in the world share their photos on foodie social networks. An enormous quantity, equivalent to 62,000 shots every day, if we only count those carrying the #foodporn hashtag, the most widespread on the subject of food, in the captions written by users.
It is no coincidence that the photos shared by these users are increasingly referred to in scientific ambits as big data: as in other spheres of everyday life (health services, politics, traffic flows, etc.) their analysis enables the extrapolation of fundamental information for innovating and improving the way we live.
Just like the researchers of the Qatar Computing Research Institute, who spent months collecting data relating to food pictures posted on Instagram in order to identify interesting information on the most pleasurable trends worldwide, those of fine dining of course, for the contemporary gratification of taste, sight and smell.
The research sparked by these analyses (get the details here) has taken this opportunity to probe some of our favourite foods, along with the types of dietary choices made by different countries and social classes, while attempting to debunk a die–hard myth on social networks: that foodporn has a weakness for the more fetish–like aspects of eating, in the form of high–calorie foods that are bad for us, with an excess of fat and sugar.
Does the shared enjoyment of local specialities and delicacies really lead to an unhealthy way of eating? The answer, needless to say, has amazed everyone.
Dr Yelena Mejova, who is in charge of the project, has analysed the big data of around 10 million images posted by 1.7 million users. Their geolocalisation has led to the discovery that some countries are especially fond of certain recipes. Those who particularly like to share pictures of typical dishes and describe where the photos have been taken largely come from the US (most of the shots are concentrated here), following by Italy and the UK. The choice of the dishes themselves is more variegated and differs from one nation to another.
Not just #pizza, #coffee and #wine
In Argentina, for instance, the favourite treat is dulce de leche, cream of milk and golden caramelised sugar, along with merienda, the equivalent of afternoon tea in English–speaking countries. In the US, many national dishes are favourite #foodporn: from coastal prawns to the ubiquitous bacon, not to mention tacos and Japanese sushi. In Canada they love sharing pictures of poutine (ordinary fries, but served with sauce and cheese). This brings us to the great international classics: #pizza is everyone's idea of food porn, #coffee continues to be the most frequently tagged beverage, but #wine tops the charts among alcoholic drinks.
By geolocalising the culinary photos and their associated tags, researchers were also able to tell in which countries (at least on social networks) healthier eating habits are being promoted. North European countries and the Netherlands in particular like to eat healthily: here the online chats mainly refer to #eatclean.
Conversely, three countries stand out for their fondness and widespread use of tags relating to foodstuffs that have very little to do with counting calories, revealing a preference for tasty recipes: the countries in question are Brazil, Argentina and France, dominated, respectively, by thousands of #gordice and #gourmandise.
After all, as history's most renowned expert of taste, Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, used to say as far back as 1700, “Gourmandism is one of the main links uniting society.”