“Here, taste this!”
Those three words encapsulate a fundamental truth about food and humanity. For us, food is an incredibly social thing. Families gather around the dinner table. Peace is made by breaking bread together. Almost every major celebration involves some manner of feast. I just wrapped up 3 days at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and I’ve never been more convinced that food is the touchstone of human society.
For three days this week, nearly 20,000 people circulated around the Moscone Convention Center, talking, tasting and doing business. Their mission: to bring a world of flavors and food experiences to your pantry, table and plate. In the process, they were both demonstrating and validating every behavior that we connect with social media.
Food, and the ritual that surrounds meals and their preparation, is a huge part of our childhood and personal development. It's also a huge part of our cultural identity. Jewish or Italian, Chinese or Indian, New Englander or Deep-Southerner, when it's time to share your culture with someone else, the first stop is invariably based around food.
Walking around the Fancy Food Show, I saw foods representing practically every culture from around the world. And alongside each display of culture and creativity there were smiling faces beaming with pride in what they were offering. No matter if they were corporate employees or chef-creators, it was obvious that they viewed what was on that table as an extension of themselves and they were truly excited to show it off to the world.
Half the thrill of discovery lies in the triumphant report of that discovery to our social group. We venture forth in search of new flavors, textures and presentations in the hopes that we can be the first one to bring it back to our tribe (or, in the case of restaurants, bring our tribe to them). I don't know the stats, but I'd guess that at least half of all social media is based around this "explore and report" model. I definitely do my fair share.
There were many explorers at the show, circulating among the buyers, brokers and store owners. They were the bloggers, tweeters and recipe tinkerers. (And I'd like to give a special shout-out to Poor Girl Eats Well and Ms. Munchie!) They came from near and far, drawn by the opportunity to taste new flavors that haven’t reached their local shelves, and to spot the new trends and report back to their followers.
The Good Life of a Follower
For each culinary trailblazer, there are others who are happy to simply sit back and reap the rewards. Lists, blogs, restaurant and product reviews let the cautious enjoy new food adventures with the confidence that the odds are in their favor. If you think about it, information about what to eat and what not to eat has been shared for millennia. We only know not to eat the “purple berry with the red spots” because someone ate it, died, and his tribe passed that information down from generation to generation. As followers, we can sit on our thrones like kings and have the best of the world placed at our feet.
Favorites and Bookmarks
Long before the concept of "content curation" entered our digital conversation (in fact, long before ANYTHING was digital) people curated collections of recipes, sharing them via pencil and paper, rather than Facebook and Twitter. There’s a personal aspect of these recipes that exceeds most of the other content we create.
Think about the way people name recipes after themselves, their recipes, pets, places and all of the other important milestones in their lives. It’s not just “banana bread”, it’s “Aunt Joan’s Banana Bread”. We take these things and make them our own. Whether we choose to share them with the whole world, or just with our direct blood relatives, they become a part of our identity and our legacy. This is the relationship we have with food and the relationship that food creates between us.
The Feast is Served
Where does all of this leave us? As foodies and consumers, social media is helping to drive a true golden age, allowing us to share all the flavors of the world. As food brands, social media offers an incredible and very natural platform to connect with a hungry public. Either way, it tastes great.
Note: If you’re a food brand trying to figure out how to make social media work for you, email me at jeff [at] jeffgreenhouse.com.