Why your Instagram photos of food may be “racist”

Feb 27, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Why your Instagram photos of food may be “racist”

Feb 27, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Have you ever thought food photos can be racist? Neither have I. But Portland-based food photographer Celeste Noche declares Instagram food photography to be exactly this – “racist”. In the podcast on The Racist Sandwich, she addresses the issues of racism, as well as gender and class division in Instagram food photography. As a Filipino, she feels that Asian cuisine is represented in a racist way. I always thought food shots are just food shots, but Celeste gives quite an interesting point of view analyzing these photos.

Celeste points out to the problem which is present on Instagram, as well as in food magazines and website. People tend to interpret food so that they attach some stereotypes to the photos, which makes the photos racist.

In the podcast, she talks about Western food, which doesn’t have to be “explained” further in the photos. When you have Western dishes to photograph, you don’t need to create additional context. However, photographers often do this with Asian dishes.

In her words, white people tend to “exotify and overcompensate” the food they photograph if it doesn’t come from their culture. She gives an example of a photo of tofu on a banana leaf, where the client “wanted to add some context” because the food comes from Asia. The host even made a reference that it seemed as the client referred to Asians as “monkey people”. But I have to tell you, I’m on client’s side here – you really need to make the effort to make tofu look appetizing and delicious.

According to Celeste, it’s unnecessary to present food next to something you wouldn’t use for eating and that has nothing to do with the dish. This goes for that banana leaf, but the same goes for chopsticks. They appear in most photos of Asian dishes on top of the bowl, and this doesn’t allow food to speak for itself. Also, some Asian dishes are not even eaten with chopsticks. And who places chopsticks on top of the bowl anyway?

As a solution to this problem, Celeste suggests it’s necessary that the photographers educate themselves on the culture of any given dish. This could help them avoid misinterpretations and represent the food more accurately and avoid stereotypes.

Honestly speaking, I’ve never given this a thought. It’s an interesting point of view that made me think, and indeed – many photos of Asian food I’ve seen have the chopsticks or some other “identifier” to point out they were Asian. On the other hand, I think Celeste may be a bit too judgmental. Sure, not all photographers are educated about all different cultures, or at least not to the same extent. But I don’t think this makes them racists or makes their food photos mocking certain culture. I believe they just want to add context, make the photo more interesting and vivid, or make the dish look more appetizing.

What do you think? Have you ever thought about this topic? Do you think there’s racism even in food photography? Share your thoughts in the comments.

[via Heat Street]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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32 responses to “Why your Instagram photos of food may be “racist””

  1. Fotoden Avatar

    To be blunt Ms. Noche sounds like she too much time on her hands and too much time to think about problems that don’t exist. This doesn’t come close to an issue of racism and the word is being badly used here.

  2. aleroe Avatar

    So if someone suggests I visit another part of the world and experience the culture, is that racist? Is the mere act of pointing out (even in a positive way) differences in cultures racist?


  3. Chris Hutcheson Avatar
    Chris Hutcheson

    Another case of diligently looking for a non-event to get worked up about.

  4. Yomismo Avatar


  5. livesintheharbor Avatar

    Want your 5 minutes of fame? Declare something ordinary as racist. No story here.

  6. Nadine Spires Avatar
    Nadine Spires

    I agree that cuisine should be accurately represented, but racism? She can’t blame all white people for the (possible) remarks of some. On that issue all she got was a hint of something that may have been nothing at all.

    And isn’t food always evolving, always changing? So you add in chopsticks to an Asian dish, what if the person who is eating it feels more comfortable eating noodles with chopsticks than another utensil (like me)? Are you going to tell them off for not having perfect etiquette according to you?

    Placing chopsticks on top of the bowl generally means you are done, however for some people it’s just a way to lay your chopsticks down without getting them dirty if you are busy with something else.

    No I don’t think food photography is racist, I think someone is looking for a reason to start a racial “discussion”.

  7. Kent Whitfield Avatar
    Kent Whitfield

    I could see how food photography could be racist. Like if you’re a cannibal and you’re eating a klansman, that would mean your food is racist. Just like if you were eating the author of this article, your food would be a hysterical idiot.

  8. Chris Miller Avatar
    Chris Miller

    …really hating humanity right about now. That is some serious next level SJW bullshit… enough with political correctness already people need to grow a fucking spine and learn to stop getting offended by every minutely perceived slight

    1. Chris Miller Avatar
      Chris Miller

      I don’t believe I said I was offended

    2. Chris Miller Avatar
      Chris Miller

      And you assume to much

    3. Chris Miller Avatar
      Chris Miller

      Not at all. LOL triggered again?

    4. Abby Gustchen Avatar
      Abby Gustchen

      the author of the article made it clear he did not agree, but used neutral language. one need not agree. but to be upset that other people are offended by something with which you disagree is rather nonsensical. it’s just the other side of the coin.

    5. Chris Miller Avatar
      Chris Miller

      Well you certainly showed me… oh and by the way lighten up

    6. Thomas S'Analog Avatar
      Thomas S’Analog

      Abby Gustchen I don’t think it’s ever wrong to say you disagree with how another person feels about a subject..it’s not about being offended that they are offended it’s being concerned that this type of behavior is even considered legitimate. I think we have a mental health issue going on and instead of talking about that, we act like these people have a legit concern. They don’t. It’s mental.

    7. Abby Gustchen Avatar
      Abby Gustchen

      It’s wrong that “asian” is synonymous with chopsticks, American Chinese food, sushi or ramen, Thomas S’Analog?

      or is it wrong that the woman used incorrect terminology, which is the entire basis for the op’s offended stance? I imagine that, had the woman featured in the article have presented her argument differently, it would have been received differently. if, for instance, she would have showcased other props that could be utilized in a setting at home or out, rather than saying “this portrayal is racist”, there would be no reason for offense. which means that for both sides of the argument, words and tone matter a great deal, but that displaying emotions is far more important than freely sharing and listening.

    8. Nadine Spires Avatar
      Nadine Spires

      Abby Gustchen I think it goes beyond food for the author stating racism in the article as she also mentioned (assuming) that a client made a racist remark. I don’t think that writing in a different manner would get away from the fact that the author has a racial chip on her shoulder. That comes across very clearly.

  9. ReneK Avatar

    Just another case of “I had to look hard, but i found something to complain about…”

  10. Yazzu Avatar

    Life long Dem here… This is exactly the type of crap which got Trump elected. Stop with the SJW BS and try tackling real issues. And in case it isn’t clear, made up racism about Instagram food photos isn’t a real issue.

  11. Kevin Price Avatar
    Kevin Price

    I’ve lived in Korea for 18 years. Like another poster pointed out, people rest their chopsticks on the bowl to keep them clean. For many people, I think the contextualising happens with any new / unfamiliar food, and is hardly a case of racism. There’s a sense of building a story, interest, and a strong image- and has nothing to do with “white privilege,” or any negative thoughts of the culture. In fact, I think it shows an excitement for, and delight in, the discovery.

    1. TheInconvenientRuth Avatar

      Well said.

  12. mike r Avatar
    mike r

    I’m a Filipino and even I think Celeste needs to take it down a Noche.

    “Exotic” food is given visual context because Western audiences aren’t familiar with them. No one in America needs to be told what a pizza is, but very few of them would be able to identify pho, let alone even be able to tell it from ramen.

    Celeste, hija, anak — if you’re out there: chill. Not everything is the white man pushing us down. Uwi ka nalang sa Daly City at doon ka nalang magfoto para hindi ka na kailangan magtrabaho sa mga “racist” klyenteng Amerikano.

  13. AsianReaper Avatar

    Too much time on her ,it , he , they them , planet q , trans non binary masterbation machines….. why does this channel print such shit ?

  14. Trino Pam Avatar
    Trino Pam

    I find her statement racist for associating food to race.

  15. JonJon K Avatar
    JonJon K

    Get this stupid fucking retarded non-sense bullshit out of here or you lose a reader. Quit giving dumb motherfuckers news. Don’t need to see some more lame social justice bullshit which is completely unrelated to the art of photography.

  16. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar

    And this had to do with DIY photography how?

  17. Elisa Solbiati Avatar
    Elisa Solbiati

    This is completely nuts! There are tons of photos to disprove her statement about chopsticks (as if a spoon or a fork never got their way up in an image). I believe that this kind of photography is highly product oriented (magazines, cooking books etc.) and so context is added to reinforce it. I suggest this photographer to concentrate on how food make up in photography modifies our relationship with food… I think it’s a more interesting subject.

  18. whatevs Avatar

    First world problem. When you re just bored so you just make up stuff just to get offended.

  19. AlexisZ Avatar

    Ridiculous assertions.

  20. D.Sigrey Avatar

    When will all of these people crying racism at every turn realize that all they are doing is taking away from the real racist issues that people struggle with everyday.

  21. ext237 Avatar

    When I take my wife to eat sushi, we use chopsticks. Because we are racist? No, because we are enjoying more than just food, we are enjoying an experience together. I don’t need the chopsticks to tell me I’m eating sushi.

    In photography, if I’m shooting an adult model, I don’t include teddy bears and primary colors. When I shoot kids, props are important. The teddy bear doesn’t say I’m discriminating based on age, it means I’m creating a visual experience, including appropriate props.

  22. TheInconvenientRuth Avatar

    She is so right. I’m so glad someone finally had the strength and courage to take up this sensitive issue. And this problem is far, far more widespread and deeply ingrained in our ‘tolerant’ society than you might think.
    Why is whisky always photographed in a whisky glass? How condescending and stereotypical. All it does is reaffirm the horrible stereotype that whisky drinkers drink whisky from whisky glasses. Disgusting. It would look just as fine in a hand-blown flower vase if people were just a little more open-minded. I dream of the day when I can shoot whisky in a wine glass without inciting hatred and ridicule.
    And hamburgers. Don’t get me started on hamburgers. The patty is always between the buns. Always. Always oppressed. Never free, never on top. Is it -I dare say it- a color issue? You tell me.
    Some people tell me that they shoot Tofu blocks on banana leaves because it provides a very pleasing palette, especially if you add some bright-red chopped chili. Vivid green, bright red, cream-colored tofu. Beautiful colors, right? No. We all know monkeys eat only tofu, it’s just done to insult vegans, not to make their food look more appetizing.
    Tomorrow I have a food shoot. And I’m going to make a change. I’m going to hang the seared sirloin steak from fishooks against a backdrop of antarctic ice and clubbed seals. I’m going to pour the wine into white and blue enamel milk jugs and shoot it directly side-on fight the stereotypes. And I’m going to take my pad thai out of the bowl, spread it out into a flat disc on a wooden board covered in flour and surround it with fresh basil leaves, tomatoes, buffalo mozarella and a jar of nutella.
    Maybe you’ll call me crazy, but you’ll not be calling me racist.

  23. Jim Avatar

    I’m offended by absolutely everyone and everything.