Sydney Burger loves food. Not just cooking and baking and eating it. But taking pictures of it. Last year, she opened an Instagram account and began uploading photos. Riffing on the name of a well-known foodie website, the 16-year-old Rockville resident called her account “foodporndaily1” – “just as a joke. Then people started sending me stuff.”
Stuff as in photos of food. It turns out that a healthy swath of the world’s population is hungry for gorgeous photographs of French toast and strawberries, ice cream piled impossibly high on waffle cones, and macaroon ice cream sandwiches.
In short order, Burger’s friends – fellow foodies and students at Wootten and Churchill high schools – came begging for a slice of the action.
“We started bugging her every day,” says Jessie Gloger, 16.
There are four of them now, sitting around a table outside a Potomac coffee shop. In addition to Burger and Gloger, there is Marci Weiss and Jill Kushner, both 17. A fifth member of the group lives in Florida. Their account on the photoblogging app has attracted a whopping 4,400 followers.
Back when Kushner asked Burger if she could be admitted into the food sisterhood, Burger said yes, “if you get us 30 followers. So, literally, in 10 minutes she got us 30 followers.”
They might just be the hardest working high-schoolers in the food business – or simply the most obsessed. They post new photos four or five times a day, many submitted by fans. They discuss which will make the cut through texting conferences. When they get together all they talk about is their Instagram account.
“All our college essays are on food,” Weiss says.
Trips to other cities get repurposed into hunts for exceptional foodstuffs that Burger deems photo worthy. “We order food for the picture,” she explains.
When Gloger visited New York recently, she took with her a list of destinations provided by Burger. She and her mom crisscrossed Manhattan in a cab in search of a particular cookie baked at the Upper West Side’s Levain Bakery, described in more than one review as “gooey.”
“My mom said, ‘This is ridiculous,’ I’m like, ‘It’s on the list.’ ”
“We find so much new food,” Kushner says. Mac and cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich is a recent discovery.
While there have always been gourmets, it took the technological leaps only available in the lifetimes of Burger and Co. that made it possible to produce the food selfie that can be shared globally.
“I feel like it’s a whole food generation,” Weiss says.
“It’s a food culture,” Burger adds.
It’s a culture with its own slang. Like that name of theirs. “It doesn’t have a sexual connotation,” Weiss explains. “It tends to be food that you can’t stop looking at.” It is so ubiquitous that the #foodporn tag has been used on 30 million Instagram photos.
As an example of what they mean, they offer a fan’s comment: “You posted a picture of s’mores bars and now I want to eat my phone.”
Photographing the food they eat enhances and preserves the experience, they say. By focusing on the artistry that goes into what goes into their mouths, “it makes us appreciate good food, a good meal,” Gloger says.
And it’s so addictive.
“It’s very much of an obsession,” Kushner says. “Once you Instagram a picture, you just watch all the likes roll in. It’s like an adrenaline rush.”