Social media food influencers are about as trustworthy as amateur brain surgeons – Stephen Jardine

Alongside everything else, the festive season is a wonderful reminder of the talent behind the food we eat.
We put our faith in experts in medicine and the same should be true when it comes to food (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)We put our faith in experts in medicine and the same should be true when it comes to food (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
We put our faith in experts in medicine and the same should be true when it comes to food (Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Chefs naturally get much of the limelight because of their skill and creativity but in the background, so much talent is at work.

In the run-up to Christmas, I watched a butcher debone a big turkey for a customer in less time than it takes me to make a cup of tea. Down at Welch fishmongers in Newhaven, busy staff were angel-cutting haddock in the blink of an eye before moving on to filleting giant cod and breaking down sweet lobsters for the dinner table without losing a morsel.

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All these skills are learned the hard way and passed down the generations. We should never take them for granted.

Most of these people would shun any attention and that is just as well because it leaves plenty of room for Instagram influencers. These are people who build a following online by not losing their phones and posting pictures of everything they do in life. They make a living by dropping brand names on their followers in exchange for cash and goods.

Having rinsed fashion, hair and make-up, their attention has now inevitably turned to food and drink. A few are doing interesting and innovative things but the vast majority are just waiting for the last bandwagon to jump on and it recently arrived in the shape of What I Eat In A Day videos.

That title is perhaps a clue to the thought and creativity that has gone into this. They are literally videos of people showing and telling us in excruciating detail every single thing they eat over a 24-hour period. And that’s it. If you are waiting for a punchline or a clever twist, spoiler alert, there isn’t one.

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Some of these videos are on YouTube and Instagram but their natural home is TikTok, a social media platform built upon eight-year-old kids doing The Floss and cats being shown their reflections in a mirror.

But to dismiss them as nonsense is to ignore their potential harm. Many are tagged to specific viewpoints, ranging from how to raise carbs or build muscle to how to eat more protein or go vegan. The influencers fronting them have plenty of fake tan and cod science but what they lack is any training or understanding when it comes to diet or nutrition.

They are like watching instruction videos on brain surgery made by people who once went to a dentist’s surgery and thought it was ‘cool’.

I’d also take them a lot more seriously if they vaguely reflected the real world. Amongst the tidal wave of smoothies, kale, mung beans and alfalfa sprouts, surely one video could include someone confessing to eating a whole packet of Hob Nobs on a wet Wednesday?

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It’s easy to dismiss these trends as just passing nonsense but ‘what I eat’ videos have already clocked up more than ten billion hits on social media. That’s a lot of young minds being influenced and manipulated.

We already know the pressure young people feel around body shape, thanks to the unrealistic images idealised on social media. If content is now trying to influence what they eat to achieve that end result, well that’s something that should worry all of us.

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