Eating for Eye Candy: Food as a Fashion Trend

February 1, 2021

Graphic by Kristy Thai

Before I visited Austin in the summer, my roommate asked me what I’d like to do while we were in the city. I sent her a list of restaurants I had compiled from the half-dozen blogs I found when I Googled “cute restaurants in austin texas.” My plan was to hit as many of these eateries as possible, but what I neglected to consider was the food itself.

Number one on my list was the Austin-made Taquero Mucho. Somehow previews of the restaurant kept chasing me across my holy trinity of social media platforms--Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok. The cherry-covered tin exterior and hot-pink neon signs screamed girly grunge, earning its rightful place on my travel itinerary. The design of this restaurant stayed parallel to the current trends bubbling in 2020. When Sunday rolled around, my roommate and I shuffled between the closet and the mirror, electing outfits and doing our makeup before trekking to our lunch destination. Somehow this turned into a romance novel, with us gushing over a newfound crush, a bright pink taqueria. Before a time I can remember, the input of the food industry was just the customer, the output being customer satisfaction. Social media has added to both sides of this relationship: current crazes factored in by restaurants and social media reviews and photos as a product. Because social media plays such a key role in the current decade, restaurants play their cards right, often relying on looks and aesthetic rather than palatability.

I could have described Taquero Mucho without ever even stepping foot in Austin. I saw it enough during the countless hours I spent on my phone. The experience was exactly how I had imagined, a rose-colored wonderland that lended a hand to spicing up the Instagram feed. The creators of these restaurants know exactly how to play temptress with customers. But why be so down-right adorable? A double-tap is customer currency and with every engagement on one’s social media post, the restaurant facilitates attraction and wins the hearts of dedicated followers. The trend game that we play is the same one that they do. Similar to how I would give my life and soul away for a designer baguette bag, I had no problem sliding a twenty over for the food I could have gotten for less from a dinky food truck. I was paying for more than the calories and whatever nutrients carnitas offered; these tacos were a luxury. When our food arrived, I had to abide by the international law of the Earth that the phone eats first. I did not come to Taquero Mucho for the quality of tacos, but for the one thing coupled with them: the color pink. The appetizing taste was just a plus.

Graphic by Kristy Thai

Food is fuel but it has become more than that. When the waitress slides the plate of thin-crust margarita pizza below your nose, your mouth salivates much like it would if you saw a shirtless Leonardo DiCaprio across the table. The cheese has not even touched your tongue, and somehow being in the presence of the high-class version of takeout pizza has let your mind eat before your mouth. The 4.6 star Yelp review of your go-to girls-night-out eatery is not because of the mediocre chicken parm, but because of the environment it exists within. The mouth-watering menu of restaurants has become negligible for you and your best friend’s dinner date decision. You’ll come for the eye candy and the aesthetic.

I can get down with a good salad, but the thought of going out of my way to spend 14 plus dollars on a bowl of kale makes me wrinkle my nose. If I came across the same kale salad on my feed, however, positioned ostentatiously in front of a celebrity, I would not second guess my decision to try a new food fad. Obviously, big-name personalities influence these trends like any other, and with that conclusion we acknowledge the Pink Drink as a household name. This solution cannot be applied to every situation...At least twice a week my night consists of a late night McChicken run. But when I do go out to go out to eat at a place featuring a starlit patio or with an architecture resembling the inside of a Beverly Hills condo, I make sure to couple my experience with an onslaught of pictures. It is no surprise that Instagram has become such a driving force. Just like every other fashion trend, posts and pictures have played their part in accelerating the popularity of some restaurants. The food trends--anything from a wellness shot to whipped coffee--have a gravitational pull on Gen-Z. Consuming food, a task near and dear to my heart, has evolved from just the biological need to sustain life. Social media has forced it into the shell of an abstract concept of aesthetics and suddenly it is just mind-game manipulation. At the end of the equation, good eats have become like lavender kitten heels or chunky hoop earrings--just another accessory. ■

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