Why we're so obsessed with food

Food is now a major component of many festivals and promotions.

'It's not about the mac and cheese anymore ... it's about how can I make it gourmet?'

Miss International contestants, Miss USA Lindsay Becker (L) takes a picture of a lunch box as she shops at Tokyo's Isetan department store on October 21, 2015. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)

You can see it this weekend in the hordes of people coming and going from the PEI Shellfish Festival in Charlottetown, cameras in hand to snap and share shots of their dinner.

Food is now a major component of many festivals and promotions, from a decade of the Fall Flavours Culinary Festival (this year boasting about 100 events) to a new-this-year campaign to showcase P.E.I. food and drink called That's Island Style. P.E.I. has also been marketing itself the last two years as "Canada's Food Island."

A few weeks ago, I suggested one of my teenage daughters make a sandwich for lunch.

"I can't," she sniffed. "There's no aioli." I didn't even know she knew what aioli was.

My question: When did we all become so obsessed with food? 

Blame the internet

People are extremely knowledgeable about food now, more so than they ever were before.— Irwin MacKinnon, chef

"A lot of it is coming from television and the internet," asserted Robert Jouridain, the president of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. and an instructor in seven subjects at Holland College's Tourism and Culinary Centre.

Those 30-second recipe videos on Facebook have also piqued people's interest in cooking, he believes, by making it look easy.  

'Make it gourmet'

"It's not about the mac and cheese anymore … it's about 'how can I make it gourmet?'" he said. 

Chef Irwin MacKinnon says customers are more curious about food than ever before. (Submitted by Papa Joe's)

Although food, recipes and getting together to share meals have always been an important part of the social fabric, there is a new obsession with sharing photos of food and talking about what's in it — especially on social media — that wasn't there in the past.

"Things are a-changing!" Jouridain exclaims. "Who would have thunk it, a couple of years ago, that you would have gone into McDonald's and made your own burger?" 

'They want to celebrate food'

People are even sharing photos of their "handmade" fast-food burgers online, he said. 

"They want to celebrate food and they want to celebrate with their friends what they accomplished or what they made. And when they get a chance to build it themselves, there is a sense of accomplishment," Jouridian said.

There's also an increasing trend of pairing beverages: Wine, beer or tea with certain dishes, he noted. 

Photos of food have become popular social media fodder. (Oleg Krugliak/Shutterstock)

'Extremely knowledgeable'

"People are extremely knowledgeable about food now, more so than they ever were before," agreed Irwin MacKinnon, president of the P.E.I. Association of Chefs and Cooks and the head chef at Papa Joe's Restaurant.

Before, it was was just — is this good? And they'd shovel it in.— Iwin MacKinnon, chef

MacKinnon has seen generations go through Papa Joe's, he said, noting kids he served as youngsters now bring their children to the restaurant — and they're seeking more sophisticated cuisine. 

"They're asking the questions: Is it fresh or frozen? What's in it? Is it farmed, is it wild caught? And where does it come from?"

MacKinnon, like many Island chefs, is lucky to be able to source most of his meat and produce almost exclusively on P.E.I. — most of it, he said, within 50 kilometres of his restaurant. 

"That's a trend that is here to stay. People love to be able to identify what's on their plate," he said.   

Customers have even stopped MacKinnon in the restaurant's parking lot as he's supervising deliveries to take pictures of fresh fish being unloaded — then returned a few hours later to enjoy it on the plate. 

'Eating was an inconvenience'

"We went through a time when eating was an inconvenience," said MacKinnon. "It was rush rush rush through the drive-throughs."

Chef Irwin MacKinnon says customers are more sophisticated and discerning, and keeping up with their wishes 'keeps you sharp.' (Submitted by Papa Joe's)

"Before, it was was just — is this good? And they'd shovel it in." Now, he said, people are more interested in not only enjoying the taste but also savouring knowledge about food. 

Keeping on top of trends and tastes that foodies will enjoy "keeps you sharp," MacKinnon said. 

"Food is going to be more about the experience than just about the need to eat," Jouridain concurred.

About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email