Clean eating and Instagram: purity, defilement, and the idealization of food

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Food cultures are shaped by the ubiquity of digital photography. Embedded in social media sites, such as Instagram, images of food are used in photographic exchanges to perform identity and interact with community. In a context of proliferating food media, an ethics of “clean eating”–a dietary practice adhering to consuming “healthy” foods deemed to be “pure”–is presented as a form of moral food consumption that embraces particular foods while eschewing others. In this article we explore the symbolic dimensions of top post clean eating food images associated with the hashtags #eatclean and #cleaneating and consider how they mobilize photographic practices to present and encourage this lifestyle. Drawing on Mary Douglas and Erving Goffman as our theoretical foundation, we argue that the photographic capturing of food plays a symbolic role in extolling purity through the presentation of idealized images of “clean” foods that are contrasted with foods perceived as defiled. Clean eating posts draw on forms of idealization that aims to garner esteem and attention, while also generating a sense of community through food media. These practices are also configured around an ethics of food that encourage responsible consumption for the individual as a healthy subject.




Walsh, M. J., & Baker, S. A. (2020). Clean eating and Instagram: purity, defilement, and the idealization of food. Food, Culture and Society, 23(5), 570–588.

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