In September 1962, Sylvia Plath published a poem about picking blackberries that grew improbably near the ocean and described them briefly: "Great as the ball of my thumb and dumb as an eye".
It's kind of a scary way to describe a bay. That's why it would also be useful to describe the zombies of Instagram, which haunt me for a week.
To be more specific: I'm talking about raspberries and blueberries, blackberries and ghostly, ghostly strawberries, shaded, in every image published by every smoothie influencer with more than 50,000 followers north. These seemingly undead fruits are rebroadcast by startups, like Persona, one of Instagram-compatible vitamin subscriptions, or Alexo, a line of sportswear that's been hidden and targeted for millennia, and fulfills all of them. the "delicious food" baskets of Pinterest. They may be the inspiration for all the brand's aesthetics (and maybe even the product line!) For starting the Daily Harvest Smoothie Box.

The ghost bays are ubiquitous on Instagram, which becomes clear to me when I click postmarked on profile profile after profile message for two and a half hours without blinking. Here, ghost berries in a pot with rainbow smoothies. There, ghost berries in a smoothie bowl that also contains whole roses. Ghost berries in smoothie bowls with pine needles. Phantom berries in heart-shaped smoothie bowls sprinkled with heart-shaped confetti. Ghost berries on toast with white chocolate stars.
None of this is like food. But all this – except pine needles – is food. Neon colors are created with the help of "Rainbow Superfood powders", such as those sold by the Swedish brand Rawnice or its Australian competitor Unicorn Superfoods. The photos scream with effort to make the natural foods unnatural and to bring out something that Lisa Frank pulls out of the dusty dustbins of the world, and I really need to know. Why.


Katja Meier, a nutrition science teacher and photography lover behind the @breakfastwithflowers account, explains in an e-mail:
There is a trick for berries to look like this. I do not buy frozen berries (they are ugly, trust me!), I always choose the most beautiful fresh berries and freeze them in a single layer for at least 24 hours. Leaving the freezer, it takes about 10 minutes before they come this way. And that's all.
Sarah, a culinary photographer and stylist in Toronto, who manages the @sculptedkitchen account, says the key to the frosty look is to work quickly because it only lasts a few minutes, then bring it to Lightroom and change the bays.

Luisa Gaffga of @LulusDreamtown uses the same tactics and explains her popularity by saying, "I guess not many people knew how beautiful the berries could be. … For some people, it always looks magical. She offers online cooking photography courses for $ 60, in which she is happy to share the subtleties of the "secret of frozen berries". Attendance at this course also gives access to 55 of its pre-defined Lightroom photo editing application settings, an increasingly profitable type of trade secret for influencers who have spent time customizing photo filters and marketing a style. visual.

"The word" artificial "has been totally demonized, but it has become an aesthetic priority again on Instagram"

But that does not exactly explain the ghost berries, nor their confusing environment, nor the reason they bother me. So I contact Allison Wist, an artist and researcher who is currently teaching food and media classes at the New York School. City. It takes a few days to browse Instagram, then we talk on the phone.
"It seems to be largely in direct opposition to the movement of good cooking, or that of rejecting artificial foods, processed foods, dyes and flavors," she told me. "The word" artificial "has been totally demonized, but it has been taken up as an aesthetic priority on Instagram." It's funny, she says, because these foods are mostly not artificial. These are "healthy" and organic vegan meals, sometimes decorated with mermaid tails.
"It may be an example of the kind of dissociation that can happen on a platform like Instagram," she guesses. "Images of food can have absolutely nothing to do with reality itself."


I ask Meier, a bit clumsily, "Why berry?" She says, "They are tiny, but they have so many details. They always look amazing. And the berries are a little more expensive than the other fruits; probably, most people do not eat them daily. "
Wist also points out that all of these Instagram articles have color palettes that match current branding trends – pastels associated with rich, supersaturated accents in marketing materials from companies such as Daily Harvest and Thinx. In the era of Instagram, she says, food is even more of a product than it has been before, and this is another small piece of evidence.
"In the '60s or' 70s, fashionable colors would be applied to interior design and fashion, but not to food," she says. "Now, food has taken place in the ranks of cultural products to which one could apply the trends of color." Of course, I would not do kirsch martinis for a book club next week if they were not such a pretty shade of pale pink and if a zest of lemon was not offered as a garnish.

What annoys me perhaps, is that the berries do not remind me as much the real berries as those of a strange dystopian dinner that I attended in September 2017, animated by the surrealist novelist Alexandra Kleeman. Many things we ate did not look like food. Everyone was very sad. For dessert, Brooklyn's chef and artist, Jen Monroe, served a flat gelatin rectangle divided into two blue parts flavored with bacon, and strawberry roses. It was the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted, which I told him.
"I decided it was good to serve dishes that you hated to make a point," she said. "This would be the most science fiction avenue, where we completely abandoned the food."
Monroe has manufactured – as a centerpiece – many other foods that would seem at home in these Instagram feeds, including ghost berries, including blackberries suspended in a transparent gelatin mold and a heart-shaped strawberry candy from a real strawberry, captioned "imitation is the highest form of flattery". She is best known for the monochromatic dinners she hosts in Brooklyn; the blackberries were part of Black Meal. She explained to them in 2016: "I tend to think that the colorful dinners I'm doing are somewhat absurd and far removed from reality. For me, this type of extremism is a comment – even if it's nice – about alienation and how culture made us feel weird about food. "

The interest of berries and their sinister funds could also be "to add lightness and fantasy to the food," suggests Wist. "There is a lot of heaviness around the food. Dietary culture is really didactic and can feel very oppressive. You are shouted at. "
She directs me to the 1973 Salvador Dalí cookbook The Gala Dinners. The images are totally bananas, and nothing in them is precisely edible. But just like the weird smoothie bowls of Instagram, they are associated with real recipes – executable, if you really want to. The only warning at the beginning of the book is that it's not for anyone who says to himself "disciple of any of these calorie counters that turns the joys of eating into a form of punishment" .
Wist m has also transmitted some picture illustrations of the hugely popular Time-Life cookbooks published in the 1950s, where it was written, "There is definitely a precedent for foods that do not seem edible, but which are nevertheless desirable. the pictures are about as surreal as Dalí's and weirdly scary. They have strange proportions and are full of objects that ignite spontaneously. Ice slices are found in the middle of the desert, next to an hourglass that lacks sand.

Quick desserts from Time-Life.Time-Life / Allison Wist

It was not that the food in these books was so avant-garde (it's mostly angel cake and roast chicken); it was that the culinary photography was not yet very good.
"They had a bright, hard light. The food looked terrible underneath, "says Wist. "Trying to capture delicious-looking dishes was not easy, so they focused on all these other things – a wild style, accessories." Today, excellent photographic equipment is relatively accessible and the photographers I speak have all their DSLR cameras. The challenge now, on Instagram, is to stand out from thousands of other culinary photographers.
"Maybe you do not worry about delights anymore and you decide to focus on another quality," says Wist. "That will not necessarily make someone want to eat [the food] right now, but it intrigues them. "

I understood! I still do not really like it. I do not like ghost berries that spill in ice cream cones, which slightly implies that I should eat fruit rather than ice cream. I do not like ghost berries arranged in a holiday wreath, which slightly implies that I should eat sticks. I especially do not like the ghost berries on a bowl of jet-like black smoothie, entitled "Can you guess what it's made of?" There is no activated charcoal squid or black ink. (I do not want to guess!) (Spiders?)
All of the Instagramists I speak to agree that it is imperative that health food trends be more fun and surprising. They do not agree with me when I say that the phantom effect of the bays is overwhelming.
"I have a friend who complained that the look is not natural. I guess it depends on your vision of using Instagram, says Sarah from @sculptedkitchen. "I think no one really wants to watch a bowl of oatmeal as it is. Everyone wants to see something visually stimulating. "