I was at a media product launch event recently, seated with food writers. Our meals arrived and, like a reflex, we all reached for our phones to take snaps.

"You guys are worse than a bunch of teenage girls," said the non-food writer at the table.

He was right, of course. But for those of us who spend our lives thinking and writing about food, recording what we're eating and posting on social media is just part of the job.

It doesn't necessarily reflect reality, though. Yes, I did eat that barley congee with smoked kahawai, slow egg and sea lettuce. Yum.


But it's not the kind of thing I eat every day and it probably isn't typical of the diet of any Kiwi in 2016.

My Instagram feed is not to be relied upon as a historical record.

This, as it turns out, is nothing new. Although the phenomenon of photographing our food is recent and you could mount a sound argument that Instagram is not really art, food has been depicted in art for centuries - not always accurately.

One of my favourite food researchers, Dr Brian Wansink at Cornell University, turned his attention to food in paintings through history, to see what it reveals about family meals across centuries.

His team looked at 140 paintings of family meals from five countries, over a span of 500 years and analysed how often specific foods were shown. They found art doesn't imitate life.

The researchers reported: "Frequently depicted foods are not frequently eaten foods.

"The bias of either the artists or the patrons seems to have been in the direction of painting either special or aspirational foods, or aesthetically pleasing foods.

"Many of the frequently painted foods do not appear to reflect what historians commonly believe to have been eaten.

Instead, these paintings tended to feature meals with either food items that may have been aspirational for the family who commissioned the painting or items that the painter considered would be aesthetically pleasing to the viewer."

In other words, the people commissioning the paintings wanted to impress friends and the artists wanted to paint what looked cool.

So although the most commonly consumed protein was poultry, the most commonly painted protein was seafood. A lobster is cooler than a chicken.

You could say nothing much has changed. As one of my fellow diners remarked, if she posted photos of her everyday family food, it'd be an endless parade of brown and white spaghetti bolognaise.

It's worth keeping this in mind as we are scrolling social media.

It can be inspiring to follow wellness bloggers who post gorgeous shots of themselves in their activewear, with their perfect acai smoothie bowls.

But it shouldn't make us feel bad.

I guarantee those images don't reflect their reality.

No one (seriously) lives and eats that way all the time. We shouldn't feel bad that we don't, either.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide
Find Niki on Instagram at: @nikibezzant