Food Policy

Can Deleting Food Photos on Instagram Help Solve American Hunger?

September 26, 2016

At the end of last week, dairy brand Land O'Lakes announced the launch of its "Delete to Feed" campaign, aimed at eliminating the American hunger epidemic through unexpected means. "Instagram is full of food posts, but millions of Americans go hungry each year," the site reads. "For each food post you delete, Land O'Lakes will donate 11 meals to Feeding America®," referring to the sprawling national non-profit charity network of food banks. "Let’s delete hunger one photo at a time," its call-to-action encourages.

What follows are some inarguably damning statistics: 1 in 6 kids don't know where their next meal is coming from; 13% of all households in the nation struggle with food insecurity; over 5 million senior citizens face hunger each year. Food insecurity, the site reminds us, is an equal-opportunity social cancer, affecting people regardless of age or race.

Arming us with this information, the campaign gives us simple instructions to follow: Hook up your Instagram account (appended with a tiny reminder that "We don't save your account info."), select a food photo you'd like to delete, actually delete it, and then share your low-res "achievement badge" (pictured above) to help spread the word. You expend precious little energy in doing your bit for changing the world. The site also contains a running tally of how many donated meals there are so far—my count as of 10:30am EST was 56,342. The campaign will end in mid-October, or as soon as it meets its goal of 2.75 million meals.

The easy-peasy methodology has certainly endeared people to the campaign already. "This is a very creative way to use social media to affect real-world change and I for one will be doing this as soon as possible," wrote Bustle's Dasha Fayvinova of the campaign.

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Though I am allergic to the phrase "affect real-world change," Dasha, I feel you. The methodology of this campaign is so bizarre that it might be ingenious enough to work. It's effectively holding a mirror to the often self-serving foodie culture ubiquitous on Instagram, calling it out for what can sometimes register as: selfish, representative of class hegemony, woefully out-of-touch with the realities of an America that's impoverished and destitute. On its face, this campaign has spotlessly earnest intentions that are easy for a large swath of the American populace to latch onto.

Yet the chatter surrounding "Delete to Feed" recalls some disastrous internet campaigns that have encouraged a kind of behavior that's now been endearingly termed slacktivism—think of KONY 2012, the video-driven campaign from Invisible Children that attempted to mobilize Americans to "catch" Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony while pedaling simplistic misinformation about a mammoth conflict. "Hopefully, this helps raise awareness of the food insecurity problem within the United States," commented Andy Azula, SVP, executive creative director at The Martin Agency, the ad agency that partnered with Land O'Lakes for this.

I hope so, too, Andy. But also, hm...yikes? Haven't we heard this refrain of 'raising awareness' before? Like, an alarmingly large number of times? This is a loaded phrase, riddled with red flags. 'Raising awareness' can, as many people have written before, often provide us the cheap, easy gratification of feeling as though we've seismically changed the world without deviating from the comforts of our day-to-day routine.

Is Delete to Feed an terrifically imaginative or oddly circuitous way to jolt us out of collective ignorance regarding hunger? I hope this campaign takes off; I'm confident that it'll satisfy its outlined deliverable of feeding starving American families. It's more about the packaging. I worry that this campaign will delude people into thinking they're overnight experts on, or missionaries for, American hunger. The work of educating people who don't know that American hunger exists, and can often be so ugly, is much harder than deleting an Instagram post. That's an endeavor to which people devote whole lives and careers.

Would you participate in Delete to Feed? Have any reservations? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Robby H
    Robby H
  • Liz D
    Liz D
  • Smaug
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Robby H. September 26, 2016
Or effect real change by taking some of your own cash to the local food bank and have a look around while you're there. See what is, and is not, on the shelves, ask the staff how many people they see in a day or week or month. I share the skepticism of this article, but stranger things have happened.
Liz D. September 26, 2016
I don't have an Instagram account, so I can't do this....but I will send another donation to my local food bank....
Smaug September 26, 2016
I'm not entirely sure who Instagram is, but if it/they are hoping to shield the poor from representations of conspicuous consumption in the US, they have a very long road ahead of them.