In a recent Eater article, “Instagram Food is a Sad, Sparkly Lie,” writer Amanda Mull explored how Instagram-worthy food is an arena ripe with paradoxes. Mull points out that many women who run food-centric accounts often temper their gluttonous posts with a healthy dose of mea culpa in the form of a salad or grain bowl (lest they look like they actually eat the food they’ve gained so many followers posting). And tasting events tailored specifically for such “influencers” reportedly produce a lot of waste. Once that perfect square photo is shot, 75 percent of the food goes straight in the trash, according a source in the article. Eating, it seems, is hardly part of the Instagram process.
But there are some Instagrammers, like Atlanta’s Rick Venutolo, who won’t waste a morsel. Rather than perfectly plated summer vegetables or a glistening, goopy cheeseburger photographed in natural light, Venutolo’s account has only photos of the plates he’s picked clean from restaurants across the metro area, with captions describing the food that once graced the plate. (The account even has the subhead, “This is so dumb. Why would anyone do this?”)
The software engineer has been documenting his eating adventures around Atlanta for more than two years. It’s not like his parents forced him to clear his plate as a child. “If anything, the clean plates stuff is more of an aesthetic for the photos,” he says. “I basically enjoy subverting that expectation [of beautiful food]. A clean plate is gives the viewer nothing to look at. And a plate of dirty napkins and chicken wings is perhaps something unpleasant to look at.”
Originally, Venutolo joined Instagram to follow chefs’ accounts and had no plans of posting any photos himself. Then one day, he decided it might be funny to just start posting cleaned plates as a commentary on how ridiculous Instagram food can be. It’s true: from enormous cameras to portable lighting setups, the world of Instagram food has become a competitive business where pictures of donuts are monetizable. Venuolo says he comes from an internet culture where you don’t take anything too seriously and has an appreciation for gimmicks and long-running jokes.
“I like bad jokes that are repeated, like a commitment to something that’s dumb,” he says. “It’s either nonsense or absurd or deliberately unhelpful.”
But being unhelpful isn’t why Venutolo has posted as prolifically as he has. He just likes going out to eat and, if you follow his account, you’ll notice he is actually pretty on point with where he dines. When a new, hot Atlanta restaurant starts making the rounds, he’s already got an empty plate up and tagged. What originally began as a way to keep up with chefs and restaurants has become an entertaining and offbeat chronicle of where to eat in Atlanta.
“I don’t think I’m making fun of anything. It’s just sort of my own take on people posting photos of food, which is somewhat silly itself,” he says.