Everyone's a food pornographer these days.
It seems like half the internet is composed of Tumblr feeds of obscenely stacked pastrami sandwiches and colorful three bean salads (the ultimate culinary ménage a trois.)
We've become a nation of ravenous stylists, arranging our garnishes for vicarious social media salivators.Whereas our grandparents held up a meal to say grace, we now wait to start eating so that someone can snap an iPhone shot and post it to Facebook before the rest of us can raise our forks.
Not that it's a bad thing — there are far worse obsessions than taking pictures of baby shitake mushrooms sautéed in truffle oil and tossed with local microgreens. But what if the practice of Instagramming a sumptuously-presented repast can do more than make your friends and followers drool?
Now through October 31, photographing and tagging your food can have philanthropic reach for diners at The Sparetime, where Executive Chef James Levens has created a signature meal for the James Beard Foundation's Taste of America Local Dish Challenge. Every time you eat, upload and tag a post with the correct hashtags, a dollar kicks back to JBF's educational programs that help raise awareness about America's food systems.
"I follow James Beard on Twitter, so I learned about the challenge there," says Sparetime proprietor Clara Fishel. "I thought it would be great to push our passion for food as well as a way for our chef to showcase his talents."
Over a hundred restaurants around the country are signed on, though the only others in Georgia are Hugh Acheson's 5&10 and Davio's in Atlanta. Local pride plays a big part in the challenge, since the city that receives the most hashtags on Instagram also gets a fat check for a designated local charity. Second Harvest Food Bank stands to win $10,000 (or 10 percent of the proceeds raised nationally, whichever is more) if enough Savannah's social media foodies can nosh and post the way to victory. That would go a long way to fixing Second Harvest's broken freezer.
"We want to be champions of Savannah, and it's exciting to be part of a national campaign.We're competing with New York and L.A. and they have a lot more restaurants participating," says Fishel. "But we might as well try."
By now, the true foodies are quivering with anticipation. What IS this delectable local dish that's on the national stage?
Get your cameras ready: Levens is plating a glorious Georgia Plantation quail, skin crisped to a delicate crunch and stuffed with Savannah River Farms' fennel sausage. The bird is served atop a hill of delicate white acre peas grown by nearby Walker Farms and garnished with a tangy romesco sauce made from roasted red peppers and Georgia peanuts. It's included on the Sparetime's fall menu for $12.
"A traditional romesco is Spanish and uses almonds. Peanuts were just one step away," explains Chef Levens, adding that the sprinkle of garlic chive flowers garnishing the quail comes from Kachina Farms in Rincon.
A committed locavore who switches up menus with the seasons, Chef Levens sourced as many local ingredients as possible for his dish. The native Savannahian cooked in Birmingham and New York City before returning home last year. His culinary talents inspired Fishel to expand the Sparetime's kitchen, which had up until the end of 2012 only accommodated pizzas and snacks. He's happy to have landed amongst passionate foodies and sees the challenge as a way to connect likeminded local palates.
"The James Beard Foundation is like the Oscars of food. Just to be involved in any way is a big deal," says the chef. "If it helps our community, even better."
Hungry yet? To do your part, place your order — but don't eat until you've framed the money shot. Then post it to Instagram with the tags #JBFTasteAmerica #SAVLocalDish #savannah @TheSparetime. Your submission should not depict anyone but you in the photo and better not include any brand names or trademark logos.
Tweet, repost and share.
Then, by all means, grab a fork and dig in.