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Food on Facebook
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 06 - 2019

The Internet has changed the way we perceive our lives, including the way we perceive our food and eating habits. Social-media groups have been growing to include everything that connects our lives together, including food. While some of these changes have been transforming our lives for the better, others are worrying to those concerned at our obsession with social media.
Egypt has more than 50.7 million Internet users, with 37 million using Facebook. This is one of the highest Internet usages worldwide, and social media has become a part of the lives of millions of people of different ages and backgrounds in the country.
Facebook pages have grown from those only talking about shopping to pages about food, diets and sports. One Facebook page that hit a million likes in only two days was the Kersh Keeper group (Belly Keeper), which looks at the food that people like to put in their stomachs. This was the first time a group had tackled food mania. Launched a few days before the holy month of Ramadan, the group attracted a million users with the promise of more in the coming months.
Many people were already obsessed with food and serving delicious dishes for Iftar and Sohour in Ramadan, and so it was a great opportunity for those behind Kersh Keepers to think outside the box. Instead of promoting a group for healthy diets in Ramadan, they created one to share meals, recipes, restaurant choices, konafa (dessert) choices, and more. Part of the Ramadan tradition is about sharing, serving, and enjoying food, an unspoken norm of every family throughout the Arab world.
Though the administrators of the group themselves may not overeat, they aimed at creating a group that would encourage people to enjoy the food they eat without feeling guilty about it. One of the group users said that “when I first joined, I was shocked because of its unusual name and wanted to leave. However, after a few days and after I had read the posts and got engaged in the conversations, I realised how important this group was.”
“Because I am single and living alone, I can find myself confused about where to eat every day and what to order. But the group has provided me with the best restaurant choices with honest reviews and cheap prices,” he added.
Food on Facebook
Manar Medhat, a Cairo resident in her thirties, found herself a member of the Kersh Keepers group after joining with friends. She posted a recipe for pasta with white sauce on the page and then found that she had become a social-media icon with many followers who wanted to contact her. She was baffled by how the group had been able to connect people together. “It is not about eating, as much as it is about sharing experiences,” she added.
Zeinab, a mother of two, is also a food lover, but in a good way. She adores cooking and always shares the meals she cooks at home with the group. In fact, it has changed her life. “At first, I shared my konafa with chocolate recipe, and I found scores of people messaging me as a result,” she said.
“Now, whenever I share something, group members ask me if I can make one for them as well. I realised that I was a good cook and that I could make a business from cooking. It was at that moment that I started my new career as a cook,” she added.
Against expectations, the group did not close at the end of Ramadan, but it boomed during the Eid when people were writing in about where to buy traditional Eid biscuits (kahk). From plates overflowing with spicy starters to pots overflowing with rice and beef dishes and ending with heavenly desserts, it is hard to resist what is on the site, said Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, an engineer in Cairo.
Since joining the group, he has also gained some 15 pounds. “I see the plates on the group, so I ask my wife to cook them for me. If not, I ask my mother to make them for me,” Abdel-Fattah said with a smile on his face. He is now considering losing weight and leaving the group for a time. “The photographs of food can attract me even more than the eating itself,” he added.
While there are groups that promote the joy of food, they are still outnumbered by many others for fitness, healthy diets, and good nutrition, however. These may also have a greater impact on people of different ages. The plant-based diet group is one of them.
“Before I joined Facebook, I did not know about plant-based diets,” said Mohamed Al-Sheikh, a Cairo resident. He followed the group for two months, sometimes commenting and other times asking about the food and whether the diet could lead to health conditions. Then he adopted it, and he has now lost more than 30 pounds.
“I gained not only my body back, but also new friends and a totally new experience that has been changing my life,” he added.
One 16-year-old girl in Cairo who spoke under condition of anonymity said that “my sister got anorexia because of a group on Facebook promoting skinny model looks.” She had used to watch the skinny models on the group and become obsessed with the idea of losing weight.
As this last example proves, not all groups and pages on social media promote healthy food or a healthy diet. So, why not try the traditional way of eating like our mothers and fathers did and walk, run and play sports instead?

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