NOTE: I’m writing this post as part of the assessment for my Digital Anthropology masters degree at UCL. Every year, students submit a mini research project to UCL’s Digital London website. This year, the theme is food. I looked at food blogging around The Brentford Project, a new residential development with cafes and restaurants in west London.

See this project as an Instagram Story

About this project

In Brentford, smartphones and social media are helping create a rich sociality in an area formerly dominated by warehouses and factories, many of them derelict. Now coffee shops, bars and restaurants mix with older businesses (boatbuilders, mechanics and timber merchants), alongside a creative community of artists and designers. The area lies along the north shore of the River Brent and is full of plants and birdlife. The combination of water, wildlife and greenery with vintage cars, boats and industrial machinery form an unusual and colourful backdrop to outside eating and drinking. On sunny days, people flock here. Their experiences are shared and amplified through social media.

Read on for a summary of the project. For primary data and analysis see this Miro board.

Research questions

My original research question was: what is the relationship between Instagram influencers and London’s pubs, cafes and restaurants? I had further specific questions around food blogging and content creation:

  1. What is real, authentic and what is fake?
  2. Does food blogging weaken the experience of eating – or does it add another dimension to enjoyment?
  3. How do food bloggers help create and build a vision, especially when it comes to promoting a new “foodie” destination?

Fieldsite and food businesses

The Brentford Project is a waterside development in Brentford, a suburb of west London. 876 new homes are being built over 11 acres of land just south of the main high street and bordering the River Brent. Demolition of existing buildings started in 2019 and the development is due to be completed in 2027. So 2023 is literally the mid-way point. Although much of the area is still a building site, some apartment blocks have already been completed and many residents have already moved in. There are many thriving small businesses and, so far, six food outlets (Sam’s Larder, Santa Maria Pizzeria, Le Swine, Coffeeology and Rye By The Water). Ruben’s Reubens, a seventh food option, is a summer popup based at Rye By The Water.

Food businesses at The Brentford Project


I interviewed four bloggers and four business owners. Some wished to remain anonymous and for that reason I’ve given them nicknames, indicated with speech-marks.


Libby has 5K followers on both Instagram and TikTok. She’s been a food blogger for 18 months. She has a charcuterie business and worked front of house and in PR for Gaucho and Red Rooster. She’s based in west London and knows “Richard”s restaurant and Ruben’s popup.

Kavita has been blogging about food as Kavey Eats since 2008. She started out on Blogger and Twitter and picked up Instagram more recently. She has 8K followers on Instagram and 11K on Twitter. She is a friend of Abiye’s.

Mecca is CEO of social enterprise, Women in the Food Industry. She has been blogging about food for at least 15 years. She has 7K followers on Instagram. I bumped into Mecca at The Brentford Project. She loves the bruschetta from Santa Maria Pizzeria.

Noam is a tech founder and designer. He likes to post photos of food, family and cycling on Instagram, and he follows food accounts. He’s also my husband. He’s the person who “discovered” Ruben on Instagram and persuaded me to visit the Brentford Project.


“Richard” owns a handful of high end restaurants, delis and cafes in west London. He runs the Instagram accounts for all his venues, and has visited the Brentford Project a number of times.

“Charlie” owns a small chain of coffee shops in west London. He and his wife run the Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts for 3 different venues/ businesses.

Abiye runs Big Apple Hot Dogs, a street food business he started in 2012 in Old Street. He has 14K followers on Twitter and 2K on Instagram. He knows Ruben and Kavita.

Ruben is the owner of Ruben’s Reubens, a street food popup and current resident bbq chef at Rye By The Water. Ruben has 15K followers on Instagram. He knows Abiye, Libby and Noam.


The main research methods I used were as follows:


I interviewed 8 people (four bloggers and four business owners) over six months. 6 of the interviews were carried out face to face, 2 at the Brentford Project and 3 at other locations (all food outlets). 2 interviews were carried out via email and one over video (WhatsApp). In total, I requested interviews with around 50 people.

Participant observation:

For 2 weeks in July 2023, I visited various venues at the Brentford Project. I tried the food and drink, sat down and made notes of what was happening around me. This included customers coming and going, the technology people were interacting with, and the conversations I was having both with my interviewees and with many random people either living in, working at or visiting the Brentford Project.

Video & photos:

I took many photos and video clips, both during the two weeks of fieldwork and at the food outlets I visited that were owned by interviewees. Many of these are in my Instagram Story. Some longer videos are on YouTube.


As this is my first attempt at ethnography, I reflected on my experience, including the choice of fieldsite and research question, and the methods I used and attempted to use.

Visual ethnography:

During my fieldwork, I took daily screenshots of all the Instagram updates from the accounts monitored below, as well as updates from any accounts mentioning these. I looked across the images for repeated patterns, motifs, colours, aesthetic, styling and post-production techniques.

Hashtag ethnography:

In addition to hashtags of the names of the accounts below, I looked at: #TheBrentfordProject #ThamesLock and #BrentfordRiviera

Instagram monitoring:

I focused on Instagram because that’s the platform I myself use most regularly, and it was the easiest place for me to find and communicate with bloggers. During my 2 weeks of fieldwork, I monitored the output from @TheBrentfordProject, as well as the only four accounts wholly dedicated to food outlets within the fieldsite: @SamsWaterside (due to open October 2023), @LeSwine, @RyeByTheWater and @RubensReubens.

How digital anthropology helps

Digital anthropology can help us understand how people experience food in London because it gives us new lenses through which to explore. If we are truly moving towards a future where digital anthropology “finally explodes the illusions…of a non-mediated, noncultural, predigital world.” (Miller and Horst, 2021: 26), a methodical analysis of the digital can help us expose “the framed nature of analogue or predigital life” (Ibid). The three frameworks I chose to apply during my research are those of mediation and remediation, cultural and social theory and virtualities. My findings and analysis are laid out on this Miro board.

Ethnographic material

The content I’ve collected during fieldwork at the Brentford Project and related venues includes interviews, field notes, photos, video and social media data. All this material is collated and accessible via the Miro board.

Why I’m studying digital anthropology at UCL