OK––anyone can cook. Does that mean anyone should cook?
A recent social media craze says yes.
One of the facets, arguably negative or positive, of social media and social media technologies is their ability to turn amateurs into (seeming) professionals, bestowing power and skill upon the powerless and unskilled. This has been seem most extensively on Instagram, through which people without a traditional photography background can turn their ordinary images extraordinary.
In more recent developments, “food recipe” videos, a trend most associated with the social media platform Facebook (and its recent video function upgrade) and with addictive food voyeurism, have become one of the more ubiquitous social media fads to encourage certain skillful growth in social media users.
These food recipe videos, which Frank Cooper, chief marketing officer of Buzzfeed (mother company of food social media site Tasty and its various international subsidiaries) calls “food hack” videos, are short, sped-up how-to videos that run about a minute long per recipe, showing step-by-step instructions on how to create a certain recipe. The videos are generally shot from an aerial perspective, displaying a simple, tidy prep space over which a pair of hands swiftly prepares a recipe from start to finish. Employing aesthetically pleasing tricks such as good lighting, bright colors, close-up shots, the sprinkling of fancy garnishes, or the oozing of the melted cheese or chocolate, the finished products are curated to be visually catching and saliva-inducing.
Screenshots of the one of the recipe sequences from the compilation recipe video, “6 Cheesecake Recipes” by Tasty. The modern food voyeurism.
The quickness of the videos and their titles that emphasize the easiness or efficiency of the recipes (e.g. “Easy Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli”, “3 Meal prep dinners made easy!”) give off the illusion of the daunting world of cooking made easy, inviting Facebook users to break out that dusting sauce pan or to go out and buy fancy new herbs and cooking ware. A scroll through the comments section highlight the stimulating effect these videos can have on its fans:
Examples of comments commonly found under food hack videos, taken from the aforementioned “Easy Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli.”
The relatively new function of Facebook’s autoplay videos is also crucial to their success, as even those who don’t follow any food pages will more likely than not come across one of these videos on their usual scroll through their Facebook feed. Once the eye-catching, appetite-inducing video starts to play without warrant, it’s easy to continue viewing more and more, even if out of boredom. This is where Facebook is potentially more advantageous for these channels than Instagram, where there’s yet no internal function to “share” or “retweet” content and people are less likely to see content they don’t directly follow.
While the popularity of the food hack Facebook channels are indubitable with Tasty being the 6th top overall creators on Facebook, the trend is not without backlash. One of the several notable backlash against these food social media platforms is the culturally-appropriative nature of many of their videos. Browsing through the Facebook pages, cultural terms like “Malaysian-style” or “Thai-style” are thrown onto the videos like exotic buzz words. On one “Thai-style” Tasty video, an exasperated Thai viewer comments:
While some of the users, having witnessed an over-saturation of comments complaining of these food pages ruining a cultural dish or cuisine, rebut these naysayers as overly sensitive and PC, as a person who comes from Japan, a nation whose food culture is essential to the national culture, I understand where these complaints are coming from.
When I was younger, my mother made me lunch to bring to school every day. The lunchbox generally contained food that I considered rather normal: some meat, some vegetables, and some rice. But I remember one time in fifth grade when another child exclaimed with a tone of disgust as I opened up my lunchbox: “What’s that smell? It smells like sushi.” I didn’t have any sushi in my lunch, but that neither mattered to the child nor changed the fact that I was suddenly very aware of the negative attention my Japanese food was bringing me. That evening, I went home and asked my mother to please, from now on, make something “more American” for lunch. The next day, she packed me a good old-fashioned PB&J. At the same time, Japanese food, like many other “exotic” foods, are widely adopted by Western dining culture as something of an exciting fad. Sushi, ramen, matcha––all these food items are “delicious” and “healthy” when produced in a Western context, but in its foreign original context, they’re somehow “weird” and “gross.”
Thus for many people of foreign cultural origin, it is their wish for powerful social media platforms like Tasty to use their success to represent foreign culture and cuisine in its original, authentic, un-“whitewashed” context and to encourage their fans to learn of and want to create authentic cultural dishes. Such efforts could not only make these pages more inclusive and bring even more stable viewers, but it will also provide prestige to the pages and increased skillfulness to their followers’ cooking.