How TikTok conjures up and transforms our relationship with meals

Eating is a powerful thing. It has brought people together for centuries, between families, communities and cultures. From birthdays to neighborhood potlucks to holiday celebrations, sharing food with others is a tradition engraved on our livelihoods. We found notched bread in the ashes of Mount Vesuvius, suggesting it should be shared and shared, and a OnePoll study found that 84% of Americans say food has the power to appeal to people of different cultures and backgrounds. In fact, sharing food and recipes is nothing new, but recently the way we share recipes and who shares them has changed.

The digital age brought the popularity of cooking videos with it. TikTok in particular is a giant in the age of the viral food trend with its unparalleled ability to generate widespread virality. You may remember Gigi Hadid’s famous pasta alla vodka recipe, which simply consists of fried onions and garlic, heavy whipped cream, tomato sauce, vodka and the pasta of your choice, or the feta pasta trend that was so popular, that there was a lack of feta cheese. Hadid was obviously not the founder of pasta alla vodka and feta cheese is not a new ingredient, but in this new era, watching cooking videos is not an isolated moment that an individual experiences before dinner. Rather, it is a concept that is widely shared and discussed throughout popular culture.

That’s not to say that food trends are a new concept – I mean, who could forget the jello trends of the 1950s, where gelatin was added to practically everything, from a vegetable and sugar mix called “Perfection Salad” to to dipping lamb chops in the mixture. More recently, too, there has been the 2010s avocado trend that sparked the relentless defamation of millennials and their buying habits. But the recent surge in food trends emanating from TikTok differs from the trends of the past: food is usually cooked instead of bought and can be prepared by anyone, often younger generations too. The most viral food trends usually use simple, accessible ingredients and don’t require a lot of skill to master. Part of the appeal is that even someone with very limited cooking experience can watch a minute-long video and think, “I can do that!” (And of course, the food must look enticing enough to make you want to cook it.)

Why is this change so important? We lived in a popular culture that frowned upon food or narrowly defined what we were allowed to talk about. We can be bizarre with sentences like “I love pizza!”. and “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee!” but there are unspoken limits. The dialogue is usually not about nutritious, balanced meals and rarely about the process of cooking. However, the advent of viral cooking videos on TikTok, a platform where 62% of users are between 10 and 29 years old, has changed that, and more people who have never cooked before are now encountering fun cooking content that they themselves replicate can.

There are benefits to talking about foods that don’t focus on caloric intake or body image. Normalizing society’s relationship to food, especially in the digital world that so often fills our feeds with unreachable ideals, is a healthy thing. While 69% of girls ages 10-18 state that photos of models and celebrities in the media motivated their “ideal” body shape, it can be helpful to establish a neutral relationship with food – one that doesn’t involve an endgame outside of. it is motivated to create something delicious just for fun. Not to mention that cooking is a life skill everyone should learn, and the affordability and simplicity of viral meals makes cooking accessible on top of having fun.

Of course, there are inevitable downsides to all things on the internet. While sharing food from different cultures can be a way of connecting us, those who hunt for virality run the risk of the cuisine culturally appropriating or attempting to capitalize on a culture without giving that culture the necessary recognition. TikToker Joanne Molinaro explained in an interview with PopSugar: “On TikTok it is very easy to be perceived as disrespectful to the cultural cuisine because you only have 60 seconds. I think because of the limited time you are starting to take shortcuts in your content and you just don’t have time to explain the intricacies and all of the ingredients you are using. ”Molinaro highlighted the issues with the length of the modern viral video go along with it, and the spontaneous nature of internet virality only maintains the ability of videos to turn into something harmful.

Despite their drawbacks, cooking trends still spark a lot of conversations that otherwise would not have taken place. As a current college student, I can’t say a lot of my high school experience has been discussing recipes with my friends. But watching videos on TikTok showed me that a lot of high school students cook their favorite dishes and even starred some young chefs. Jeremy Scheck is a current Cornell student who became a star after cooking Gigi Hadid’s pasta alla vodka recipe. He now has 2.1 million TikTok followers and has garnered over 71 million likes for his videos. His videos show dishes from 13 different kitchens and also take dietary restrictions into account.

Other content creators have enhanced the way they share food content by adding a number of formats including mukbangs (where creators consume meals on camera), taste tests, ASMR videos, “strangely satisfying” videos, and even videos that consist solely of recordings of cooking noises formatted into a steady beat. Increasingly, we are seeing younger audiences engaging with accessible food content and changing the way popular culture approaches cooking. Nowadays you can hear young people having conversations like “Have you tried that one focaccia recipe?” In addition to the usual topics of conversation. It is encouraging to see that humanity’s tradition of sharing food continues in the digital age and that even more people can now take part in a long-standing conversation.

The Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at srah@umich.edu.

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