Unsettling the table

If you’ve been on Facebook in the past eight-ish months, you’ve likely come across some form of short, punchy video instructing on the preparation of bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed tater tots. Perhaps it was authored by Buzzfeed Food, Tastemade or Tasty. Perhaps it was for a similar transgression against nutritional regime: deep-fried mac-n-cheese croquettes, Nutella-frosted red velvet cake pops, and so on.

Often, there’s an algorithmic nuance to these videos: The viewer watches some form of indulgence get stuffed with another, molded into a bite-size form, perhaps cooked, and then dressed in another treat. Cue footage of the food being eaten, and end with a title card, naming the corporate author. Of course, similar videos exist for the preparation of standard fare, many of which guide us through basic kitchen techniques. But, the coherence of content within the former class of videos suggests the presence of a phenomenon in food culture.

In these videos, cooked food is presented as a spectacle: the materialization of a cultural devotion to food products (Nutella, bacon, cheese). Having enculturated entirely in the era of Kraft Dinner, pancake mix and frozen pizzas, I suspect that our generation’s collective experience is marked by a dissociation of cooking and preparation. The former became a function of eating, while the latter was a chore outsourced to the private sector. In response, these videos regain some lost ground: cooking and preparation rejoin as a means of realizing our culinary fantasies. Certainly, these creations – bacon jam comes to mind – eventually find their way to supermarket shelves as products themselves. Yet, the wildest frontier of decadence lies ever-beyond the market.

The viewer, to this extent, is shown what is possible by the synthesis of food product and ingredient. The derivative satisfaction, perhaps, has yet to be provided by restaurants or food companies, and must come from the home kitchen. Thus, a narrative of behavioural economics: the marginal cook, who chooses to assemble pre-made foodstuffs rather than bother with DIY, is newly enticed by these fantasies to carry out a dish, start to finish.

While popular food media have inspired many to take to their cutting boards and baking pans, the experiences advertised by Tasty and its relatives speak narrowly to the cultural segment mentioned above: Nowhere is it assumed that anyone would make their own pastry.

Clearly, the modes themselves of cooking have become a site of market segmentation. Yet, the implications of this rebirth of popular cuisine is a subject worthy of discussion—the perfect dessert conversation to accompany your pumpkin spice cookie-pies.

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