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(News)Feed Me

by Kady Matsuzaki

Photography by Ellen Clouse

The only comment sections more divided than those of articles on the election are those of Facebook food videos.

On a video for chicken and dumplings, one commenter declared, “I live in the South and have never seen carrots or peas in chicken and dumplings. Blasphemy!”

Others rushed to the recipe’s defense, with one stating, “Texan, 5 generations. Always peas and carrots.” What follows is a hundred-long comment thread on what it means to be a Southerner.

Such is the fantasyland of the Facebook food video, where a simple recipe can erupt into a contentious debate. Brief and brightly colored with lively music playing in the background, food videos have become ubiquitous to every Facebook feed. A disembodied pair of hands prepares a dish with time sped up, so the entire recipe takes between thirty seconds and a minute to demonstrate.

Facebook food videos trade on the same visual fascination as Instagram “food porn”. Viewers have no idea whether or not the product tastes good; all they know for sure is that it looks really, really good.

“The most famous videos are aesthetically pleasing, which makes them very easy to watch,” said Kirstie Turnbull (CAS ’19).

Sites such as BuzzFeed have created Facebook pages specifically for their food videos.

BuzzFeed Tasty and its international affiliates, like Proper Tasty and Tasty Japan, churn out several videos per day—all to tempt the taste buds of their viewers. Tastemade, including its dessert-focused page “Sweeten by Tastemade,” is another food video juggernaut. Most of Tasty and Tastemade’s videos garner millions of views and thousands of comments.

Many food videos capitalize on current food trends. For example, a Sweeten video for rainbow bagels has 5.9 million views, making it the page’s most-watched video by nearly 2 million views. Tasty’s no-bake cookies and cream cheesecake video has been watched a staggering 70.3 million times, while meal prep’s increasing popularity has carried Tasty’s chicken burrito bowl prep video to nearly 100 million views and counting.

These videos are a relatively new online phenomenon; Tasty just celebrated its first “birthday” in July 2016. But their meteoric rise in popularity begs the question: what is it about Facebook food videos that makes them so addicting?

In an interview with Fortune, Frank Cooper, BuzzFeed’s chief marketing officer, said: “People love tasty foods and the kind of foods that remind them of their childhood, comfort food or food that reminds them of an experience.”

Tasty’s popularity could then be attributed to its comfort food-centric videos. Some of the most watched recipes are those featuring familiar ingredients, with a new or unique twist. Ham and cheese sandwiches become a ham and cheese potato bake (91 million views); garlic bread and chicken parmesan collide in chicken parm-stuffed garlic bread (138 million views).

While the videos do feature delicious food, they also follow very simple recipes. Many utilize ingredients such as premade puff pastries or boxed cake mix alongside fresh produce and pantry staples.

“When I was cooking for myself, they gave me a lot of creative ideas for things to cook that weren’t too challenging and had simple instructions,” said Turnbull.

Therefore, Facebook food videos can showcase dishes like the ones Grandma used to make, but simplified and shortened. For example, the aforementioned “chicken and dumplings” is a familiar family recipe that Tasty has simplified by streamlining the dumpling-making process.

The videos can also expose viewers to food that they are not familiar with.

“People nowadays are so experimental with different cuisines. […] Food videos are a good and quick way to inform about new kinds of foods,” said Roxanne Rittmann (COM ’17).

Tastemade often features various ethnic foods, such as rice-stuffed squid, known as ika-meshi in Japan, and turon, a Filipino caramelized banana egg roll. Both of these videos are among Tastemade’s most watched, indicating a strong viewer interest in dishes outside the range of traditional American comfort foods as well.

If Facebook users like both the unfamiliar and the familiar, then it seems as though the food being prepared is not the only aspect drawing viewers by the millions.

“The videos are just a really quick way to indulge without actually eating anything,” said Turnbull.

Visual gratification in the place of gastronomic satisfaction, then, is what seems to be a driving factor in the videos’ popularity. Sitting through a 30-minute cooking show is time-consuming and chock full of commercials; Facebook food videos bypass both of those problems without sacrificing the tasty end product.

“It is so satisfying to see a delicious looking meal being made from scratch,” Rittmann said.

The Scran Line, a Facebook page and YouTube channel dedicated to videos of complex, towering cupcakes, is an example. Viewers indulge with their eyes—and without compromising their waistlines—by watching as dozens of Cupcake Wars-worthy cupcakes are created in the time it takes to view a single episode of the Food Network’s hit show.

Maybe viewers will never want or need to make Doritos-fried chicken or double-decker potato tacos, but they can still receive the pleasure of seeing them made quickly from the point of view of a home chef. Is it reasonable to make foods such as dulce de leche banana bread and chicken alfredo pizza every day? No. But is it reasonable to watch short videos of them being made every day?

As the end credits of every Tasty video declare, the answer is a resounding, “oh yesss”.

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