Is This Normal: “I Can’t Help Falling Into the 60‑Second Cooking Video Wormhole”
In this series, we dig into our strange phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is This Normal?
Have you ever found yourself staring into the warm glow of your screen for hours, watching a pair of disembodied hands stuff cheese, batter, and fry various proteins, moving in double time to the climax of that perfect money shot — the cheese pull, the chocolate ooze, the momentary satisfaction until the next 30 second video starts autoplaying. And before you know it, an hour, maybe two have gone by. If you have, you’re joined by me as well as a rough estimate of a couple of hundred million other people, judging by the amount of shares, likes, and comments videos by Tasty, Basically, and Delish have gotten.
I have spent a fair amount of time self-reflecting on this terrible habit — falling into the internet wormhole of 30 to 60 second instructional videos of food I have absolutely no intention of making. I use the term ‘instructional’ loosely, because the actual recipe takes a backseat to the brightly colored cookware, marble countertops, and the (usually white) hand sprinkling flaked sea salt over pistachio and white chocolate chunk cookies. There’s a definite correlation between how stressed I am, how much work I have to do, and the amount of time I spend mesmerized by what I will henceforth refer to as ‘the hands.’
Instructional preparation of food has evolved considerably, from family recipes handed down by word of mouth, to cookbooks with professionally shot images, to hour-long cooking segments. We have finally arriving at a kind of mutation that only the internet age could have produced — countless videos of quick, colorful, and often ‘trending’ recipes (who really wants to eat a rainbow grilled cheese that is equal parts cheddar and food coloring), saturating every social media platform available. Actual cooking is entirely besides the point.
Brands like Buzzfeed’s Tasty and their rivals like Tastemade have figured out how to take advantage of the highly competitive attention economy on social media. Facebook algorithms reward two things — video content and shareable posts, and the food videos fall smack-dab in the middle. This, along with the autoplay feature, designed to keep videos playing on mute as users scroll through their news feed, using text overlays to bypass the need for sound, has made these videos some of the most viewed of any kind of content available online. (Tastemade has an average of 1.5 billion views per month.) Easily exportable to other platforms like Twitter, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube, it might not even be an understatement to say that the hands are slowly taking over the internet. And honestly, I’m not even mad. With the deluge of depressing news headlines about data breaches and climate change, status updates from people living far more impressive lives, and political commentaries that signal the end of democracy, that churro ice cream bowl video is a sweet relief, no pun intended.
Maybe it’s a consequence of the current generation’s bone-crushing anxiety and uncertainty about the future, but the hands represent something easy, beautiful, and almost within reach. The videos are soothing, like meditation and binge eating all rolled into one. And the boring bits like the actual cooking are on fast-forward, guaranteeing us the quick, satisfying conclusion of the perfect finished product. It’s telling that the camera angles are always shot from overhead, a clear distinction from TV cooking shows, almost as if offering — these could be your hands, this could be your life. It could all be as simple as these 10-minute no-bake Oreo cheesecake parfaits.