For the month of June, we asked all of our writers to use a video in their piece.
3 20-page seminar papers to research, write, & revise
1 toilet to scrub
1 conference to attend (alternative unit: 19.25 hours of high-stress socializing)
3 ½ rooms to sweep because old apartment + rachety floors = tumbleweeds of purple dust
1 conference paper to prep & present
a handful of nervous butterflies
¾ of Sense and Sensibility to finish for an extra seminar class
all of the dishes to wash
too many essays to read
1 very overflowing basket of dirty laundry
grocery run, a necessity that increases with every cup of coffee brewed
a pinch of sleep
Total time: 2 weeks
1. Take a break from prepping ingredients and find this on Facebook:
Like everything posted by Tasty, this video is mesmerizing with its cheerful background music and deft hands. The split second of baking puff pastry is magical. End result? Perfect presentation with little fuss—anyone could do it. Plus comfort food, and comfort is definitely needed right now.
But, look closer: the ingredients are already bought, washed, measured, and chopped. Most irritating of all is the pre-cooked chicken. For a flexitarian like me, that ingredient alone requires a whole different, unprovided, recipe to follow before even beginning this one.
Close web browser in disgust and make a box of macaroni & cheese instead.
2. Or, right before making that grocery run, watch this:
Unlike many of Tasty’s videos, this shrimp and avocado salad is actually healthy—no deep-frying; no cream or cheese or cream cheese; and no commercial, mass-produced ingredients (for example, pre-made dough). It’s colorful, light, and full of vegetables, a food group that does not take center stage very often in Tasty features.
Yet, how many avocados did the chef have to slice open before finding one so perfectly ripe, fresh, and un-bruised? Those less than ideal specimens were probably tossed rather than salvaged. And, I wonder how little the fingers were that peeled those shrimp. The news articles covering slavery in the seafood industry stop my hand (which only sports a writing callus) before I add “jumbo peeled shrimp” to my grocery list. Suddenly, this recipe is no longer as clean and wholesome as it looks.
3. Before calling it quits for the night, a social media run turns up this:
If this video cannot give me enough courage to take up a pastry bag, I do not know what could. Tasty makes cream puff creation—which requires two different pastry bags—look easy, almost matter-of-fact. Some friends are coming over for tea? Oh, let me just whip up some cream puffs! A potluck? Cream puffs are a piece of cake! Have a spare 1min32sec? Fill it with cream puffs!
The pleasure of these videos comes from the small frame. Everything is contained, orderly, and clean. All of the mixing bowls—so many!—are matching. All of the ingredients and utensils are always there—without price tags. We don’t see the unused scraps of puff pastry, extra egg whites, or shrimp tails. Nor do we see the sink full of dishes or the cluttered counter. The patchy résumé. The lost relationship. The cramped, hormone-engorged chicken. The child-slave. Instead, our attention is directed to a small square in which order becomes magic. Moreover, it seems an innocuous magic, for what performance could be more innocent than preparing delicious food?
I’m pretty sure these Tasty videos are the epitome of the genre “food porn.” In fact, the BuzzFeed headline for the cream puffs reads, “These Cookie Cream Puffs Will Sexually Awaken Your Tastebuds.” And, have you noticed the obnoxious, orgasmic ending to each of these videos? OH YES!!! Indeed, Tasty is bent on performance and physical gratification, and these characteristics make it incredibly successful—just look at the number of views each post has. As Abby has remarked, these videos are “wonderful and evil.” I love watching them; they’re spellbinding. But they aren’t the whole story. Rather, they are fantasies that hide the work involved. So, after I turn off these videos and turn back to my to-do list, to my sorry macaroni & cheese, and to my real life, I feel like a failure. Compared to Tasty’s bright colors and exquisite textures, life hardly seems dazzling. And that is one of the most insidious evils of all.
4. Go to bed, get enough sleep, wake up, and go to work. Slowly but surely that to-do list dwindles. Somehow, everything gets done, not perfectly but well, or well enough.
Sabrina Lee majored in English and French and graduated from Calvin College in 2013. After a couple of gap years, she’s back in school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pursuing a MA/PhD in English.You can usually find her reading and drinking tea—and, once in a while, ballroom dancing.