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Food, fun and Facebook

Ranuka Tandan has an unsettling new obsession.

Artwork by Momoko Metham Artwork by Momoko Metham

Tasty videos follow me everywhere. They’re there when I flick to Facebook during a lecture, when I open the app first thing in the morning, and when I’m drifting to sleep. I have always been bombarded by a wide variety of memes, news and viral content on Facebook, but it got to the point where Tasty videos began overtaking everything else on my News Feed that I realised I had a problem.

“Food that’ll make you close your eyes, lean back, and whisper ‘yessss’. Snack-sized videos and recipes you’ll want to try.” Tasty’s description of itself isn’t exactly modest. But at 92 million followers, and around 2 million views a month, they don’t need to be. When you consider that there are about 7 billion people living on the planet, these figures are certainly no mean feat. Videos can be shot and edited in as little as a day, ensuring that addicted audiences get their daily dose of new videos, and stay dutifully interested.

I have 220 videos saved, but I’ve only ever actually tried to make two of them. My grand visions of weekly meal prep and gourmet weeknight dinners fall apart when the reality of buying all the ingredients, setting aside precious time, and physically cooking them hits me. It’s not as easy as the videos make it out to be. The experience of cooking schnitzel stuffed garlic bread looked more like utensils strewn across the kitchen and half-cooked ingredients falling apart than it did in the seamless process I’d watched so many times beforehand. The end product tasted good, but it didn’t look anything like the Tasty video. I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised.

I’m not just talking about one Tasty page here. Tasty Japan, Tasty Demais, Tasty Einfach, Proper Tasty, Tastemade, Goodful, Vegan Richa and Buzzfeed Food all play a part in stimulating my obsession. Tasty Vegetarian was the best thing that ever happened to my cooking tutorial dreams, but despite the fact that I don’t eat meat, nothing stops me from watching one video after next of meatball stuffed garlic bread and honey chicken stir-fries.

Tasty has been built on experimentation, engaging with popular trends, user feedback, and most importantly, doing more of what gets the most views. By tracking our likes, comments and shares, Tasty has figured out we engage more with steak and bacon then we do with vegetables (who would have thought!). They also hook us in with a ‘money shot’—whether it’s the cheesy pull of a pizza roll up, or the slice of a spoon through a watermelon raindrop cake, if we’ve seen the end product, we want to know how it was made.

A lot has been made of Facebook’s filter—noting what content people engage with and showing them more and more of it. Regardless of whether users are interested in Kermit memes or articles about Barnaby Joyce, they will engage more with content that has been tailored to them.  Like these audiences, I crave the echochamber. I crave food videos and Facebook feeds them back to me. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching meals be made from start to finish in one minute of satisfying stove top glory.

Tasty are good at what they do. Cooking shows have been around since the beginning of television itself, but their conventional model is one of half hour long broadcasts, and their  traditional association is with housewives and retirees. What Tasty has done is tap into a younger market, recognising that millennials have a thirty second attention span, and not a lot of time on our hands. They’ve nailed the Facebook format, and they’ve nailed their targeted demographic.

It’s interesting to pick apart why watching chicken and spinach pull-apart bread is so relaxing, even though the amount of cheese and cream used in every American video makes me feel physically sick. Why do I waste all my data on the train learning how to make sliders four ways, instead of doing my uni readings or catching up on much needed sleep?

It comes down to Tasty knowing that food is such a central aspect of our lives—an inherent human necessity—and taking advantage of our gluttonous desire to consume greasy, baked goods. The comments on these Facebook videos make it obvious that food connects people. We tag our friends on posts we want to share with them, and to tap into that market is a clever business move

But under the guise of helping its audience learn to cook, it isn’t a win-win situation. It wasn’t always so obvious that Tasty was simply in it to make money. The occasional ad halfway through a compilation video hardly alerted audiences to the fact that Tasty had intentions other than to bring the joy of food into our lives. But Tasty is subtly bombarding its brand into real world products: tailored cookbooks, ads for iconic stovetops featured in their videos, specific recipes designed around kitchenware product placements and collaborations with foodies for mutually beneficial visibility.

I wonder how long these videos will be around for. This time next year will they have faded into non-existence? Sitting in my current filter-bubble, I simply can’t imagine that. But I’m sure that in a few years’ time, a Tasty video will pop up as a memory on my feed and I’ll get that bittersweet burst of nostalgia; a throwback to the days when I use to watch a pair of hands cook a perfect meal in under a minute. But then I’ll scroll past it and fix my attention on whatever I’m addicted to next.