Why People Rage at Recipes: On the Current State of Online Food Discourse

I am convinced that if you were to make a topographical map of the internet, it would just be an infinite collection of tiny hills upon which people are willing to die. At some point in recent human history (I’m guessing 2014), the web became almost entirely full of opinions that were:

1. Very angry
2. Extremely inconsequential
3. Written by people who think that there shouldn’t be anyone gay in Star Wars

Recipe sites are no different, though usually less focused on John Boyega and Oscar Isaac’s sexualities (mostly) (JUST LET THEM KISS, J. J. ABRAMS, YOU COWARD). Instead, they demand the person who put pureed peas in guacamole be put to death. These sites bring us together, they tear us apart, and off in some corner of the comments section someone is shouting, “I HATE OLIVES WITH PIMENTOS, THEY LOOK OBSCENE,” and we know you do, Diane, but this recipe does not contain olives with pimentos.

I once wrote that if you were swamped during the holiday season, you could buy pumpkin pie instead of making it from scratch. I must give credit where it is due: Usually for a mob to convene like that, it’s because a scientist has been stealing body parts and sewing them together into a hideous patchwork monster so that he might feel the power of God in his own hands.

But these people were ready to burn my house down because I told them it was okay to buy dessert. Someone replied that if I wasn’t willing to make the pie from scratch, I didn’t deserve a family. (I think he got the phrase “unwilling to make a pie” and “unwilling to stop eating endangered baby sea turtles” mixed up.) I once had a guy harass me on numerous platforms because I made fun of his girlfriend, Mountain Dew. I’ve gotten hate mail because I don’t like mayonnaise, which apparently Jesus fed to the apostles.

If you were to make a topographical map of the internet, it would just be an infinite collection of tiny hills upon which people are willing to die.

The comments section is basically Thunderdome for people who want to talk about how “chili used to mean something.” A large percentage of these people have decided to simultaneously ignore the instructions and get mad at them. They have the collective reading comprehension of a half-eaten bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, and they are ready to blame you for their own mistakes.

They’re basically first graders, except with unfettered access to the internet. When a recipe called for pizza dough, they used pureed cauliflower. As a result, the pizza they made does not look like a pizza. It looks like a disk of pureed cauliflower, which bears a striking resemblance in both texture and color to cat vomit. They should probably have a juice box and lie down about this setback, but instead it is everyone’s fault but their own.

I admire the hubris it takes to be angry about this.

I am a meticulous follower of recipes. Part of this has to do with the fact that I’m very bad at being an adult. And I don’t mean in a “Wheee! I’m so fun and carefree” eating-Popsicles-in-the-snow kind of way that men find extremely attractive in characters played by Kirsten Dunst. I have adult energy (translation: vaguely constipated), but just not any of the authority or competence. I’m like a very draconian accountant who has never seen the number five before.

This leaves me in a state of perpetual anxiety that I am just…being alive wrong. If I am driving down an empty road, I will occasionally be hit with the overwhelming terror that maybe I am heading the wrong way down a one-way street, and I have been for several miles, and maybe I’ve never actually driven the correct way down any street, ever.

Whenever I am at the airport and I’m about to go through TSA, I suddenly become panicked that maybe there is a large quantity of cocaine in my purse, even though I have never even seen cocaine, and I wouldn’t even know how to get a large quantity of cocaine (maybe Costco?), and let’s be honest, I’m a white woman with TSA PreCheck and expensive shoes, so someone from Delta would be like, “Ma’am, do you need help carrying your cocaine to the gate?” Which is ridiculous because I don’t even fly Delta.

But recipes are one of the few times we get instructions for life. And if you follow the instructions very, very closely, not only do you get to eat food, but also the nagging feeling that you are basically the worst person ever to operate a human suit goes away a little bit. Consequently, I carefully follow instructions because I’m absolutely certain that it’s going to save my life one day. As though I will be in charge of defusing a bomb (shut up, it could happen) and the person on the other end of the line (it’s Pierce Brosnan, circa 1984) will be like, “Cut the red wire.” I’m obviously not going to say, “Why don’t I just cut the yellow one? It’s basically the same thing.” AND THAT IS WHY I CANNOT SWAP CANNED ARTICHOKES FOR FROZEN ONES EVEN IF THE RECIPE SAYS, “CANNED ARTICHOKES ARE FINE.” BECAUSE WE DO NOT NEED FINE, WE NEED TO FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS OR WE WILL TURN INTO HUMAN CONFETTI, MELISSA.

When the world is turning into a smoldering uninhabitable rock, and it feels as if you were powerless to stop it, our anger has to go somewhere.

But look. Look at these chaotic goblins, these overconfident ghouls who take a recipe from an expert like Padma Lakshmi on the New York Times website or Marcus Samuelsson on Epicurious or “AssFace45” on Allrecipes and defy it so openly. Who are these people who are willing to look directly at the face of God (or at Padma Lakshmi, same thing, basically) and shout, “ORANGE JUICE AND ORANGE SODA ARE BASICALLY THE SAME THING.”

What are the rules by which they live their lives? Do the rules even exist? I once bumped into a mannequin at a department store and I apologized to the mannequin. And it was not a realistic-looking mannequin (it was one of those headless ones). So, blaming someone else for your obvious, willful mistakes? This is a level of chutzpah I cannot fathom.

“We used Pepsi so I’m not sure if that was why it was a bit too sweet but I think we will use regular soy sauce next time if I don’t have a Coke,” a brave, possibly drunk woman commented on a recipe for London broil.

“There isn’t any Coke or Pepsi in this recipe,” the site’s author replied, illustrating the restraint of a Franciscan monk. Because—and I feel that this is probably not news for most of you—these are two very different substances. On the Venn diagram of Pepsi and soy sauce, the overlap is very thin (the narrow sliver containing only two haunting words: “brown” and “liquid”). Yet people are forsaking this knowledge and are baffled as to why things do not taste right, something that clearly falls under the categories of “obvious” and “natural consequences” and “are you fucking with me?”

The arrogance is staggering, and I’m somehow envious? There is no other scenario where you can get away with swapping one thing for something entirely different and demanding equivalent results. Imagine ordering a Pepsi at a restaurant and the server instead brings you a bottle of Kikkoman and says, “Oh, it’s the same thing.” Lab rats can differentiate between these substances.

I mean, dear God, I was sent to the principal because I expected too much from my education from my third-grade teacher, and here these people are, expecting Pepsi to taste like soy sauce. They literally contain none of the same ingredients. (Unless carbonated water and regular water count as the same ingredient? I don’t actually know. This is information my third-grade teacher did not teach me.)

Look—sometimes I get the need to go off book. Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes contain forty ingredients and you have to start making them six months ahead because you have to grow the herbs from scratch or leave your spices out until a full moon and then you have to lure virgins to dance around them until they are all so exhausted that they collapse and that is a lot to do for a risotto. But don’t be surprised when someone takes a bite and is like, “Hey, listen, I don’t want to alarm you, but I don’t think any virgins danced around your saffron.”

But these people are viciously demanding more, and it’s making me wonder if those of us who do follow directions and do everything right and blame ourselves when things go wrong and apologize to mannequins should, I don’t know, maybe expect a little more, too? (It is very hard to say this. I still have residual trauma from being sent to the principal thirty-five years later. Seriously, screw you, Mrs. Schmidt.)

Intermixed with those who are swapping cough syrup for maple syrup are individuals who are happy to have found an outlet for their rage now that the guillotine has fallen out of fashion.

“Why the annoying redundancy of calling this challah bread? Challah IS bread. Would you call a baguette baguette bread?” writes a user on Claire Saffitz’s recipe for The New York Times. And yes, yes, you would. It is literally called “baguette de pain” (baguette of bread).

But I appreciate anyone who is willing to be both pedantic and uninformed. When the world is turning into a smoldering uninhabitable rock, and it feels as if you were powerless to stop it, our anger has to go somewhere. Why not unleash it on the people who really deserve it? Those who have committed the unforgivable crime of sharing food recipes for free on the internet.


if you cant take the heat

Excerpted from If You Can’t Take the Heat: Tales of Food, Feminism, and Fury by Geraldine DeRuiter. Copyright © 2024 by Geraldine DeRuiter. Published in the United States by Crown, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

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