Why Are People So Disgusted By These Viral Recipes?

Lydia Wang
·4-min read

In a now-viral video, Anna Rothfuss (or @bananalovesyoutoo on TikTok) shows her followers how to make “honeycomb pasta” using string cheese, Prego, and shredded mozzarella. Rothfuss places cut-up pieces of string cheese inside the holes of pasta standing straight up in a pan before pouring tomato sauce, ground meat, and cheese on top of it. While this recipe might make lactose intolerant viewers squirm, the TikTok itself doesn’t exactly scream “controversial.”

Still, this “wrong” pasta dish had the internet — specifically, users on Twitter — divided. New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz joked that TikTokers need “their pasta making privileges revoked” and another person called the recipe “absolutely cursed,” prompting many others to debate whether or not there was anything wrong about Rothfuss’ meal.

The consensus? It’s pretty much just vertical lasagna. Some argued that it looks like something a child might make, and some noted that the sheer amount of cheese is alarming. But others questioned whether the critiques were snobby or elitist: After all, as many people pointed out, Rothfuss’ recipe offers a very straightforward, affordable way to make what is essentially baked ziti or lasagna, and let’s be honest, the final result looked pretty damn good.

“As a disabled and poor person, this isn’t cursed, it’s a genius way to make this without as much physical pain and at a lower budget than most recipes we see,” wrote one person. “Sure there should have been some spices added, but otherwise? Brilliant idea we are going to use!”

But TikTok isn’t short on outside-the-box recipes and creative “hacks,” and Rothfuss’ idea is only the latest to leave viewers confused, inspired, and inexplicably frustrated. We’ve seen Hot Cheeto mac and cheese; we’ve lived through the era of the very questionable “Spaghetti-O pie.” People have argued that you can make mashed potatoes out of chips and cook ramen in the bathtub. Although some of these meals might seem completely gross — or, as Vice writer Ashwin Rodrigues speculated, may be shared for the sole purpose of gaining views and traction online — it makes sense that people are flocking to simple, low-cost kitchen hacks during a global pandemic.

But it can also be hard to tell how serious some of these TikToks actually are, or whether we’re just getting trolled. And should we care? In an essay for The Atlantic, writer Amanda Mull noted that sometimes, when these kinds of videos are clearly filmed in luxury kitchens, it can be “disorienting” to watch chefs prepare meals with “the kinds of foods that affluent Americans frequently eschew.” Added Mull, “It’s often unclear how much mockery, if any, lurks beneath the surface of any particular video.” Several iterations of “prison pizza,” for instance, have gone viral. Even though many of the original videos were shared by people who have been incarcerated, it can feel strange to watch thousands of viewers then laud these recipes as clever and creative, when the quality of and access to food in prison is nothing short of a public health crisis.

Some of Rothfuss’ other videos certainly border on satire — I have no idea, for example, what would motivate someone to make slippers out of bread or wash their hair in a toilet. (Refinery29 has reached out to Rothfuss for comment.) But a few have been well received. She recently argued that something “just like Italian pizza” can be created using bread, string cheese, and marinara sauce, and although some people responded that her creation wasn’t exactly pizza, a lot also admitted that it did look good. And many tried out the honeycomb pasta for themselves, with several users even offering up their own altered recipes.

If we learned anything from the baked feta pasta craze, it’s that the food side of TikTok is sometimes more powerful than any cooking show, book, or blog. These recipes are successful because they’re usually so easy, yes, but also because they so often straddle the delicate line between ingenious and confounding.

Maybe that’s why they’re so disturbing, too: Pizza as we know it isn’t made using a loaf of bread and string cheese, and people have joked that some of these meals resemble Lunchables. But as long as they aren’t appropriating or mocking food — or promoting “hacks” that are just surefire ways to get food poisoning — TikTok chefs might not be touting cursed recipes, per se. But they could always benefit from adding a little seasoning.

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