The Wanton Waste of the Social Internet

I downloaded TikTok for the same reasons most sad millennials did, thinking that the app would be a nice temporary source of serotonin. That was months ago and after even posting a few videos myself, I’m on TikTok fairly often now. I’m not here to discuss how it’s an app run by the Chinese government that may or may not be spying on me or the ethics (or lack thereof) when it comes to user data but I am here to talk about food waste. 

Yes, I said food waste. 

There’s one TikTok user that regularly “reviews” (I say this very loosely) who regularly goes to Dollar Tree and picks out items that you basically know can’t be good at a dollar store like steak or frozen meals and snacks; really the whole thing is obnoxious but he always claims they’re bad and then sprays them down with silly string. It’s a whole bit and the entire time I’m watching this video and quickly realizing that I am not in the age demographic to find videos like this funny I had a thought: this is incredibly disrespectful and wasteful. I have been dollar store food broke (I’m not here to wax poetic about my troubles) and for many Americans who are facing financial troubles now during the actual damn pandemic outside; for some Dollar Tree steak is a valid way to feed your family. 

However, it wasn’t just an immature Gen Z kid that got me thinking about how much goes to waste for the sake of clout on the social internet. I’ve been watching crush it videos, as well. For those that don’t spend time on strange sections of the internet: crushing videos with a subsection of shredding videos are videos in which items are crushed by a hydraulic press, destroyed in a wood chipper or blender: basically just items are destroyed. Yes, I promise I’m well-adjusted. I’m fine with some items being destroyed, sometimes it’s damn near beautiful to watch items be crushed or shredded but it took me noticing several watermelons enter a wood chipper to remember that those could have gone to a family or something. 

I thought initially that I was just getting old but then I remembered that this has been a thought lingering in the back of my mind for a little while now when it comes to being on social media. I could usually rationalize it because a majority of the food channels I follow are test kitchens or at least the cooking divisions of major media companies. Buzzfeed gives their food to employees since their campus is so large. The Bon Appetit Test Kitchen (which I am not going to talk about in more depth because yes, I am aware of their drama and that is not what I’m here to talk about today) has an entire gaggle of very eager gourmets to eat whatever experiment Brad has fermenting in Fermentation Station. But this restraint and reuse flies in the face of the Internet I grew up on that included a little show called Epic Meal Time. Yes, I was one of those Internet goblins. For those that don’t know of this obscure piece of Internet History: Epic Meal Time included a bunch of Canandian dudebros turned “chefs” and made copious amounts of food using mostly fast food, bacon, cheese, fast food sauces and booze into what can only be described as monstrities of food including a Human Centipede-inspired pig dish, sushi made with candy, giant (truly giant) burgers stuffed with all sorts of fauna: but the show’s scale was always fascinating to me. Watching these dudes order hundreds of burgers or hundreds of fries, clear out a shelf of bacon at the grocery store was entertaining when I was in college and had nothing better to do with my time but as the show went on and I grew older, I just couldn’t help but think of all the better places these resources could go to. Sure, they always had lots of people (mostly “babes”) there to eat the food along with other dudebros but for the amount of money spent on copious amounts of fast food…probably several starving families could be fed. 

Food photography is a science, more like magic, if I had to be honest. Painting on grill marks and using probing cameras to get every single nearly pornographic angle of milk being poured of fruit being sliced. Many of the things done to make food its most tantalizing ruin it for human consumption like puring wood glue over pancakes to mimic syrup or floating cereal on paste to keep it from getting soggy and as commercials also need to be viral and as fast moving as the next Tweet; they all have to be done exceedingly well and quickly thus upping the amount of food that doesn’t go anywhere but the trash all to get the so-called money shot of a burger that looks nothing like it’s advertised. 

I’m far from advocating for a radical redesign of how the social web approaches food waste and overconsumption. I’m not a saint, either. I have been guilty of food waste. I have a picky appetite and like food to be a nearly sensual experience, which means that I am selective and don’t mind paying more for something I really enjoy. Paying more for fancy mustard is not fixing the world’s food waste issue.

I am contributing to the problem; I am aware of that. And if you twisted my arm, I still take in a decent amount of the very content that I just several hundred words complaining about. I still like crush-it videos or watching people make impossible cakes of impossible items. I still like those kinds of videos and it’s absolutely okay if you do, too. No one has an easy fix for this and if they do; well, I have several questions. 

I just found that the older I get and the more aware I am of the world outside of myself, it’s gotten a little harder to stomach some of these egregious crimes against food and wanton destruction of resources. 


You Are What You’re Allergic To


-The American public is not aware that there might be potential allergenic and toxic reactions. With regular food, at least people know which foods they have an allergy to.-I have food allergies. I have also allergies to almost everything.  When I was a kid, my allergist’s best advice to my family on what to do with a daughter who was allergic to nearly everything was to simply leave the state of Texas for drier climes. It’s easier basically to list what I am not allergic to than to list what I am but we’re here to talk about food allergies. As far as food allergies go here are mine: I’m allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. As far as other allergies: I’m allergic to most forms of pollen, animal dander, and molds. I’m highly sensitive to ant venom and I have a sensitivity to Aspirin, nickel and latex (let’s not ask about the latex allergy 🙂 ). These are personal, sort of, but that’s why I want to talk about food allergies and continuing to live a healthy, sheltered life.

I found out I was allergic to peanuts when I was 6. I took a bite of a peanut butter cookie and immediately had a reaction. This was back in the 90s so of course my parents were doting, supportive and caring to their daughter who would be removed from the world of peanut butter. Further testing found that I was also allergic to tree nuts, which is apparently rare to be allergic to both. Back then, food allergies were serious. They are serious. I got special lunches from school. I often ate in the kitchen in primary school and I made great friends with kitchen staff. It made birthday parties interesting: my parents had to always ask and peanut snacks and cakes were removed from the school to keep me alive. Having a food allergy was alienating but being special was always welcomed as a school kid.

Through my junior high and teen years having a food allergy was a quiet companion. I only had a few close scares but for the most part it was easy to cope with. I stopped carrying around an Epi-Pen because I am for the most part old enough to avoid my allergies but I do plan on carrying one around again in the near future (DON’T NORMALLY STOP CARRYING AN EPI-PEN) and if anything it was a punchline to me and my friends. I have my foods that I’m willing to ignore being allergic to still enjoy like Nutella. My favorite creamer is Hazelnut. (Fun fact: there’s an allergic scale and hazelnuts are very low on the scale so it’s not that bad and hazelnut flavoring is basically just double vanilla and some vague other flavors.) I accepted that there’s plenty of places to not eat: Thai is almost out of the question, of course, and plenty of other foods. I don’t miss peanut butter cups or anything like that. Peanut oils are used in a lot of Asian cooking: Goodbye, some Chinese restaurants. (This is actually because many Chinese restaurants fry in peanut oil but in most cases peanut oil has no allergens in it UNLESS you make it the way some older Chinese restaurants do by frying peanuts in vegetable oil which is FULL of allergens.) Cross-contamination is also a big deal which is why many places will flat out say “If you have a nut allergy, just don’t come here.”.

Let’s actually talk about that.

I was a P.F. Chang’s recently and one of the first questions asked was “Hi, do you have any food allergies or sensitivities?” before the waitress even told me her name. I said “Yes” and that I had a nut allergy and she circled a space on my ticket immediately. I felt a little alienated. I never gave my allergy much thought and I have had issues with P.F. Chang’s before because of their damn lettuce wraps (so delicious, so deadly). When my dish arrived it was on a special plate I was pretty surprised. I couldn’t imagine what that looks like to the kitchen. Does the chef has to leave the main kitchen? Go to a special sequestered space? Does he have to rinse off and then down with bleach and chemicals? Why do I need a special plate? I’m not a child. I’d like a normal plate, please. I am an adult. I pay bills. I want a non-special plate, dammit.

But what I hate especially is the judgement that comes to answering the question of “do you have any food sensitivity?” Because I have to answer the question “yes”.  But that immediately lumps me in with a gaggle of people who simply like avoiding certain things because of their waistlines. And that doesn’t mean I don’t ‘believe’ in celiac disease or gluten sensitivity: I have friends that suffer from the condition and others like lactose intolerance.  But what people don’t seem to understand is that for me eating peanuts or tree nuts is a matter of life or death not worrying over how I look in a bikini. I will die if I eat peanuts. Or at least have a quick and painful anaphylactic reaction. And for my friends that suffer from celiac or lactose intolerance it’s a matter of intense discomfort and not insecurity over a dress silhouette.

What’s even more interesting is that I think my friends are more worried about my allergies than I am. Many are more curious about what I can and can’t eat. Dinner plans have been changed and moved around. Entire cuisines have been axed because of my allergies. My friends will speak up for me when I order dessert and are appalled when I’ll taste something not sure if it’s Nutella or chocolate syrup. Or when I’ll take a bite out of a cookie not sure if the firm substance is a pecan or an odd chocolate chip. I actually wasn’t even sure I wanted to write about this topic but another friend encouraged me to. He was actually very supportive of P.F. Chang’s giving me a special plate and the forthcomingness asking about food allergies. And not just P.F. Chang’s.

Having food allergies makes you adapt. You learn to ask about menu items that are questionable or just play a very fun and possibly deadly game of “Guess what’s inside this dish?”. You learn to make subtractions and additions to recipes: you accept that macarons are never going to be a thing. You embrace that friends may not understand and you always have a dish you can bring to a party. You embrace having to go out to eat after dinner parties. You commiserate with other food allergic and food sensitive friends after you both eat something that was likely not the best choice. (Please feel free to ask about the time Amber and I both ate foods we regretted at a local Italian joint. So much cheese. So many hazelnuts. ) You learn to eat around what you’re allergic to. To avoid open candy dishes. Ask before digging into anything from office cake to office cookies and sharing food is an absolute no. You ask significant others if they have had your allergen before kissing them (because YES you can have a reaction from kissing or touching someone who was in contact with your allergen). You question why every restau

Plenty of places now are more aware of what it means to cross-contaminate or put people at risk but having an allergy for so long…I’ll admit I tend to ignore those. If that was the case and I listened to everything single allergy worry then that removes almost no processed foods, no mall food, no eating out really. If I had to exclude all of the items that had ‘traces’ or ‘came in contact with’ peanuts or tree nuts well then, I’d lose a lot of weight quick. But it’s been an interesting evolution to see food allergies go from an annoying inconvenience that made a kid that one child who ruined peanut butter cups and school parties to being a serious American problem that people are more conscious of it than they ever were when I was a kid. I remember vividly flat out being told to leave certain places because the risk of cross-contamination is too great. I’ve had places that just refused to serve me because they were afraid of my not always so calculated risk of how much I can play tree nut Russian roulette.

So this was a little ranty in places and I stand in solidarity for my fellow allergic brothers and sisters. From reading menus. To checking out if a place is safe. To calculated risk. To ignoring allergies for favorite foods. To avoiding entire styles of food. To being happy when you can go to a restaurant and order something allergen-free. To being surprised and scared when you encounter an allergen even AFTER asking about it (Looking at you, Cheddar’s. I almost died that night over a cookie. Thank you, though, to Benadryl: You’re the real MVP.). Stay strong, stay hungry and keep reading those menu keys.