Corn dog pizza? The McNuggetini? Cadbury Egg nog? White Castle casserole? Who cooks this kind of stuff? And do they actually eat it?
In February, I launched a food blog called This Is Why You’re Fat, and photos of culinary achievements such as Twinkie casserole and candy sushi made it an instant hit. Three days after it launched, it had racked up more than 3 million page views.
Without the Internet and its enticement to over-share, the world might have been spared this gross food trend. Instead, our site’s simple submission form tempted people from around the world to send in their crazy creations. Hundreds of photos of culinary outrages poured in, mostly from hyper-socially-networked people in their 20s. Today the Web site has about 100,000 page views a day and about 100 submissions a week.
Yes, it’s the kind of site that makes foodies, nutritionists and public health officials queasy. But after looking through the thousands of photos, I’m here to tell you that they need not worry for the culinary future of humankind. It’s fine to eat these delicious foods; I just don’t suggest doing so every day. Or doing it alone.
Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook didn’t give birth to these questionable foods — they just provided a new way of documenting and sharing photos of them and helping the most outrageous ones go viral. The foods themselves aren’t new. As we combed through the This Is Why You’re Fat site to create a companion cookbook, we found plenty of dishes that were 20 years old. The Twinkie Wiener Sandwich (a hot dog in a Twinkie bun, covered in Cheez Whiz) was made famous in the Weird Al Yankovic film “UHF.” The Bacon Burger Dog (a hot dog wrapped in cheese and hamburger) made an appearance on “The Cosby Show.” Some creations we featured have been around since the late ’90s, like the 29,559-calorie sandwich by Josh Mattson.
I’ll be honest: It’s not easy to turn a 30,000-calorie sandwich into an appealing photograph. But our submissions show that people are willing to try. When they ask me what helps make the cut, here’s what I tell them. It must be fatty — so bring on the cream, bacon and cheese — but it has to be more sophisticated than just a pile of stuff on a plate. The photo needs to achieve the perfect push-pull effect: The first glance should repulse, the second should make you want to taste it. A creative name and/or using unusual ingredients doesn’t hurt either. Take the Sweet-Peep-Tato Pie, a sweet potato pie topped with multicolored peeps for an extra dash of awesome.
Despite the title of our Web site, we don’t place any value judgments on food. It’s not mean-spirited, or a commentary on American culture or what’s wrong with our health care system. We’re not suggesting that these foods represent the actual causes of obesity. We are simply celebrating over-the-top food creations from around the world.
It’s also easy to worry that today’s young generation is disconnected from the real world because they are so connected to the Internet. I beg to differ. While the site was quickly developing I noticed that almost all of these calorie bombs were made by groups of friends. The Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza (which uses large pizzas as buns) was invented by Dustin Schirer and his friends for Super Bowl Sunday. The Taco Town Taco, which contains more elements I can mention, required about 12 people to make. The Snack Stadium took two people and power tools. Power tools!
You get the picture. These culinary achievements are the result of social events. That’s one of the great parts about this: It returns eating and preparing food to its rightful place as a communal activity. You could say the kitchen was the original social media hub.
The success of This Is Why You’re Fat doesn’t stem from tapping into some “gross food movement.” It comes from the power of the user-submission tool. In our case, Tumblr enabled anyone to quickly and easily submit a photo for approval without having to log in or register. For a very long time before This Is Why You’re Fat, I was looking for a subject that suited this new tool; gross food just happened to be the topic that took off. I believe gross food is an entertainment trend, not a gastronomic one.
At least I hope so.
Richard Blakeley is the editor-in-chief of Gawker.TV and co-author of the book version of “This is Why You’re Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks.”