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Cooking Food On The Internet For Fun And Profit

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EXVrzOACv4&w=560&h=315]

Hey, let’s go make a cooking video! Hey everyone, welcome, today we’re going to be doing advanced Pizza Pops First thing, we need to stress that these are Pillsbury Pizza Pops, not Pizza Pockets made by the slatterns over at McCain

Now, the first thing we’re going to do is take the Pizza Pops out of their wrapper and place them on an already-used plate You can use a clean plate if that makes you more comfortable, but just know that it’s not the same When you put the pops on the plate first make sure that these grill marks on the bottom of the pops are facing up Since we want the final plating to be right-side-up, and we’ll be flipping them part way through the process, we’re thinking ahead here Once they’re ready the first thing to do is put them into the microwave for eighty seconds

[beeping] Alright, that’s done, take them out, and before you do anything else, first flip them over, then put them back into the microwave for forty seconds Mmm, here they are, we’ve got a little bit of spilling out where the fillings have burst out of the side Let’s check out our colour Oh, yeah, look at that, even, cheesy, saucy, warm all the way through Mmm, so good

That is a great pizza pop So, I like watching cooking entertainment, which isn’t really a deep admission or anything It’s an interest I share with millions and millions of other people Cooking shows are extremely mainstream, and in light of structural and cultural changes at YouTube over the last couple years they are increasingly becoming the face of YouTube And that makes sense, if we break down the incentives that are at play

Cooking shows have natural synergy with a lot of brands and advertisers, they are generally family friendly, and while they’re not apolitical they are rarely openly partisan, being more involved in the inherent politics of food than in the daily legislative news They are also, increasingly, being run by comparably large media organizations with a substantial number of employees, which allows them to maintain a fairly prolific production schedule These factors combined make them appealing to corporate YouTube as the face of the platform because they’re professional, high quality, advertiser friendly, strongly personality driven, still a little bit scrappy and DIY, but unlikely to draw negative attention to the platform Like, the Bon Appetit test kitchen crew aren’t going to hire guys on Fiverr to hold up signs saying “death to Jews” or post a video of a dead body they found in the woods That’s just not something I see happening

Now, of course, you can find exceptions to all of these generalities, but that’s just as much a strength of the genre: the subject of food is one that can be approached from a lot of different angles and find a foothold And, again, it’s easy to see why Food is one of the few truly universal things, everyone needs to eat, but it’s also highly localized, highly cultural, and, yes, highly political What you eat says a lot about where you’re from, what you believe, and how wealthy you are Marie Antoinette almost certainly didn’t actually say “let them eat cake” when told that the peasants were out of bread And not just because she spoke French But the phrase so often attributed to her has become a shorthand for the disconnect between the wealthy and the working class, and it does this through the metaphor of food

Food is a universal need, and yet we live in a world where that need is met very unevenly, so while bread and cake are inert objects with no will of their own, they represent so much more Bannock, in Canada, refers to a style of fry bread that’s associated principally with Indiginous culture It’s a simple recipe that’s quick to make, tasty, is easily enhanced with mix-ins like nuts and berries, and goes great with classic country jams and jellies, like saskatoon berry On years when I attend the Calgary Stampede I make sure to stop by the bannock stand because it’s a great snack for sitting in the July shade listening to the bustle of the crowd as you watch the ducks paddle around on the Bow River With regional variation, it is a nearly universal dish among Canada’s indiginous cultures

But, that’s kinda the hitch, isn’t it? It’s universal, from the high arctic to the Pacific coast, over the great plains, through the Canadian Shield, to the Maritimes on the East because its ingredients reflect the standard government rations packages that were available after tribes were forced off their ranging lands and into the reserve system in the late 1800s This is what I mean when I say the “inherent politics of food” So of course cooking entertainment can’t avoid that Any show is going to inherit those meanings and symbols purely by virtue of the kinds of food the show considers normal, what it considers exotic, and what it assumes the viewer is familiar with or has access to Even if a channel is trading on the spectacle of creating something using absurdly expensive ingredients for the vicarious enjoyment of an audience that could never afford them, the channel operators themselves do need to be able to afford them

You can’t, for example, demonstrate thirty different ways to cook Kobe beef steak without having access to thirty Kobe beef steaks “Perfect if you’re having any kind of glam party, or a girl’s night at home, or for New Year’s, these would be perfect They are made gold… with edible gold leaf, so these are a little bit expensive to make because gold leaf doesn’t really come that cheap” There is also a persistent problem in food entertainment where it intersects with travel entertainment, and that is the exploitation of other cultures Now this is a fine line, and it's not as simple as, you know, folks making curry, but rather think more of creators trading in other cultures specifically because those cultures will appear exotic and strange to viewers, often framed as the host "discovering" a dish or destination

This is particularly pronounced where food culture transitions to wellness culture, where the perceived exotic or exclusive nature of grains or fruits is leveraged to give the veneer of authority to grandiose claims that they are “superfoods”, possessing special properties, if not nigh-mystical powers “The properties contained in acai berries have also been said to help prevent certain health issues like arthritis, inflammation, obesity, neurological diseases and allergies, plus they help to boost our energy and improve our sleep” “I’m going to show you how to make an activated charcoal detoxifying lemonade” “This is sacha inchi, which is very high in protein” “Here is goji berry” “Here we have camu camu

Lucuma powder Red maca powder Here we have moringa powder” “If you’ve ever been into Whole Foods with me then you know I’m the guy that’s obsessed with superfoods I’m the weird dude that smells like essential oils and has a cart full of foods that most people have never even heard of

” “So I’ve gone the herbal route, I’ve got Dr Moore’s herbs in my cupboard Eighty-ten-ten, high-carb-low-fat I’ve done high-fat, I’ve done whole-food-plant-based for years, I’ve done junk-food-vegan I tried it all

I drank my own urine for two years, almost every single day for two years” Do urine-drinking diets count as cooking videos? Let me know in the comments So what is the state of food entertainment on YouTube? Like, let’s say that you want to get in on all that, what should you know about the biz before you start? Hey everyone, welcome, today we’re going to be doing the perfect can of soda So first thing you want to do is hook the tab with your middle finger or maybe your index finger, then pull that tab up to open the can And that’s pretty much it! [drinking noises] Aaah

Well that is one great beverage Now you just need to protect it from the cat Come on, kitty, off the table Well, first of all, don’t A cooking show is a smaller scale version of opening a restaurant

It’s a bad idea because everyone thinks they can do it And, of course, like opening a restaurant everyone already knows it’s a bad idea, but everyone does it anyway Also like a restaurant there’s a lot of competition and it can be really, really hard to find a niche and audience before you just burn out because there are a lot of hidden hurdles to overcome A bit of personal backstory I actually have a ton of experience shooting food on video

For a couple years I worked with a mid-sized North American franchise making literally hundreds of internal training videos for food prep, recipes, plating instructions, the whole deal Coming out of that I dabbled with the idea of making either a side-show or a new channel focusing on weird mid-century party dishes and tested the idea with two hastily made proof-of-concept videos “Why would you make that much blue-cheese-flavoured cream cheese and then mould it into a snowman?” It didn’t go well “That mayo does not do it any favours” “No, why?!” One of the things you learn really fast working with food is that while it’s not that hard to make it look, you know, at least good and appetizing, it’s also really, really, really easy to make it look awful, to end up with a delicious sauce that looks like greasy vomit

And this is because your kitchen is probably a terrible place to make videos It’s dark, it’s cluttered, you’ve got dishes piled up because you’ve been shooting cooking videos for three days, the light is all on the wrong side of the room from the stove, which is where you’re working, and the stove itself is lit by a truly abominable 8 watt bulb that just makes everything look like just greasy and ugly Every stray bit of grime is going to make you feel so gross the moment you’re looking at it on video Your fridge is almost certainly extremely loud Is the internet going to judge you for the kettle that you just leave on the stove because it doesn’t fit in any of your cabinets? The answer is yes

Also you’re really going to want a second pair of hands, because recording yourself is challenging at the best of times, and somehow is just that little bit worse when you’re trying to make something I just want to demonstrate how much I had to move This microwave is just here as a prop and I had to shove the couch basically into the entryway in order to get the camera into the right position in the living room The current quality threshold for cooking videos on YouTube is pretty high Even smaller channels are expected to have the kind of production values that come from having a dedicated recording space with lights, audio equipment, and background

The current aesthetic biases towards crews that have access to production kitchens or studio space not just because that makes things look good, but because it just makes the videos easier to make And that’s all before you even decide where you’re going to position yourself on the three pillars of food entertainment: informational value, spectacle, and personality Now, the state of YouTube being what it is, you can do spectacle and value without the personality, and you can do spectacle and personality without the value, and you can do all three concurrent or consecutive But you can't do value and personality without the spectacle Spectacle is compulsory

Now, spectacle isn’t a bad thing, and for our definition here it encompasses a bunch of different kinds of spectacle, from dishes made with absurdly expensive or difficult to obtain ingredients, to excessively large or complex constructions, to comically unusual methods or ingredients, to simply watching a master of their craft do something at an extremely high level of competence “These are the gummy snacks known as Gushers, but we’ve constructed ours filled with squid ink” Also, while this type of framing, like breaking all this down into “the three pillars of” whatever is really popular with the kinds of folks who have “brand guru” in their Twitter profiles, and can be quite useful in identifying broad trends or self-evaluating, this is not meant to be applied religiously and it does tend to get a lot hazier as you drill deeper into specifics Like, at what point does personality itself become spectacle? “But realistically, I’m just trapped in this kitchen with all of these people trying to make me fail” What I’m saying is that this is a useful way of conceptualizing things, but don’t go trying to, like, distribute exact percentages as though you’re assigning skill points in a video game

To use Bon Appetit as an example, while their most popular videos absolutely utilize the spectacle of Amil making a beef smoothie or Claire investing days of effort into producing a single plate of gourmet tater tots, that is not the sum-total of the brand Bon Appetit also swings to the extreme opposite end with videos like how to butcher a pig being intensely informational and honestly pretty dry “So here’s a breakdown of the shoulder And now what I’m going to do is trim and clean these cuts in a way that you might see them in a butcher’s shop” This video in particular is fascinating to me because while a general audience can follow the subject matter just fine, a lot of the video’s actual language is business advice for working butchers

“Bellies get turned into bacon, bacon is a great value-added product for butchers, everybody loves bacon, so it’s definitely within the butcher’s best interest to have as much bacon as possible Spectacle is the hook, and no, it’s not strictly necessary You can absolutely create a cooking channel that trades entirely in being strongly informative, driven by a big personality But spectacle sells, and at the moment it absolutely dominates In fact it does so to the point that it has spilled out of just being the thing that draws attention to a YouTube channel, and has become the trade of small trendy restaurants, who have taken to creating absurd dishes that exist for the sole purpose of being photographically unusual and drawing the attention of social media personalities

Hell, at VidCon 2019 this was the bedrock theme of the entire Instagram creator lounge And while we’re talking about negative outcomes, I suppose now is as good a time as any to discuss the elephant in the room: channels like Blossom, So Yummy, and Five Minute Crafts Something about them should be familiar to anyone aware of the Frozen Elsa Spider-man trend of horrifying CG videos that consumed children’s entertainment on YouTube a couple years back These blanket food/craft channels utilize a similar format, with each video consisting of an anthology of shorter segments that are often recycled across several videos Individual segments are churned out by what is effectively a warehouse of video teams

So, for example, this Blossom video, 12 Creative Ways to Use Coca Cola! Life Hacks by Blossom, only has around five minutes of cola-related hacks, followed by nine minutes of hacks recycled from other videos to pad out the runtime Though the cola hacks, at least three are just “use cola as a marinate”, and they use cola to get gum out of hair twice, and… you just put laundry detergent into Coke… and Filled a nail hole with soap? Whaaaaaaat… are you

? That’s not a hack… you didn’t I’m sorry, I got sucked in there Ann Reardon, owner and host of the How to Cook That, and her husband Dave have done some great investigative reporting into the business structure of these channels I’ve included the links below in the description As per our model, these channels rely heavily on the spectacle of their recipes, though rather than attempting to create something comically elaborate, they aim for spectacularly simple executions, making complex, time consuming, or tricky recipes almost unbelievably simple, and they do that by just outright lying Like, using cola as glass cleaner, which, you know, nothing quite cleans glass like sugary amber liquid

Or using it as a stain remover, because Coke is famous for not staining clothing And, sure, why not just stick a pencil lead into your locks Now you’re just just… using… chalk as a stain remover? What are you even? Sorry, it happened again It’s probably worth mentioning that “informational value” should really be “perceived informational value” See, it’s not about being a recipe that you can follow along with and produce similar results, it’s about looking like a recipe that you can follow

The trick is that most viewers won’t try to make the vast majority of what they watch, and this goes just as much for a two hundred year old wedding cake recipe that takes a week to assemble, or a five minute omelette This is, then, doubly true for things that are odd and impractical, like the long egg And it turns out that you can crank out a lot of videos extremely fast if you’re willing to just lie Content farms are able to publish thousands of videos every month, and even for well established creators that’s a really, really difficult format to compete with This is a tremendous amount of effort because you’re taking all the normal complication of video production and adding in perishables and time limits and there’s a lot of mistakes you can make that mean starting over

It’s an expensive type of video to make, and to bring this full circle, that expense is going to dictate, to some degree or another, what kinds of videos get made by whom Now, despite everything I’ve said, despite the way things, structurally, bias towards rewarding well-funded, well-equipped corporate teams, despite the fact that making a cooking channel is a bad idea and you shouldn’t do it, I am glad that so many people ignore that advice and do it anyway, because the beauty of YouTube is that there is still room for someone who is scrappy and clever to share their own voice with the rest of the world “I love this one, and I think everyone should try it” “I really do hope you give this a try soon!” “So I hope you can give it a try” “And that’s shortbread chocolate chip cookies If you make ‘em, let me know what you think in the comments And, as always, thanks for watching

” I wanted to make this video as a way of interrogating my own relationship to the media that I consume I enjoy the spectacle of food entertainment and in particular I like seeing the absurd and the indulgent, I want to see the world’s largest papaya or reasonably authentic 2000 year old recipes or a giant hamburger that is actually made of ice cream cake Spectacle sells and, make no mistake, I am buying But also I am aware that there is a view of the world and an attitude towards food and a philosophy of food that is carried with that It is not inherently good or bad but neither is it value neutral

Implicit in each is a statement about what is good in the world and what the world should be like And, yeah, that can be prescriptive and constraining, but it can also be enriching, expanding our tastes and appreciation of culture and sensation Because that’s when I like cooking the most: when it’s not just about food, but a celebration of what food represents Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some dishes to do Also a Pizza Pop is just a tiny calzone

Source: Youtube

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