Fake news, fake food

Nothing can pull me away from cooking more than the scratchy, generic jazz emanating from the cooking hack videos my niece has recently become addicted to. From useless hacks to blatantly false recipes that never work, cooking life hack channels profit from spreading misinformation and in the process, scare off their audience from cooking in the future.

It is tempting to try the quick, “simple” recipes that appear all over Instagram. Why not impress your friends with cheesecake that you made from scratch? But when you try the recipe, it ends in disaster. You made a mess in the oven, the cake gets stuck to the walls of the pan, and it tastes horrible. The way this media is filmed and edited can mislead people. Between those fancy jump cuts, the video team replaces the uncooked ingredients with a final product. Swaps would not be an issue if it was the actual result of the recipe, but more often than not, it is a complete substitution intended to disguise the fact that the recipe is setting you up for failure. You can replace a hot mound of flour and water from the oven with a fresh loaf of bread with a crackling crust and make it believable to the untrained cook. Any new cook would be discouraged from cooking if they could not follow simple recipes.

When my friends first started out cooking, they took recipes as gospel—I know I did too. They pick a recipe and try it out for themselves. If it fails, they do not have the necessary knowledge to know if the recipe was workable. Instead, they blame themselves for the failure thinking “I messed up the recipe” or “I must suck at cooking.” It is disheartening to see my friends not want to cook again after their first attempt when their failure is not their fault. Through misleading recipes, cooking hack channels set new cooks up to fail.

Fake news and cooking hacks similarly place misinformation within easily consumable mediums. Fake news tricks people by wielding sensational headlines, targeted advertisements, tailored posts, and angering visuals towards individuals seeking to support their own belief systems instead of supplying their audience with unbiased information. False information can be used to distract from important issues. Ultimately, it is through preying on uninformed or ill-informed populations that both fake news and cooking hack media companies line their pockets.

As my niece finished watching her video, I realized the primary audience of these cooking hacks were inexperienced chefs, mainly children. Bright colors, fun music, and cute final products are all common ways to misdirect the inexperienced. From banks targeting incoming college students with loan offers to politicians misleading voters—how can we teach people to be critical about what they read, see, and hear? A cook cannot scrutinize every recipe they come across, just as an ordinary person cannot fact check everything they read. Thinking critically while building a basic understanding of a topic you are unfamiliar with may be the best way to tackle fake news and its derivatives like cooking life hack videos.