As soon as I wake up, I’ll have a classic bacon, egg, and cheese on an everything bagel, a savory Dutch baby, maybe some lox on toast and a green smoothie. Lunch is steak salad, but also a tofu stir-fry, cheesy tortellini, and Sichuan noodles. Dinner? Dinner is three different pizzas. Each dish is strikingly beautiful, like Bella Hadid or an orchid. I don’t actually eat like this — this is my Instagram diet.
If the first step is admitting you have a problem, then let me waste no time: During a ‘‘good’’ week, I spend more than 12 hours on Instagram; during a bad one, we’re talking closer to 19. If the second step is offering an excuse in an effort to shield oneself from the shame this level of compulsion warrants, I can do that, too: I manage a food Instagram account as part of my job and use the platform to help promote my own cooking newsletter.
But in reality, the miles-long journey my thumb embarks on each and every day is motivated almost entirely by an insatiable appetite for perfectly framed croissant crumb shots and dinner spread flatlays (you know, those shot-from-overhead tablescapes). I know I’m not alone; ‘‘Food porn’’ is such an accepted part of our vernacular that Googling it at work won’t get you fired. And for almost as often as I’m consuming food porn, I’m helping create it. Determining what dishes have the most Instagram engagement potential has been an integral part of my job.
Despite its formulaic aesthetics, I love Food Instagram. But inundating yourself with hyper-stylized photos of food can dramatically warp your expectations for your own cooking. Sometimes I need a palate cleanser.
Enter You Suck at Cooking, a remarkably entertaining and, at times, deeply strange YouTube channel that features five-minute videos of some dude’s disembodied hands fumbling through recipes and delivering absurdist humor in an unassuming kitchen. If you’ve been on the Internet at least once in the past four years, a YSAC video may even feel familiar. Its closest aesthetic counterpart is BuzzFeed’s Tasty, which popularized and commercialized the overhead food video format into oblivion when it launched in July 2015. While no one knows who invented the style, YSAC’s anonymous host created his first video with a camera strapped to his head six months before Tasty embarked on its quest to force-feed us unholy amounts of cream cheese.
The similarities start and end there. As far as food media go, YSAC is subversive: No motherly figure behind a kitchen counter, no impeccably styled ‘‘hero shot,’’ no award-winning cinematography, no Guy Fieri. Where mainstream food publications, bloggers and TV shows rely on blinding set lights, cardboard backdrops that mimic spotless marble countertops and top-of-the-line cookware and props to create their edible slice of a broader aspirational lifestyle, YSAC brazenly rejects and mocks convention. I mean, the man duct-taped a bottle of sriracha to the blade of a hockey stick and, with the help of clever but deliberately lo-fi editing, finely ‘‘chopped’’ vegetables by whacking them with a baking sheet. Each episode is a mess en place, if you will (I’m so sorry), and I can’t get enough. YSAC’s aesthetic is nihilism.
Most popular digital representations of home cooking appear contrived, if not entirely inauthentic. YSAC is chaotic but self-aware, serving as a sort of critical commentary of its more polished peers. In an episode about kale chips, our antihero offers the following: ‘‘The final step is to post on Instagram about how you made kale chips and how kale chips are the best and how they saved your life and how they’re so good for your kids and how you’ll never eat potato chips again and only horrible people eat potato chips.’’
What’s funny is that I recognize that made-up post. It’s hardly a deviation from the corny captions that are such a large part of my Instagram diet, and YSAC’s antics are the perfect antidote to that extremely curated experience. Cooking is messy, and that’s rarely reflected in the online spaces where I spend most of my time.
Except for over at You Suck at Cooking. ‘‘If it looks gross, that’s ’cause it is.’’