Why Media Twitter Loves Opinions About Food
In the snake’s pit of egos that is media Twitter, there are certain stand-bys we have all come to expect. Log in at any time of day, and you will inevitably find subtweets from the attention-starved, furious tweetstorms about the political import of punctuation, a complete inability to understand the difference between taking a moral position on an issue and one’s material effect on that issue — and, at least in North America anyway, an inescapable glut of opinions about food.
If that last one seems out of place, its incongruousness makes it no less true. From arguments about pineapple on pizza or the ontology of the sandwich, to our most recent kerfuffle over whether or not mayonnaise is gross, hot takes about food are everywhere on media Twitter.
As to why, it is tempting to find an explanation in the changed cultural position of food. You know this, but if food has always been signficant, it is now so more accutely, and differently, too. Food is linked to performances of identity, to discourses of authenticity and craft, to material networks connecting it to environmentalism, local economies, and agriculture. It is also wrapped up in questions of race and class and gender, and issues of urbanism and gentrification as both restaurants and chefs have become culturally significant in a way they weren’t before. (For a far smarter, more articulate version of this, just follow the ever-great Helen Rosner and it’ll pop up sooner or later.) Food is now pop culture.
So you might think that media types are merely reflecting the frenzy they helped create. But if you’ll notice the nature of most food opinions in our dumb bubble, they aren’t really about those issues. No one is really arguing that whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich reflects deep class bias, or that the inherent badness of ice cream or pie is about cultural difference.
Instead, food takes are almost always entirely inconsequential opinions argued as if they were in fact the opposite. Food takes on media Twitter are almost always deliberately provocative or against the grain (“actually, thick crust pizza is better” or “wine sucks”) but without any depth to them whatsoever — almost as if the point is less to actually assert an opinion than have the argument itself.
Which helps explain why food takes are so useful: they let you yell about something that doesn’t matter. Not that food doesn’t matter, mind you; quite the opposite. It’s just that our random opinions about food are mostly irrelevant. And because they are irrelevant, spouting off provocative opinions about them becomes a way to engage in debate, friendly arguments with low stakes — a kind of safe space for people constantly on the edge of having their life swallowed by a controversial opinion or bad take.
In other words, they are a release valve on a medium that cannot help but scale reaction in a manner asymmetrical to the prompt. Twitter debates about actually important topics are not only utterly pointless, they also always risk spinning out of control, not just drawing in a thousand people because some dumbass thinks quote tweets are a good way to reply, but because someone might post your tweet in an article, might sic their followers on you — or, worst of all, the bottomfeeder trolls might get wind of your joke about #whitegenocide and then… well, at that point you may as well delete your account.
But as for dumb food opinions — the inarguable truths that American cheese on a burger is best, second wave coffee is fine, or (more niche) that aloo paranthas are just awful mush (gobhi paranthas only please) — who gives a shit? They’re fun and diverting and cathartic, in part because they let you yell at friends, but also because they model that good natured, spirited debate that has become much more fraught and harder to pull off in These Polarized Times™.
So, sure, it can seem both aimless and annoying. But that’s sorta the point. Now if we could get back to the issue at hand: mayonnaise is delicious and is also basically lube for the sex your mouth has with dry food.