2020 TikTok’s #Food takes off during pandemic

For more than a decade, Instagram was the platform where avid foodies flocked to see carefully arranged plates and gourmet creations. It became de rigeur to photograph your restaurant food (or even coffee)  before you tucked in – a trend that was mercilessly mocked in this YouTube video. Then, developed in 2016 and launched in Australia in 2018, TikTok took online food to a new place.

The TikTok app was developed by the Chinese company, ByteDance, and its mainland China equivalent is called Douyin  Its users make and post short videos online and, initially, it was all about music and dancing and crazy “challenges”. However, as the popularity of the platform grew, the subject matter became more diverse. When the Covid 19 pandemic hit in 2020, it’s no surprise that people turned to social media for entertainment and, particularly with younger demographics, TikTok exploded.

Soon, home cooks were recording their pandemic exploits in the kitchen. Banana bread was among the earliest trends, soon followed by Dalgona coffee and Cloud Bread, which seems to be a bit like a soggy meringue and is often luridly coloured. In 2021 came one of the most famous TikTok recipes, Baked Feta  Pasta. You toss some cherry tomatoes with a little olive oil and put them into a hot oven with a whole block of feta cheese on top. After half an hour, stir the whole melted mess into cooked pasta. As this dish went viral, stores noticed a marked increase in the sales of block feta.

While these are all at least edible, the same cannot be said for every viral sensation. The eponymous Eli of @elis_kitchen describes themself/herself as “the most evil chef on tiktok” and their/her creations aim for shock value rather than appetite appeal.  Emma Beddington’s article in The Guardian chronicles food hacks she describes as having ‘a provocative, frankly deranged “why not?” philosophy’.  Beddington’s article begins “I have just ironed my husband a toasted sandwich” and it’s all downhill from there.

By the time the pandemic panic and associated lockdowns ended, food was firmly entrenched on TicToc. Now food companies and restaurants are promoting themselves on the platform and it’s a favourite medium for professional influencers. Many have followers numbered in the millions. With around a billion monthly users as of 2024, TicToc and its hashtag #food are set to continue amazing and disturbing us for many years to come.

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