Finding a successful ‘hack’ is something many of us are after. Whether it’s attempting to clean a coffee stain on your shirt or finding a productive use for the abundance of coat hangers you have in your wardrobe, a hack is something that’s meant to make life easier. A subset of the life hack is the ever-so-valuable ‘food hack’, which refers to the creative use of everyday ingredients and items in the kitchen. The result is either a useful way to keep food fresh, to cook meals in half the time or to reduce food waste.
The food hack genre is enormously popular on social media, generating billions of views on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook, and generating large amounts of revenue for channels that produce this niche style of content. But while the concept of a food hack may appear harmless at first, some of these hacks, produced in an attempt to stand out from the crowd, can be harmful to one’s health.
As many people are aware of by now being a content creator isn’t so easy. Conceptualising content, filming, editing, voiceovers, thumbnail design and many more tasks – these all take time and effort. With 500 hours of content posted onto YouTube every minute and 34 million videos posted every day on TikTok, the content landscape has becoming increasingly competitive. Unsurprisingly content creators have experimented with ways to stand out, some leveraging creative ways to narrate their stories or collaborating with unexpected guests. Others, however, have gone for shock value. And this is where significant danger lies with popular food hacks.
Food hacks are supposedly easy to accomplish. They are ‘hacks’ after all, designed to make life easier. Shock value with a dash of “I can do it too” has made for an explosive combination. Back in the mid 2010s when the toaster-on-the-side food hack was gaining popularity, some people learned the hard way that it wasn’t the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich. One individual almost burned down her house in the attempt. And despite the dangers being heavily promoted, the trend continues today, so much so that in the UK, the London Fire Brigade posted a tweet in February 2023 showing the aftermath of a fire caused by a toaster placed on its side.
As the tweet mentions, “only use electrical products for their designated use”. Many people got the message in 2015 but since then, various social media channels such as 5-Minute Crafts and Blossom have received millions of views for their food hack content, some of which is safe, some of which is not…
In 2019 5-Minute Crafts posted the video 15 CRAZY COOL FOOD HACKS YOU CAN ACTUALLY MAKE AT HOME, which received considerable criticism for suggesting you can dip strawberries into bleach to remove its colour. Understandably viewers were concerned that people could try this and then eat the bleach-soaked strawberry, resulting in serious harm to their health.
The video caused considerable discontent among YouTube viewers and creators because of what appeared to be an inconsistency in YouTube’s demonetization and removal policy. Here was a video potentially dangerous to people’s health yet the video remained up for months before 5-Minute Crafts buckled under the pressure and removed that segment of the video. Why did it take thousands of complaints for any action to be taken? Many people complained at the time that perfectly reasonable and harmless content was getting demonetized and taken down while dangerous kitchen hacks such as this were being allowed to stay up. Some people speculated that it was to do with ad revenues. YouTube, they said, would be reluctant to take down a video that is getting millions of views from a family-friendly channel that companies want to advertise on.
Given that food hack videos are getting enormous viewership, various content creators have taken it upon themselves to inform people of potential dangers. Ann Reardon of How To Cook That brought to light in May 2019 how 5-Minute Craft’s suggestion of placing strawberries in bleach wasn’t a good idea via her video Is 5-Minute Crafts the WORST channel on YouTube? Since then, Ann’s videos have continued to take aim at debunking various food hack myths and still keeps 5-Minute Crafts in her firing line.
The popularity of dangerous or fake food hack videos highlights another issue. Why do algorithms of social media platforms promote this content if it’s fake, or even worse, dangerous? As unrealistic as some of these hacks are, whether it’s charcoal ice cream or a microwaved Nutella jar recipe, they’re fun to watch. They can be strangely addictive as relaxing background music accompanies a novel concept. A “Wow, does that really work!?” emotion can keep viewers hooked even though they know deep-down it’s probably a long shot.
This leaves food hack content creators with a dilemma. Do they reveal that many of their hacks don’t work? Can food hack content continue to maintain its popularity once the the suspense and awe of viewers disappears? Noticeably, 5-Minute Crafts stops short of saying its hacks don’t work in its video disclaimers: “The following video might feature activity performed by our actors within controlled environment- please use judgment, care, and precaution if you plan to replicate.” While it can be argued that suspended belief in the manner of an actor pretending to be someone else can still generate views, the utility of a food hack, if it is indeed fake, will be lost. And utility, it seems, is a key element of a food hack. What’s the point if you can replicate it?
For the time being it looks like the food hack is here to stay. Many won’t work but will continue to generate million of views and millions of dollars. But another food hack, if you can call it that, has been around for a long time. Novel recipe ideas that use a combination of ingredients to produce high protein, low calorie meals are incredibly popular. The popularity of these recipes have caused communities to form around the concept, for example with Reddit’s r/Volumeeating subreddit, and resulted in content creators selling their own cookbooks such as Greg Doucette’s Ultimate Anabolic Cookbook (which also happens to be so popular that it’s been plagiarized).
These ‘food hacks’ aren’t quite as spectacular as what you may have seen on channels such as 5-Minute Crafts or Blossom, and they don’t require specialised tools such as a blowtorch or chainsaw, but they might help with your health, fitness and weight loss goals; which are hacks worth looking into.