I have a confession to make: I love food hack videos. It is soothing to watch chefs perform magic, transforming things into other, better things with seemingly no mess or effort. Condensed milk, microwaved for ten minutes, becomes perfectly smooth, golden-brown caramel; melted strawberry ice cream is whipped into creamy pink icing in seconds. In the land of food hack videos, every food item is photogenic, every recipe takes ten minutes or less, and there are never any dishes to wash.
None of this, of course, is true. Anyone who has ever cooked a meal will know that cooking is messy and time-consuming, and that real food seldom looks Instagram-worthy. And aside from being unrealistic, food hack videos contain dangerous misinformation. Food vloggers, lifestyle bloggers, and even the BBC have explained how “white strawberries” made with bleach are actually poison, or how trying to make grilled cheese in a sideways toaster might actually burn down your house.
That does not mean I have to stop watching. After all, entertainment does not have to be true to be fun, and now that I know the truth, I feel like I’m safe. Misinformation can only hurt me if I believe it.
The problem, though, is that it is often too easy to suspend our disbelief. Think of the many films each year which claim to be “based on a true story” despite containing as much fiction as fact. It is common knowledge that even the most carefully-researched of films will have changed some facts to fit the story, yet it is still so easy to see such films as truthful records of events. At least it is for me: even when I do look up the facts behind a film, I often find myself forgetting all about them. Of course I believe these facts are true – but it was the film that I enjoyed, and so it will be the film, and its version of events, that I remember.
What these films have in common with food hack videos is that they are compelling precisely because they are unreal. Fiction can do amazing, impossible things; facts, on the other hand, can often seem boring and frustrating. The truth can ruin a good video, or a good, satisfying story – and so, sometimes, an untrue story can become easier to believe than a true one.
It is for this reason that we must be careful when we choose to believe something that sounds true, or comforting, or just like good common sense. We are constantly being bombarded with narratives and information: from our communities, on our social media feeds, in the news. It might be easy, and feel satisfying, to latch on to the things that look and sound the best; in fact, we may find that untrue stories fulfil our desires and fit into our worldviews more neatly than true ones do. That, however, does not make them real. White strawberries may be pretty, but they’ll still make you sick.
So no, I do not intend to give up on food hack videos. I just like them too much. But, more importantly, they remind me that not everything I like to think about, or want to believe, has its basis in reality. In fact, by forcing me to face up to my own enjoyment of obvious untruths, and to approach stories I like with healthy scepticism, they make my commitment to facts much – well, bigger than before.
Check out more articles like this on the SURE blog! And remember: information literacy and critical thinking are not the enemy of fun, so be sure to check the facts before starting fires in your kitchen!
This article was written by Kimberley Chiu.
Kimberley is the Associate Librarian in charge of the adult collection at Ang Mo Kio Public Library. She likes cats, books, and coffee, and spends most of her free time reading fanfiction and watching overlong videos on YouTube. She co-hosts a podcast on film adaptations, and is currently working on a novel.