Cooking is a passion of mine. I love the interplay of colours and smells as you build a dish from hot oil or melted butter into a meal, adding meat, vegetables and spices along the way. I love the feeling of having created a really good sauce, or a bowl-of-love soup. I relish pulling a hearty casserole out of the oven or serving up steaming ladles of chunky chilli on a cold day. Seeing smiles on the faces of my family (and guests, when we have them), hearing the noises of appreciation and contentment as they eat what I’ve made – that’s soul food for me. A few weeks ago, I discovered a website called Yummly. It is a vast collection of recipes, meticulously organized. These recipes have been contributed by people who love cooking, and have featured these recipes in their blog. Practiced, perfected recipes, vetted by people who know cooking. Why is this worth pointing out?
My newsfeed is filled with recipes. Usually, it’s a sped-up video detailing the steps of a recipe, and it will be introduced with lines like “you’ll never microwave popcorn again” and “she takes eggs, milk and sugar and you won’t believe what she makes” and “the only good-tasting gluten-free bread I’ve ever had”. About 95% of the time, these videos are posted by people who’ve never tried the recipe. They’ve taken some stranger’s word for it, and posted it because it looks legit – and tasty. Sharing recipes used to be a thing of honour – a tried-and-true, everyone-loves-it thing cooks wanted to share with their family and friends. These timeline posts are nothing like that. They are basically part of a poster’s stream of consciousness – a “wow, check it out” shared with everyone from their mother to their mail carrier to the college roommate they havn’t seen in seventeen years.
And this is not limited to recipes …. There are housekeeping remedies (“never buy shoe polish again”, “return your shower head to a factory-fresh shine”, “wash your dishes with nothing but baking soda and lemon juice”). There are step-by-step instructions for creating elaborate hairstyles and 3D nail art. There are beauty hacks (“wash your hair with these four common household items and never deal with dandruff again”, soothe cracked heels by soaking your feet in vinegar and essential oils”, “12 delicious face masks made with nothing but fruit, honey and oats”). Make-up tips and tricks. Dance moves. Exercises guaranteed to address everything you’ve never liked about yourself. Fun shoe-lacing techniques. Ideas for upcycling old clothes and furniture. Fashioning the perfect spice drawer or underwear organization system using PVC pipe. Plant pots made from old hats, boots, sink basins, toilet bowls. Then there are the craft suggestions – if you have young children, you’ve probably perused the internet for fun, seasonal, age-appropriate crafts for your littles. Well, look no further. Your Facebook timeline contains everything from assembling puppets from toilet paper rolls and fabric scraps to making paint out of flour, oil, food colouring and …. oh, I don’t know, inner peace, ambition and pixie dust? Amazing vacation destinations, posted by someone who thinks it would be awesome to go there someday.
All this would be awesome if it weren’t for the fact that most of it is wishful thinking. The videos are almost always accompanied by lines like “this looks amazing”, “OMG, I’ve got to try this” and “someone do this and tell me if it works”. These things are basically a low-budget, minimal-effort bucket list, a someday-maybe-if-I-feel-like-it brainstorm. The posters have never cooked these dishes, crafted these hairdos and nail jobs, cleaned their hardwood floors with their dog’s ear wax, gotten rid of their crow’s feet using corn syrup and cream of tartar, eliminated their belly fat eating only bananas and jalapeños, or hung out in the same room with PVC pipe. They’re presenting a carefully curated image to which they aspire, and they are unlikely to ever do even a fraction of the great ideas they’re passing on. The online world (particularly the social media world of Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest) not only allows this – it encourages it.
And I’m tired of it. What a waste of time, brains, dreams. We’re like caged tigers pacing in front of a wall painted with a jungle scene. Strangely content, though there’s a restless awareness that it’s only a shadow of what we could have – what we’re meant to have. When are we going to stop creating holograms of the life we want, and start working on the real thing? Or is that just too much for us now?