Facebook recipe groups may not be great places to learn how to cook, but they’re perfect for digital eavesdropping
As a true elder millennial, I have not been able to extricate myself from the hellscape that is Facebook. The reason for my delayed exodus is that I am deeply nosy, and nowhere on the internet provides more opportunities for me to snoop on other people’s conversations and conflicts.
The strange assortment of Facebook groups I’ve joined really runs the gamut in terms of content, from memes to haircare techniques, but most of them are centered around recipes. I am terminally fascinated by how other people cook and eat, especially those who are from cultures that are not my own, and I love trying out new-to-me techniques. Without Facebook recipe groups, I would maybe never have learned that you can freeze cabbage leaves instead of tediously boiling them for cabbage rolls, or the logic behind rinsing rice to remove excess starch. But most importantly, I would’ve missed a hell of a lot of drama.
Amid the tips and tricks and weeknight dinner ideas, there is a somewhat shocking amount of fighting going on in the average Facebook recipe group. Most of these groups are moderated heavily, and operate under a set of rules that, if violated, will get you tossed out. Generally, these rules are pretty obvious — you’re not allowed to sell anything to fellow group members, you must keep threads on topic, and give credit where it’s due. But, most also have guidelines that govern how group members should post within the group and interact with each other. “Rude comments will not be tolerated. We won’t ask people to be nice,” read the guidelines for one recipe group for busy moms. “If caught being rude you will be banned without warning. This is not a daycare service, be kind and considerate or be banned.”
Those rules are in place for a good reason — the comments under any recipe post can flip to the dramatic in an instant. The type of infighting that occurs, though, largely depends on the nature of the group. If a group is dedicated to sharing vegan recipes or keto hacks, it’s inevitable that there will be fighting over whether the recipe actually follows the rules of these highly specialized diets. If the group focuses on healthy eating, woe be unto you if you suggest using any kind of processed ingredient, like low-fat cream of mushroom soup or sugar-free Jell-O, which couldn’t possibly suit a particularly crunchy cook’s definition of “healthy.”
Most of these arguments are incredibly petty, but it is also true that many posts in online recipe groups are objectively bad — they’re clueless, or perhaps are accompanied by terrible photos of truly unappetizing food. In the Instant Pot Community, a group run by the company that makes the cult-favorite pressure cooker, somebody asks seemingly once a month or so whether they can cook a cut of beef like prime rib or filet mignon in their Instant Pot; these queries are immediately met with hundreds of horrified commenters shrieking “don’t do it!” Other fights range from debates over whether or not the amount of sodium in Better Than Bouillon is “worth it” to frustration with new members for not searching the group for topics that have already been discussed literally thousands of times, such as the proper way to boil an egg.
My theory for why these conversations so frequently devolve into ad hominem attacks and petty squabbles is because there are few things people care more about than food. But while I can completely understand why a person might be a little horrified that someone is cooking prime steak in their Instant Pot or adding sugar to their cornbread, I can’t imagine starting a digital brawl over it.
Sometimes, though, the matters that divide recipe group members are much more serious, ranging from race to class to fatphobia. Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, a Trader Joe’s recipe group I was in completely fractured in a matter of just a few comment threads after somebody posted a link to a petition calling for the grocery store chain to remove “racist branding” from its product lines. The fight got ugly, racial slurs were flung, and a segment of the group (myself included) branched off to create its own anti-racist spin-off of a group that was once centered solely on figuring out the best frozen entrees to buy from TJ’s.
While perusing a group for easy air fryer recipes about a week ago, a recipe for a seafood boil made with kovbasa, a type of Ukrainian sausage, crossed my timeline. Clicking through to the comments, I noticed that there was controversy brewing over if there was actually such a thing as Ukrainian sausage, or if the poster was just sharing this recipe to drum up political drama. “I’m going to ask my Lithuanian neighbors where to get ‘Ukrainian’ sausage,” wrote one commenter. “Thinking it’s one of those politically correct statements. If this is where this group is going — politics — then I am OUT!”
The conversation devolved from there, and moderators deleted several offensive comments. Some members shared support for Ukraine amid the Russian invasion, while others insisted that calling the sausage Ukrainian was a virtue-signaling co-opt of Polish culture. Even after years of watching people squabble over whether powdered chicken bouillon is a reasonable substitute for chicken broth, I was taken aback by the notion that something as simple as a recipe could be weaponized in a political flame war. The very last comment I saw, which somehow wasn’t deleted, called for the assassination of a world leader.
One could say that all this squabbling is a product of our politically divisive, social media-obsessed era. Or perhaps it’s just that all of us have really strong ideas about food that are deeply rooted in our own experiences and cultures, and believe that anyone else who could possibly harbor a different opinion is just wrong. More likely, though, it’s a result of the enduring fact that any time a group of humans gets together to talk about anything, there’s inevitably going to be drama.