Opinion: Food is now entertainment, thanks to social media
Our complex relationship with food is made even more confounding by social media's influence on food fads like the "dirty bun", says CNA Lifestyle's May Seah.
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SINGAPORE: Up until last month, “messy bun” was just a versatile hairstyle that could take you from day to night. Now – and for a limited time only, until interest runs out – it’s the reason your Auntie Nancy spent 15 minutes queuing at Bread Talk.
The “messy” or “dirty” bun is the latest food fad to contaminate (yes, literally) popular consciousness here in Singapore. At least 10 bakeries and cafes, including Keong Saik Bakery, Four Leaves, Duke Bakery and BreadTalk now offer the offending-sounding baked goods, some of which are more of a Danish than a bun per se.
Oozing with cream or custard, and liberally sprinkled with chocolate or matcha powder, the buns originated in China and have since spread to Taiwan, Korea and Malaysia. They are named not to disparage the bun itself, but to describe the effects they have on their eaters: They are an obsessive compulsive’s nightmare, leaving their traces all over hands and faces. Sort of like the sweet, Asian cousin of the Sloppy Joe.
EVERYBODY'S GOT A GIMMICK
It is fascinating to live in a world where even filth can be a sales gimmick. So, why not hatch a shrewd and dastardly plan to capitalise on the new direction that food trends are evidently taking? Who's to say a bakery offering Slovenly Swiss Rolls, Promiscuous Profiteroles, Cannot-Make-It Cupcakes, Drunk & Disorderly Donuts and Trust-Me-You-Don’t-Want-To-Know Tarts wouldn't hit the (dirty) spot?
They don’t even have to taste all that great. Because when it comes to food fads, the point, of course, is not how the food tastes. Goodness, no. We abandoned that ship a long time ago.
FOOD FOR THE 'GRAM
Ever since Instagram and Facebook took over our lives, fads have been all about foods that look too pretty to eat. Remember the rainbow bagel, the unicorn cake, the raindrop cake, the froyo, the cronut, the acai bowl – heck, even the avocado toast? It’s all about snapping before nibbling. We do it for the ‘gram.
You could argue that the messy bun is a reaction to pretty food and its unrealistic standards of beauty. Perhaps the grubby little things will soon be picketing and burning garnishes. But, when you look at the bigger picture, this bun is riding the winds of change.
It is no longer enough for faddish foods to simply look good. Now, under the rule of YouTube, Snapchat and Instastories, these foods are burdened with the obligation to do more: They must be interactive.
Because social media has moved beyond static pictures to capturing a movement on video, food fads are now gearing towards how the eater interacts with the food. Think of it as performance art. The whole point of the messy bun is not to enjoy its taste – much less to fill your stomach with it – but to document yourself getting messy with it.
Another of the latest faddishly popular foods, Say Chiizu’s Hokkaido cheese toast, works on the same principle: The fun of eating it is in uploading videos of the cheese stretching itself out between your mouth and the sandwich.
Colour-changing drinks are another example of a dynamic, video-worthy food.
FOOD IS NOW ENTERTAINMENT
It all raises the question: If a fad falls in the forest and no one is there to video it, does it make any money?
The debate is moot for many of you, who have had to stop reading because your eyes have rolled out of their sockets. You are the people who are too cool for social media.
Bakeries think it’s worth the money spent to produce a faddish treat for a fleeting period of time for the sole purpose of a Boomerang. Food – once essential for survival – has now become our entertainment.
It is perhaps the most first-world of first-world problems. Is it right? Is it wrong? Would consumers send the money to starving children if they weren't spending it on food to play with? Who's to say? But we can at least acknowledge the complex relationship we now have with food.
In the meantime, if anyone wants to back what we're thinking could be the next big thing – Slovenly Swiss Rolls – give us a call and we’ll talk business.