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COLUMN: Taco bell bodysuits and $2,000 pizza in the age of the internet



I think it’s time to talk about what the internet has done to the food industry. I'm not talking about how it’s easier than ever to find a recipe online, making recipe books practically obsolete, or how convenient it is to order dinner on UberEats or Btown Menus rather than trekking to a restaurant in person. 

I'm talking about how apparently you can buy Taco Bell branded clothes from Forever 21. Yes, as of Oct. 11, you can be the proud owner of a hot sauce packet body suit or a millennial pink sweatshirt embellished with taco patches. I reserve the right to judge, non-ironically, anyone wearing this clothing. Even ironically, I’m suspicious of you. 

I also recently read a few articles about Buzzfeed’s show “Worth It,” in which hosts Steven Lim and Andrew Ilnyckyj try foods at different prices. You’ve probably seen the thumbnails with headlines such as “$1 donut vs. $100 donut.”. Well, according to Business Insider, the show’s millions of viewers per episode make it the equivalent of a top five cable show for people between 18 and 34. Each episode gets between five million and 10 million viewers. 

Some of the things people feel compelled to do for the sake of these videos — such as buying a $2,000 pizza — are ridiculous. But, I also read that many small and local business owners have been flooded with customers after being featured in a video. I’m always supportive of small business success, and the internet is a great tool for that. 

Don’t get me started on Instagram-famous food. I’ve seen the pictures of friends lining up for hours to get that rainbow bagel in New York and read the sufficiently emo captions of those who tried the charcoal/goth/black ice cream in Los Angeles. I won’t pretend that given the chance, I wouldn’t totally post it, too. I want the social media credentials as much as the next millennial. 

But, I’m also interested in what this new, fast-paced, social-media-reliant phenomenon means for the food industry. While I admired the funky pictures of rainbow swirl bagels, I also read captions that said the Instagrammers took a bite and threw it in the trash because it wasn’t even good. Are we now really waiting in lines for hours just to order a bad bagel for the sake of a photo? 

Not only does it make me sad that so much food waste is happening – those monster sundaes in mason jars that use about a gallon of ice cream come to mind – but we’re also supporting businesses that make mediocre products. Topping a dessert with gold leaf or infusing it with mass amounts of food coloring definitely don’t make a product taste better. It just makes it trendy and easily Instagrammable. 

I have no desire to go full snob and say that taking a picture of your meal is lame because I honestly do that almost every time I eat out. Share your delicious meals with the world. That’s one of the things I think makes the internet great: You can spread your personal enjoyment with others, and hopefully they can benefit by taking note of where you got that awesome meal. Just don't let your reason fly out the door when confronted with something shiny, over the top and unnecessarily indulgent. 

@rachrosenstock 

rarosens@indiana.edu

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