Rolling Glass Bottles Down Stairs and the Scourge of Food Waste on TikTok

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Rolling Glass Bottles Down Stairs and the Scourge of Food Waste on TikTok

There are few sentiments that annoy me more than mindless, uncritical rejections of TikTok. Don’t get me wrong—there’s plenty to hate about the app—but the idea that TikTok is just video after video of teenagers making up dances to poorly produced music is a tired and inaccurate depiction. After a couple of years of curating my for you page, I generally see videos about politics, wine, feminist theory, and bizarre art that would be unlikely to find a home elsewhere on the internet. Probably around 85% of the videos that come up for me on the app are representative of my interests.

But then, every once in a while, I’ll come across a video that makes me understand the unbridled vitriol that some have against the app. Recently, almost all of those videos have been of people rolling glass bottle after glass bottle down a set of stairs until they break, spewing their contents all over the stairwell (and probably waking up all of their neighbors in the process). TikTokers like @rachapotes have amassed millions of views with this content, which is being touted as ASMR.

I work in an industry in which some food waste is almost inevitable—it’s difficult to write about food without buying too much, preparing too much, cooking too much at some point. It’s something that I (and most people I know who work in food media) actively try to prevent in our work. But in these videos, food waste isn’t an unfortunate byproduct of the video—it’s the whole point of it.

It’s not the first time stupid instances of food waste have gone viral on the app. Many of the creators who were dumping entire buckets of soy sauce on their sushi rolls were rightfully criticized for their deeply annoying delivery, but more importantly, for their complete disregard for the food that countless people labored and suffered to produce (which could’ve gone to feed people who were actually hungry). These videos of the glass bottles rolling down stairs should be met with the same criticism.

The fact that such blatant displays of food waste could ever be framed in an entertaining light is a testament to how divorced many of us are from where our food comes from. When we see a glass bottle of Coke rolling down a set of stairs, finally exploding and spraying foam all over the stairwell, most of us don’t think about the people who harvested the corn for the high-fructose corn syrup that sweetens the drink, nor does it occur to us to question their working conditions or how much they were paid. We don’t think about the factory workers who spend their entire workday on the production line, often enduring alleged human rights violations. Most of the time, it doesn’t even occur to us to question the working conditions of the person who rang up that bottle of Coke at Wal-Mart.

That’s not to say that the brokenness of our food system would be rectified if someone drank that Coke instead of throwing it down the stairs. But when you think critically about everything it took for that bottle to get to someone’s home in the first place, seeing its contents amount to nothing more than a sticky puddle on a set of stairs is nothing short of demoralizing. What’s worse is the fact that as these videos get more and more popular, other creators start to jump on the bandwagon, recreating similar videos—and their awe-inspiring levels of waste—as a tried and true method to get more views.

Discounting TikTok as a silly little app for teens is both inaccurate and shortsighted. It can and does offer better, smarter, more engaging content than someone who’s spent five minutes on the app often realizes. In many ways, TikTok is now driving food media. As TikTok content creators in the food space continue to influence food culture, it’s important that we take the impact of these kinds of videos seriously and push back against egregious levels of waste, among other harmful trends and bad ideas. Acknowledging that TikTok can be and often is a forum for intelligent discourse can hopefully make all of us a bit more critical about the media (food-related or not) we consume on the app.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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