Illustration by Carly Jean Andrews

Where Does All the Food From All That Food Porn on Facebook Go?

A special holiday investigation

Once upon a time, the internet was made up of awkward personal blogs and weird webpages about string theory. Then, for a while, it was mostly made up of cats (plus some quizzes). But in the past year or so, the internet has entered a new phase: It’s almost entirely made up of mesmerizing, eternally looping food videos (plus fake news, but let’s just table that one — it’s the holiday season, for God’s sake).

These videos are usually shot from above, run between 45 and 60 seconds and have the generic soundtrack of a Kickstarter video/inscrutable pharma ad. We watch them once because our brains like looking at food, but we watch them over and over again because they just auto-repeat. After a few more spins, we start to feel like we might actually make that recipe for dinner tonight. Or maybe tomorrow? Or next week? Or someday?

Mini Sweet Potato PiesFULL RECIPE: http://bzfd.it/2fLYPUD

Posted by Tasty on Monday, November 21, 2016

But once the trance breaks, it’s hard not to wonder what goes on after that final frame, when the person attached to those disembodied hands is left with a heaping pile of Mini Sweet Potato Pies.

So we decided to find out: What does happen to all that food once the cameras stop rolling?

In short, everyone else in the office gets to eat it.

At Buzzfeed, whose “Tasty” department invented the overhead recipe vid format at the “snackable” length of 45–60 seconds, and whose food videos are watched more than 1.6 billion times per month on Facebook, the call for free leftovers goes out on a dedicated Slack channel. (A taste of those leftovers: An elegant chicken parm-stuffed garlic bread, whose making-of video pulled in an insane 136 million views.)

Chicken Parmesan-Stuffed Garlic BreadFULL RECIPE: http://bzfd.it/2a52Xc2

Posted by Tasty on Wednesday, July 27, 2016

“We have a channel called Leftovers that people can subscribe to, and the Tasty producers drop a note in there when there are leftovers,” says Weesie Vieira, a Buzzfeed spokeswoman. “They never last long after that! Producers also bring leftovers home occasionally.”

The Tasty team is bicoastal, so there’s a leftovers channel for both the L.A. and NYC offices — more than 300 people subscribe to the East Coast free-food alert system, and another 100 subscribe in L.A. And since Tasty just pumps these things out constantly, posting new recipe videos two or three times a day, there’s an unending stream of leftovers to be had. “Just today, the NYC Slack posted three times, and the L.A. Slack posted twice,” Vieira says. “One to two is more typical for each day.”

At more established culinary institutions like Bon Appétit magazine (where a video like How to Cook the Perfect Steak gets nearly 3.5 million views), the same pattern holds, even for fancy cover shoots. “Everything at the end should be edible, because you don’t want to make it look fake,” says Sue Li, Bon Appétit’s food stylist. “And if I’m cooking the food according to the recipe, I don’t want to waste it either, since I usually end up buying expensive ingredients from the farmers’ market or butcher. So I’d feel terrible throwing it away.”

How to Cook the Perfect Steak

Please hold while we demonstrate how to cook the perfect steak. WATCH MORE: http://bonap.it/Wgt1htb

Posted by Bon Appétit Magazine on Friday, June 24, 2016

In extreme situations, like when Li had to help prep 12 different turkeys to get the Thanksgiving cover shot just right, she ended up having to undercook some of the birds to save time. Still, even then, she couldn’t bear to just dump them. “We saved them all and made stock,” she says. “If 12 animals died for this one picture, I’m not going to let them go to waste.”

The Bon Appétit staff (full disclosure: I used to work there) is smaller than Buzzfeed’s, so the free food alert system is a little less official — Li says the test kitchen staff generally puts the word out on Slack, and eventually it all gets eaten or taken home. (If there’s really a glut, staffers will occasionally offer leftovers to homeless people in the neighborhood when they head home for the night.)

At more boutique cooking video outfits like Panna Cooking, which offers videos of full-length recipe walkthroughs with chefs like Paul Kahan and Nancy Silverton (a recent Brussels sprouts video had 493,937 views as of press time), the system is pretty much the same, according to Matt Gross, Panna’s editor-in-chief.

Brussels Sprouts (With Everything)

Bacon. Onions. Chestnuts. Cream. Oh yeah—Brussels sprouts, too! The classic #Thanksgiving side, amped up with literally everything: RECIPE: bit.ly/brussels-sprouts-panna

Posted by Panna Cooking on Friday, November 18, 2016

“We only have about a dozen people in our New York office, and only have a shoot every other week,” he explains. “So the difference between us and a food magazine, where you test recipes again and again and again until nobody wants to eat it, is that we always want to eat it — it’s what the chef just made and it’s always awesome.”

But that smaller staff also means capturing the finished product can take longer. “In some cases it’s one of those things where you really want to eat it immediately, but by the time we’ve finished shooting, it’s less exciting,” Gross says. “But pies for Thanksgiving, for example — even after a half-hour of photos, they’re still quite delicious.”

So rest easy: No food is wasted (or not much, anyway) in the making of Facebook’s most popular content. You’ll just never be able to taste it—unless you make it yourself, which we know is never gonna happen.