The final frontier of Chat GPT on social media seems to be mindless content generation just for the sake of having something to put ads in. Human imagination is being harnessed by machine imagination. Fake recipes are a part of this.
It’s not only the robots, either. Have you ever tried a recipe you saw on Facebook or TikTok only to discover it didn’t work at all like it said it would? Some are so bad they come out inedible. The demand for clicks used to lead to people and companies shoving recipes out the door before they’re strictly ready and foolproofed, but now they’re lucky if something comes out edible.
While content generators like Chat GPT can convincingly talk like people, they have no clue what “gluten” is or what it does. There is a deeper conversation to be had about what that means for art and writing, but for recipes, it just means the robot is scraping up as much information as it can and simply mimicking the shapes it sees in the shadows on the wall for you. It doesn’t know why people knead dough for bread, only that they do in every recipe for it. As such, creative choices within a recipe are due to hallucinations and not an understanding of the underlying principles. It tries to sound human; most humans write something like ‘cream the butter and sugar together, and then add the eggs’ for cakes; it tells you to ‘cream the butter, sugar, and eggs together’ as a result. Someone copies and pastes this somewhere it won’t be challenged, like Facebook, or a mysteriously fresh blog that talks like it’s been online for years and has hundreds of followers. Eventually that page is able to make ad revenue or take sponsorship deals.
Despite the lack of understanding, this rarely results in something that is totally inedible, especially as Chat GPT gets better and better at maintaining a ‘train of thought’ and connecting the beginning of it’s work to the end. That’s assuming anyone even bothers to make what it suggests. Quite a few content aggregator pages simply push generated or incomplete content out because they know their readers won’t bother. Why paint the back of the movie set? While the AI’s work is derivative, it can often achieve mediocrity just by the law of averages. Humans don’t even need to write the fake recipe anymore.
Misusing Chat GPT in these scenarios is almost more common than using it ‘correctly’ and adding a disclaimer that it was involved. Noting that AI was involved in written content tends to push some potential viewers away. They don’t want to read fake recipes because they know Chat GPT isn’t a chef, just like they don’t want to read generated books or look at generated photography because it wasn’t made by a human writer or a human photographer. How do you whip up something convincing enough to sell with ads? You give it the trappings of a real recipe, with pictures and a blurb “from the cook” ahead of the recipe itself, just like the humans do.
Copyrighted work is annoying to work around, so many organizations selling recipe books or posting to recipe websites will often take their own pictures of a finished product. There’s still some manipulation – perhaps a single cookie will be perfectly centered on a cooling rack, or maybe the colors of a gingerbread house will be boosted in edit just a bit – but the picture itself was taken of the thing that was made. The evidence of the recipe working is in the image of the final product. Thus, recipes with pictures are generally trusted to be recipes that work.
Content farms will buy a picture and let you assume it’s the finished product. Worse ones will just steal one.
All it takes is an afternoon with Chat GPT and some Google Image searches, and voila, it looks like this random Instagram page knows what it’s doing when it comes to food. Beautiful, polished pictures of dishes with ‘their recipes’ beneath them blend in with the hundreds or thousands of other pages doing the same. Again, people usually aren’t making the recipe – with the sheer quantity of recipes shared online, nobody could possibly test everything that comes across their dashboard. When some unsuspecting follower does make a recipe, they tend to assume they did something wrong when it looks nothing like the picture. After all, that Instagram page looks coherent enough with its ‘borrowed’ photos!
That’s not to say humans aren’t also making clickbait. Stunt food, as coined by TikTok, is food made as a stunt. It’s often made by humans just because it’s sheer ridiculousness can’t be cobbled together by Chat GPT’s knowledge of ‘real’ recipes. It uses a number of brightly colored ingredients, there’s usually some bizarre step where you have to soak Cheetos or something else you’d never normally do, and it’s often somehow disturbing. This is because that gets comments and controversy, both of which can be converted into money. There are no recipes for Pringles mashed potatoes created for flavor.
Or, if you see right through those ones, there are still stunt foods trying to grab your attention in a slightly more legit way, although they’re often overly expensive or ask you to run through several dozen steps to get to an end product. Wagyu beef fat candles, for instance, require Wagyu beef fat – but the thing that chefs love about Wagyu beef is not the fat itself, but the marbling, so condensing the tallow into a candle does nothing for the flavor that some good quality meat from a cheaper cow couldn’t do. It’s a byproduct that restaurants use as a novelty, not something that a home chef is meant to make for the sake of the candle itself. Less expensive but still time consuming are the Hundred Hour Brownies, which were rated well but largely considered not worth the effort by the people who successfully recreated the viral dish.
On the milder side of the stunt food spectrum, there are things like window cookies – yes, you can put a Jolly Rancher into a cookie with a hole cut out of it and melt it to get a stained glass effect that is totally edible, but the resulting cookie is pretty difficult to eat because the hard candy re-solidifies just as hard as it started. Even though it’s completely recreatable by even a beginner home chef, it’s better as edible decoration. Low-end stunt food looks good in photos, tastes middling IRL.
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Not all bad recipes come from generators and content farms! Even the best chefs in the world make mistakes or forget to clarify. Some recipes that work in Carolina stop working in Colorado thanks to barometric differences, and it’s not the Carolinan’s fault. The reason we’re seeing all of these weird recipes today is because there are only so many ways to make white sandwich bread, or chocolate chip cookies, or brownies – rather than risk sinking into an ocean of similar recipes, making 100 hour brownies or garlic white sandwich bread gives a blog more traction, and makes their success a bit more likely in the face of the surrounding content flood.