- Popular websites make fun of peoples' ugly food pictures
- The sites were founded at roughly the same time as a reaction to ubiquity of foodie pics posted online
- Hilarious, sometimes crude captioning, is part of the allure
- "The most important part is a false belief that what has been cooked is simply fantastic," says blogger
Is it possible to vomit while laughing?
This appears to be the question behind a pair of websites that lampoon the popular practice of people taking pictures of their food and posting the results on social media.
Both have earned robust worldwide followings.
"The site came out two or so years ago at the height of the global food photography crisis, when absolutely everyone was taking pictures of their food, and not one of them had any idea why," says the blogger behind Cook Suck. "It was an epidemic, an absolute epidemic. I simply could not stand aside and let the 'om-nom-nom baked beans on toast #bestcookever' continue."
Based in Sydney, Australia, Cook Suck's founder and sole operator identifies him- or herself via email only as being "in my late twenties."
As their predominantly pictures-and-salty-insults approach to ugly food indicates, the duo behind Los Angeles-based Someone Ate This (SAT) are somewhat less strident about their mission.
"Someone Ate This is a food blog that celebrates the hilarity of cooking mishaps, bad food photography and the grossest things people shove down their throats," says co-founder Jeffrey Max, a 30-year-old originally from Dallas. "The message is if you do a bad job at cooking, we're going to make fun of you."
Along with friend Ren Ariel Sano, Max launched SAT in May 2012 by posting a picture of a typically limp TV dinner covered in a gelatinous brown sauce.
Since then the pair have posted hundreds of gut-busting (literally, figuratively) pictures, including a mysterious melange described as "several cans of cat food in a sauce pan," a pizza misfire glossed as "a dermatologist's nightmare" and not one but two separate and utterly mad spaghetti tacos -- they look exactly how you think they would -- that earned the tags "serving your kids food on the floor" and "high on weed."
Scrolling through the SAT archive is like sitting down in a comfortable chair with a full bag of potato chips -- it's almost impossible to pull yourself away from the treacherous pleasure.
Tips on bad food photography
The sites are labors of love.
"I've been collecting pictures of gross food for a really long time," says Sano.
Though separated by the vastness of the Pacific, these connoisseurs of culinary miscarriages are engaged in the same quest, constantly foraging for just the right combination of dismal ingredients.
"The perfect terrible meal needs poor photography, terrible plate aesthetics, irritating captioning ... poor ingredients and, and this is the most important part, a delusion of grandeur, a false belief that what has been cooked is simply fantastic ... that your photographed meal is a gift to us all on Facebook/Instagram," says Cook Suck.
"The most important thing you can do to make your food look disgusting is use the flash," advises Sano. "If you wanna throw a whole hardboiled egg on top, too, it can only help."
"Get super-close to the food, maybe just past the minimal focus distance of your camera," adds Max.
Cook Suck says its site generates enough traffic "to ensure I can afford food that won't appear on my site."
Sano says SAT has about 15,000 followers and gets about 150,000 page views from 50,000 unique visitors a day.
"Which is bananarama," she adds helpfully.
Not everyone is pleased to find their pictures or pictures of foods they cherish plated up for online ridicule.
A series of hollowed-out pumpkins woefully stuffed with things that make you go blergh consistently raises the ire of sentimental diners on SAT.
"More than anything else, people come to the defense of this food-like item," says Sano. "They like to say it's a family favorite and they eat it at holiday meals and it's actually really good for you, blah blah blah. It strikes a nerve with a lot of people."
"It seems like a pain ... to eat out of a pumpkin," says Max. "Like, there's a reason bowls don't hold four gallons and have a small opening at the top. I don't get it at all."
Both sites mine comedy pewter out of go-to genres and ingredients.
Canned corn, black beans, eggs and American cheese are common thematic elements in the images they feature.
While Sano and Max note that all-American potluck casseroles typically yield a high rate of repulsive return, Cook Suck believes it's sitting atop of the mother lode of culinary ineptitude.
"Australians cooking anything Asian," says Cook Suck. "Australians cooking anything, actually.
"We're very very poor cooks in Australia, yet due to our culture we think we are the best. Ninety-nine percent of the country believes they're BBQ masters and yet this couldn't be further from the truth."
Price of Internet infamy is steep
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Cook Suck impresario admits to not yet parlaying the site's popularity into an elevated social position.
"Australians are terrified of me and I don't get invited to any dinner parties anymore, or no one ever suggests places to eat if I'm invited."
Despite suffering the slings of critics -- to say nothing of the mountains of unidentifiable glop on their screens -- the pundits of heinous helpings say they'll keep soldiering on, providing much needed perspective to the foodie world.
"Our message is, 'We love it, don't stop, never stop,'" says Sano. "Eat so many hotdogs."
Just don't expect to see any of their vacation food pictures posted online.
"I don't take pics of what I eat," says Max. "I know better."
Originally published May 2014.