It seems like every couple of weeks, there's a Reddit post that asks "What's the worst or the most disturbing thing you've ever seen online?" The responses are unsurprisingly Not Safe For Life, referencing everything from scenes from the "Faces of Death" video series to photos that had been posted on long-banned subreddits like r/WatchPeopleDie.
The most upsetting post I've ever encountered was another one that made it to Reddit's front page almost a year ago, one that had the title "Anyone else feel Meal Prep is a way of life?" The picture that accompanied it was a shocking arrangement of food prep containers filled with individual portions of chicken parmesan and beef Bourguignon, along with two plates of neatly stacked breakfast burritos.
"Meal prepping is really opening up my life to how I want to spend it," a user named u/pggu1123 gushed. "Wallet getting fatter, finding time to exercise daily, spending more quality time with loved ones, and overall life feels more wholesome! Thanks guys!" That sentence, which was punctuated with a smiley face emoji, was my introduction to r/MealPrepSunday, and it absolutely terrified me.
To me, meal prepping is one of those things that people do when they're not calculating how much they still owe on their Peloton, or before they politely excuse themselves to piss on a paper ketone-testing strip. It also sounds horrible, because who wants to eat leftovers all day, every day, for a week straight?
After that "Meal prep is a Way of Life" post, I started hate-reading that sub—and it didn't take too much lurking to realize that I was wrong about literally everything.
First, no one uses the L-word—leftovers—to describe the dozens of meals that they spend their Sunday afternoons assembling, and not everything in those plastic containers is exactly the same. Kevin Curry, the founder of Fit Men Cook, previously told VICE that one of the keys to not hating meal prep is to make minor variations each time he pulls something out of the fridge, whether that means eating some meals cold, swapping sauces around, or using different garnishes. OK, fine.
And who knows what that Redditor meant when he or she said that their life was "getting more wholesome," but people who cook at home do consume fewer calories than the ones who eat out more frequently. According to a study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Usable Future, individuals who made their own dinners six to seven times a week ate an average of 2,164 calories per day, while those who cooked dinner "once or less" each week downed 2,301 calories every day. OK, fine, again.
But the more scrolling I did, the more obvious it was that I had no clue about the average meal-prepper. Most of the users who post pictures of their kitchens, and their ingredients, and yes, their stacks and stacks of food prep containers, aren't obnoxious Crossfitters or even slightly less-obnoxious Crossfitters. Instead, they're truck drivers and shift workers, postpartum moms, full-time caregivers, traveling musicians, former chefs, budget-conscious students and a significant number of people who use meal prepping as a tool to help them handle depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Then there's the occasional dude who snorts a rail of 4F-MPH and spends, like, 36 straight hours cooking almost 30 pounds of food.
And, despite being on Reddit, there's also a noticeable lack of meanness, of "WELL ACK-TU-ALLY," or of the kind of anonymous assholery that comes from hiding behind an made-up username. Posts are prefaced with an "It's my first time!" or "Go easy on me!," and the comments are almost all encouraging, supportive, or helpful. (Not all of them. The internet can still be shit.)
When one user shared a picture of their "unfancy kitchen" with four slightly overcooked chicken breasts and a tomato soup splattered-stove, the majority of the responses were beautifully gentle. "Thanks for keeping it real and not staging your food items and washing your stove down for a highly edited photo," one person wrote. "I love authenticity and you have not disappointed." Another added that OP's "authenticity in this world of 'curated everything' is refreshing and should help us all realize how fortunate we are."
MealPrepSunday might be the internet's most wholesome community—although the word "hubby" still gets used too fucking often, so it's not perfect. I've also realized that my initial response to that "Way of Life" post had nothing to do with all of that chicken parm, and more to do with me and, well, my lack of chicken parm. It's less about what the meal preppers are doing, and more about what I'm not doing. (I get the same feeling when I'm getting a Door Dash delivery, and look over the driver's shoulder just in time to see one of my neighbors running down the sidewalk.)
Despite months of lurking (and it's not even hate-lurking anymore) I still haven't attempted my own meal-prep. I recently learned that homemade corn dogs freeze pretty well, so maybe it'll happen soon. When I do inevitably post a picture of my cramped, messy kitchen and a bouquet of misshapen corn dogs, please go easy on me. It's my first time.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.