It's 2016 and People Are Still Eating Hype Food for Instagram Likes
I almost died eating the latest food trend to gain traction because it looks good in pictures – and I'm not sure it was worth it.
It's enough to make you miss the M&S ad lady. Her low, moaning voice and the supermarket's slow-mo shots of rump steak kebabs or lettuce leaves bouncing on top of a spotless worktop surface are like heaven when compared to the rigidly constructed food porn that now fills social media feeds and blogs.
Instagrammed food has progressed from shitty flash-on photos in restaurants to pristinely arranged healthful bowls, always – always – photographed from above. And now we've come almost full-circle, to food like the freakshake: an oozing, aggressively layered ice cream milkshake, first "invented" at a bakery in Australia last year. It's the latest food trend to send giddy bloggers and lifestyle sites (and Scroobius Pip) frothing at the mouth.
"I wanted to do some really great shakes, and so ridiculous and over the top that people just had to take a photo of it before they ate it," original freakshake creator Gina Petridis told Mashable, without a hint of sarcasm. Predictably, it wasn't long until the shakes came to Britain. Now you can get them in Bangor, in Newcastle – where they've been christened "geet big shakes" – and from a bakery and cafe in east London.
When I first walked into Molly Bakes, the Dalston freakshake café run by husband and wife Olly and Maria, it was with a feeling of trepidation. I'd seen photos and the milkshakes were massive. Like, huge in a way that looks uncomfortable. Large on a scale that slots into the trend of food items that barely hold together, from glisteningly greasy Dirty Burgers to the Great British Bake Off "showstoppers". I was terrified. Olly, who looks after the running of the café while his wife manages their bakery down the road, told me that often people walk into the café, take one look at the menu and walk straight out.
Others stay, obviously, and the freakshake's debut at the café in January saw a queue outside that apparently ran halfway down the street. "We had to turn about 200 people away," Olly tells me excitedly. This, a queue of people standing outside a food vendor for a bite of the latest trend, is a fairly regular occurrence in London and other cities driven by money spent on things that people don't really need.
Usually it's for overly indulgent meat-based food – mega-burgers and the like. But hype food has a sweet tooth, too. See: the Creme Egg pop-up café that opened in Soho in January, or the kaleidoscopic and largely unnecessary rainbow bagels that travelled from New York to east London in the space of a few months in February.
But back to the freakshakes. I chose the caramel option because it looked the sickliest. The staff told me that everyone has their own way of eating the freakshake, but I decided to drink the liquid first then work my way through the rest. My favourite part was weirdly the decorative rim of the milkshake's glass. It was covered in little crunchy chocolate balls mixed with chocolate sauce and biscuit crumbs, and a small slice of honeycomb. As far as a dessert goes that could make you vomit, it tasted delicious. Still, I couldn't finish it.
Nutritionist Carolina Brooks asked me if I was "OK after that milkshake" when I told her I'd sampled one – which I am, I think. Like most people in the business of monitoring how people eat, she thinks that a diet free from refined, non-natural sugar is the best way forward. That might explain her freakshake-related concern.
"We are programmed to enjoy sugar – our brain runs on glucose," she said. "So we do need the sweet taste in our lives. But once you cut out the crap," read: refined sugar, "you really notice your taste buds change, and you start wanting to eat better things anyway."
Unfortunately for sugar-free crusaders, the freakshake isn't just another gross-looking food trend that may quickly disappear; it's much more complex than that. Dr Morgaine Gaye, a food futurologist at the food trend forecasters Bellwether, told me about the significance of the freakshake to the future of food.
"Right now, we're seeing a lot of people getting involved in the anti-sugar campaign – and they should, as it is really important – but there is always a counter-trend," she said. "And this is it. Everyone is trying to be better and more successful and more beautiful. The reality is that no one can really maintain that."
"The freakshake is a rebellion against trying to cram in perfection, and says 'fuck it' to the idea that people can maintain hyper-healthy lifestyles. Slop it all on, put as many ingredients as you can in and stop trying to make a piece of perfection with a little bit of drizzle around the edge."
The freakshake definitely doesn't just have "a little bit of drizzle around the edge". There is a lot happening in this lactose intolerant's nightmare – but was it worth the "queueing down the street" hype?
At £7 each and considering that you have to travel to Dalston, north-west Wales or Newcastle to drink one, I don't think these glorified milkshakes pose a serious threat to the health of the nation. If you buy into them and their marketing technique, they could do wonders for attracting the kinds of Instagram followers still using Pinterest. If not, you're faced with a complicated sundae that costs more than a pint – but maybe imagining the M&S lady huskily saying that would make it worthwhile.
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