We live in a time of food perfectionism. Experts shout culinary commandments from every direction: Daily meals, they say, must be ethically sourced, organic, raw, gluten-free, meat-free, dairy-free, protein-rich, low-fat, low in sodium, carbon neutral, dirt-encrusted, pre-soaked, and fair trade. It can be hard to keep track of all these contradictory gastronomic rules. On the one hand, cooking should be simple and traditional, something our great-grandparents could recognize. On the other, food should be chef-inspired, executed with masterful knife skills in a professional-grade kitchen. One should eat with family, clinking wine glasses over a long table in a Tuscan garden. One should eat alone, undistracted, carefully controlling for portion size. We ought to eat like cavemen: nuts, roots, and seeds. We ought to eat like spacemen: foams and sous-vide. And by no means should anyone eat sugar, because sugar is poison and grandma is trying to kill us with those cookies.
At the same time, there appears to be growing interest in food that breaks rules. On blogs, in Facebook groups, in listicles and Tumblrs, people are celebrating “bad” food—dishes that are disastrous, unattractive, or just unhealthy. Some poke fun at the mishaps of chefs, bakers, and cookbook authors, like the website Cake Wrecks, with its pictures of tragically ambitious professional cakes. Other online collections, like the Gallery of Regrettable Food and Vintage Food Disasters, are filled with scans of disgusting-looking concoctions from old cookbooks. Websites like Someone Ate This celebrate the failures of home cooking in triumphantly unappetizing photos. Even Martha Stewart, who made a generation of homemakers feel inadequate, has been tweeting revolting photos of her meals, to general delight and horror.