"Depending on which side your baguette is buttered, the girl dinner is either a site of liberation or oppression." Alyx Gorman/The Guardian
This all began with a very brief piece in the AFR Weekend - the bit they call The Buzz. Having now explored the topic in question I have to say that the AFR is as out of date as I am. Well it is a conservative economic newspaper after all. Not aimed at the TikTok generation. Or is that now
an oxymoron. Didn't Elon Musk kill TikTok? Is it still going? Have I missed something?
Anyway it was all about something called 'girl dinner' and above are shots from the brief TikTok video that started it all - back in May - which is why I am so out of date. The young woman is called Olivia Maher and she posted it after somebody she worked with spoke about medieval peasants having to exist on bread and cheese and how awful that was, which, she realised was what she often had for dinner - plus grapes and gherkins. That's when she called it 'girl dinner'. I have seen figures of around 500 million for TikTok posts with that name. 500 million!
The internet and the human mind are very strange things are they not? I mean it was just a throwaway line. She wasn't trying to start a trend and it's something that probably everybody has done at some time in their life. When you're tired or have no time, and don't have anyone else to please, the instinct is to go to the fridge and see what you can assemble on a plate to eat.
"Not only are girl dinners fast and varied (do I opt for the blue cheese or cheddar with my crackers? Hommus or avocado dip? Grapes or apple?) but they require little to no preparation, cooking or washing up." Laura Jackel/Mamamia
Even simpler than takeaway - you do takeaway when somebody else is involved as well I think, when you have no energy. Raiding the fridge is also less expensive than takeaway. But somehow or other those two words 'girl' and 'dinner' when put together to form a new noun/phrase - a phrasal noun? - is that the technical term? - when put together something clicks in the minds of all those young women who spend part of their lives on TikTok and it spreads like wildfire.
But really, as somebody said in one of the articles I read, really it's just a rebadging of a Ploughman's lunch or 'picky bits' as Nigella calls them. Or maybe even a charcuterie platter. Is it dinner though?
But before I go there let's look at where it went. In America it became such a craze that a fast food chain called Popeyes started selling a 'girls dinner' meal option - I think it's Kraft macaroni cheese and chips.
Buzzfeed described the trend thus:
"In a nutshell, it's a trend where girls are showing their odd food pairings. This could be things like sliced cheese with two scoops of ice cream and a small portion of leftovers from the day before."
Before long people were posting incongruous food pairings, and other weird things, I saw one which was an almost eaten icy pole, another - well a few - of pasta with odd things in - heaps of strange things.
"there is no rhyme or reason to the items chosen for a “girl dinner”, it is simply what is available and what will satisfy a craving" Ella O'Keefe/ Vogue Living
They also posted things like this, there was even one in which the young girl covered herself with a blanket and went to sleep, saying this was dinner.
The inventiveness was sometimes amazing and sometimes not, but it was definitely a craze. Interestingly - to me anyway - most of the food displayed was minimal. The portions were small. There were not massive plates loaded with donuts and cake, although, of course, I have not explored TikTok - I do not partake of TikTok - and there may well be such postings. Maybe fat (dare I say fat?) girls don't do TikTok. Now there's a thought. I was also interested to see a few, that were artfully arranged, and chosen - the very opposite of just throwing things from the fridge on to a plate any old how and calling it dinner. Obviously the young women were all just wanting to be noticed, sometimes in a satirical way, sometimes they were just silly. For effect I suppose. We have no idea of course, if what they are showing on TikTok is what they really do.
"there is always the potential for dangerous habits to form when people share what they eat online. It’s too easy to see someone eating this way once, assume they always eat this way and think maybe if you copy them, you’ll look like them. So take this as a reminder that:
1. It doesn’t work that way – we’re all different with different needs. 2. Social media only gives you a tiny glimpse into someone’s lifestyle." Breanna Woods/Blogilates
And that's when the backlash began. In three different ways.
The first and most obvious was poor diet, provoking comments such as: "it is glorifying disordered eating as a cute little girly thing." because it was not just what was on the plate, but also how little of it there was. Indeed none of them really said dinner to me. It was more a snack, or, at the most, lunch. Dietitians, Nutritionists and Psychologists specialising in eating disorders weighed in big time, and they certainly had a point. However, I was surprised at how many of them actually thought it was at least understandable, and also potentially a reasonable way to eat. It's just a matter of knowing what there should be on that plate. One nutritionist suggested
"At least one protein, something colourful, something fun, a proper helping"
I liked the idea of something fun. We should all have more fun in our lives. Maybe something like this, although maybe this is a girl dinner for more than one girl. Perhaps a bit too much for one. It's from delicious. which tells me that before too long 'girl dinner' ideas might be appearing in other foodie magazines and blogs. I think not the supermarket ones because their market is the family.
The originator of the whole thing, Olivia Maher, became a bit concerned about the fact that it might encourage young girls into a poor diet, and said in an interview:
"girl dinner" is about "a celebration of food and appreciation and excitement because you’re eating exactly what you want and you’re satisfying all the flavors you're craving,"
Maybe something like this other suggestion from delicious. although it's a very long way from the original girl dinner at the top of the page. Or is it? Actually it's basically the same things just arranged more prettily. A celebration rather than 'picky bits'.
The next backlash was, I think, begun by Laura Danger with a TikTok video she called "Why do YOU think there’s such a gap in labour after nuptials?" I found this in an article in MamaMia by Laura Jackel, who began by saying:
"there's a rising number from furious married and divorced women about how girl dinners are a reminder of the inequality in their marriages." Laura Jackel/Mamamia
The idea is that married/partnered women today did indeed eat girl dinners frequently when they were single. Now that they are married they cannot because:
"There are expectations of a hot meal that we must eat around a table with the inclusion of some basic nutrients." Laura Jackel/Mamamia
Laura Danger (yes there are two different Lauras here) quotes alarming statistics such as:
"married women are doing seven hours of extra work around the house each week compared to married men and their single female counterparts." Laura Danger
Men, it seems, from the same academic data are doing one hour less work - even though modern men are actually much better at helping around the house. She also quotes statistics that show that young girls do more work around the home than boys and so they are trained - even from a young age - and even more alarmingly - even today - to be wives. Do listen to her short video - it was quite enlightening and even for those who enjoy cooking - according to the other Laura:
"The planning, shopping, chopping, cooking, cleaning and washing WORK of each daily dinner should not be underestimated. It's a lot, and for many married women with and without kids, they're the ones doing the majority of this unpaid and often under-appreciated labour. Every single day. So it's no wonder they miss their snack plates." Laura Jackel/Mamamia
So the third backlash is the sexism outlined above - how we bring up our children, which leads into a new TikTok thing - boy dinners. Yes indeed and here is one example of a TikTok representation - actually, I think, the one that started this trend off. And, in a way, you could also say that this was sexist, making all boys out to be slobs. A point, by the way, that Laura Danger makes in her diatribe against girl dinners. The TikTok video shown here was actually posted by a guy and so was this quote:
"If you’re wondering what boy dinner is, go to your local supermarket at 6.30pm and stand behind a single man and see what’s inside of his basket.
One time I was behind a guy who was getting a family size block of butter, the generic brand of mac and cheese, not Kraft, and a bottle of drain cleaner." Bryan Lee - Tik Toker
He also suggests that a typical boy dinner might be frozen pizza, deli meats, potato chips, no vegetables.
So a massive amount of information about what the young are doing, about the internet, about the influence of social media, sexism, eating disorders, and, yes, fun all from one tiny article in the AFR of all places. Vogue Living, was, perhaps a little bit kinder than some:
"Laziness is a fact of life, and while we would never endorse restricting yourself based upon a lack of energy, sometimes (emphasis on sometimes) just leaning into cravings and forgetting about hitting the macros is exactly what the soul needs to rejuvenate. Dare I say: "girl dinners" are a sign of the late-capitalism, cost of living crisis-times?" Ella O'Keefe/Vogue Living
I mean what's wrong with this girl dinner?
"If we look at “girl dinner”s through the slant of feeding our inner child (provided the portion size is aligned with our adult bodies and not a two-year-olds), the whole idea takes on a gentler feel. Plus, not all of us want to eat boiled chicken with brown rice and broccoli for the rest of our miserable existence!" Ella O'Keefe/Vogue Living