The hit blog This Is Why You’re Fat, a showcase of the world’s unhealthiest cuisine, is now a svelte little book. Author Jessica Amason talks to Rachel Syme about the Gross-Food Movement.
After all of the fawning “food porn” the Internet hath wrought (sites like Photograzing and Tastespotting are dedicated purely to pictures of beautiful food and drink), it’s no surprise that someone would dream up a nasty cousin. This Is Why You’re Fat, a blog launched in February by 27-year-old Jessica Amason and 30-year-old Richard Blakeley, is a compendium of our worst eating impulses: sandwiches rolled in drawn butter, pounds of beef and cheese wrapped in bacon and smothered in ranch dressing, and multiple deep-fried abominations, from Cadbury Eggs to Coca-Cola.
View Our Gallery of the World's Unhealthiest Cuisine
TIWYF became a bona fide online phenomenon—in its first 24 hours, the site hit 1 million page views and has grown exponentially since—and as of this week, it’s also a book, published in compact, paperback form by Harper Studio. This Is Why You’re Fat: Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks has already cracked the top 10 in its Amazon category a week before it goes on sale. If there is one gag gift that people are willing to shell out for this holiday season, it just might be an encyclopedia of Twinkie dogs and pizza cones.
Harper Studio, the experimental arm of publishing house HarperCollins, prides itself on catching online crazes while they’re hot and shepherding the content quickly to bookstores. But even in the new, expeditious blog-to-book world, the TIWYF deal was extremely swift. “We had our book deal within the first month,” Amason tells The Daily Beast. “And shortly thereafter we were fielding calls from production companies wanting to turn our idea into a show. It has been nuts.” (They have since inked a “secret” deal with a television company, according to Amason.)
While the degree of attention has shocked Amason and Blakeley, it is what the pair was aiming for; Amason, who is now the viral Web editor of Buzzfeed, a site that tracks online memes in real time, launched the TIWYF blog when she was working in a similar capacity for Urlesque, an AOL blog that reports on Internet trends as they occur. Blakeley was working for online juggernaut Gawker Media as a video editor, also acutely aware of what works on the Web and what doesn’t. TIWYF is perhaps one of the first blogs launched specifically with a publishing deal in mind. (It made it out just before hundreds of single-subject sites created on Tumblr, the easy blogging service that powers TIWYF, emerged with similar goals).
“People love the shock value of something totally repulsive, but that they could also kind of see themselves eating in a low moment.”
“I’ll admit, when we created it, we thought that it could be a book,” says Amason. “Publishers know that whoever creates these things understand contagious ideas, and then the content is already there, easy to whip up. It’s almost like leveling the playing field—in the same way that anyone can have a blog, it's like anybody can have a book, too.”
This Is Why You’re Fat may have been an expertly plotted scheme by two online professionals, but that doesn’t make the subject matter any less compelling; people love to confront their dark side, and in terms of food, there are few things more sinister than a sandwich that clocks in at 30,000 calories. In a media environment that tends to push organic, local, farm-fresh everything, TIWYF goes the opposite direction, encouraging readers to send in recipes, photos, and sightings of spectacularly unhealthy fare. “We get hundreds of submissions per week,” says Amason. “We had no idea how profound the gross-food movement would be. But people love the shock value of something totally repulsive, but that they could also kind of see themselves eating in a low moment.”
The site and book both are devoted, first and foremost, to bacon as a main ingredient. “This all started because we were noticing the number of pro-bacon blogs popping up,” explains Amason. “Then we discovered bacon camp, a community of people that run bacon-themed competitions. That paved the way for one of our top-viewed posts, the bacone, a bacon cone filled with eggs and country gravy topped with a biscuit.”Amason and Blakeley’s readers quickly got into the TIWYF ethos. “A friend of mine started hosting the ‘meat-lympics,’ a meat-eating competition, after we launched the site,” says Amason. “And then readers started sending in the craziest things: deep-friend brownie balls, hot dogs topped with mac and cheese, a casserole made of White Castle sliders. It’s a contagious idea.”
The TIWYF book does contain some added value—rather than presenting simple shots of heart-attack cuisine as the blog does, the book has several recipes (albeit none you will ever want to attempt) for surefire fat-bombs. There are tips for making deep-fried Coca-Cola, a “Bacon Wellington Explosion,” a giant sandwich made with New Orleans King Cake and 10 sausages, and the “Porkgasm,” a pig-shaped calamity made with eight types of pork, eggs, bread, and a death wish.
“I think a lot of people are bummed to discover that we aren’t either nutritionists or chefs,” says Amason. “We present everything plainly and let the photographs speak for themselves. Some see it as aversion therapy, others as just funny. Everyone gets what they want out of it.”
Rachel Syme is culture editor of The Daily Beast.