Why Facebook ‘Wrestling Meals’ Groups Are The Healthiest Place On The Internet

Why Facebook 'Wrestling Meals' Groups Are The Healthiest Place On The Internet

Recently, I have found it increasingly interesting to probe the cultural inclination to think of “struggle meals” as a palliative measure for young people. The term – which began as a hashtags in 2017 and was popularized by chef Frankie Calenza on his show of the same name – is even defined by Urban Dictionary as “a cheap, store-bought meal (or) snack, usually eaten by broke college students”.

I mean, it’s a pretty familiar tale: Generations of young adults have certainly fed themselves in school on a regular diet of Top Ramen, crap beer, handfuls of dry cereal, and the occasional slice of of cold pizza pulled from a grease-soaked cardboard box in a desolate college lounge. Or, as comedian John Mulaney succinctly put it in his 2018 “Kid Gorgeous” special, he spent $120,000 in college just to live “like a god**n Ninja Turtle.”

So when many people talk about “wrestling meals,” especially online, it’s often with a sort of carnival barker mentality, touting bizarre promises. ‘People reveal their worst ‘cash-strapped’ wrestling meals’, teases one headline, while another breaks news of a wrestling meal so ‘alarming’ that ‘critics (have been) pushed back’ . To be clear, it’s not particularly unique; there are a lot of salty little pockets on the internet for “food shame”. One of Facebook’s largest fitness groups, with nearly 65,000 members, describes its goal as follows:

We’re not here to give advice on your dish, we’re here to put ugly, nasty food to shame. Post with discretion, we are not responsible for anything that happens or is said after you post. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t post it. Although we are a food shaming group, we ask all members to treat each other with kindness and respect. Keep the shame on the pictures.

For foodies with a sarcastic bent, these groups can totally provide a fun place to let off steam. In fact, some of the dishes pictured, one might say, are even “deserving” of roasting, such as chicken sushi, spaghetti and meatballs, and a “demon cake” made with just a dozen eggs. and a tube pan. (That is, if you actually believe these images are real meals cooked by real people, rather than a content farm churning out crude food “piracy” videos in exchange for outraged clicks.) But then there are the dishes that, if you’ve ever faced food insecurity, or even found yourself short on rent for a month, probably sound a little more familiar: microwave quesadillas made with a single flour tortilla and a melted slice of American Kraft, ketchup-coated noodles, SPAM eaten straight from the box.

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And when pictures of those meals appear, especially as global food costs hit an all-time high last year and more than 34 million Americans currently face food insecurity, the whole exercise in food shame looks like a little to a particularly pernicious type of classism disguised as food criticism – which is why I’m also increasingly drawn to groups on Facebook and Reddit specifically dedicated to share his wrestling meal.

“Everyone has a tough time from time to time,” reads the description of the page for Struggle Meals Cookbook, an 89,000-member Facebook group. “This page was created so that those on a tight budget or who have a somewhat empty closet can come and make their vittles on the cheap.”


While, as noted, the general public sometimes tends to dismiss struggle meals as something left over after graduation, the Struggle Meals Cookbook – and other similar online groups – seem to recognize that a many of its members are faced with rather “adult” problems. e.g. eviction, flight from domestic violence, medical debt, illness. Even those not in the throes of outright tragedy say they are feeling increasingly worried about rising food prices, general inflation and a market that appears to be preparing for a crash. .

It’s clear from the tone of the posts that the admins and group members also understand that there’s something inherently more unpleasant about finding wrestling meal ideas than your typical easy weeknight meal. It’s not really about trying to find suppers on a plate you can put in the oven between your last Zoom meeting and picking up your kid from soccer practice, or trying to break your addiction to Grubhub (although both are lofty goals).

Struggle meals are created out of desperation. It’s woven into their very anatomy. They are the product of a lack of something – sometimes energy, but more often resources or money.

With that in mind, the magic of these groups is actually twofold. The first attraction is this overwhelming collective creativity and scrappiness. I’m thinking of a recent, but since deleted, post in a smaller, private Facebook group about wrestling meals. A poster told how she and her partner had moved into a new apartment after a period of living in shelters. They both had jobs and were doing well, but with moving expenses (first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a deposit) and the need to buy basic furniture, they collectively had $7. to spend the next two days until their next paycheck. .

Struggle meals are created out of desperation. It’s woven into their very anatomy. They are the product of a lack of something – sometimes energy, but more often resources or money.

The couple hadn’t finished furnishing the kitchen either, so they didn’t yet have a microwave or cookware, just a few utensils. However, the band members quickly sprang into action. Several commenters shared places where you can usually find a microwave to use: truck stops, gas stations, some community centers, public college lounges, and libraries.

Then, as always, people provided great recommendations on how to find cheap food and use it well. There are so many ways to extend the bases if you know how and these groups aim to make sure everyone does it. Menu suggestions abound for several meals based on just a few ingredients. Got some flour tortillas, a few cans of black beans, some cheap potted salsa, and eggs? You can make black bean quesadillas, breakfast tacos, black bean soup topped with tortilla chips, black bean chips and dip, and huevos rancheros.

When you do and decide to post photos of your creations there, you’ll be sure to find tremendous support – which is actually the second thing that I find so magical about these groups.

Recently, someone posted a picture in a wrestling meal group of a dish they had made: instant white rice mixed with jarred Alfredo sauce and canned tuna. The poster, a man in his thirties, called him his “wrestling pot”. It was treated shamelessly, very beige and randomly placed in a paper cereal bowl under a fluorescent kitchen light – basically bait for anyone who loves food shame. Here, however, the actual responses were different.

“Here you dropped this king,” one commenter wrote, punctuating his thought with a crown emoji. Another said: “Man, this looks like a bomb. If you ever do it again, a 99 cent bag of frozen peas will take it to the next level.”

Watching these moments of silent recognition – small exchanges that, each in their own way, communicate “I see you doing your best and it’s beautiful even if everything is very hard” – reminds me of “How To Keep House While Drowning” by KC Davis: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing.” One of the main tenets of the book is that caring tasks are morally neutral, meaning clutter has no inherent meaning.

“When you look at a pile of dishes in the sink and think, ‘I’m such a failure,’ that message doesn’t come from the dishes,” Davis writes. “Dishes don’t think. Dishes don’t judge. Dishes can’t make sense – only people can.”

Camaraderie has a very powerful way of mitigating shame.

Living in a country whose DNA is heavily intertwined with “bootstrapped” mythmaking, it’s easy to think that things like wrestling meals should be a source of hidden shame because they denote some kind of ‘failure. Failed to save, failed to launch, failed to thrive. This is linked to perpetuated cultural stereotypes about people living in poverty – that they are somehow inherently lazier or less intelligent than those in a higher income bracket.

But, as Davis writes, the food we eat cannot judge us, only people can. Simultaneously, camaraderie has a very powerful way of mitigating shame. That, to me, is what we can learn in all of these wrestling meal groups. Much of the food media is so ambitious that it becomes really easy to feel like you’re not quite up to it. And, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes you just have to survive to fight. This ties in with the rest of Davis’ point. She argues that if caring tasks, like cooking and cleaning, are morally neutral, then “good enough is perfect”.

“‘Good enough is good enough’ is like settling for less,” she wrote. “‘Good enough is perfect’ means having reasonable limits and expectations.”

In housekeeping, that might mean leaving dishes in the sink overnight or realizing you’re going always have a junk drawer and none of those things make you a bad person. And in the realm of cooking, that means that on certain weeks, when money is tight or your energy is depleted, dinner is going to be like Top Ramen, a tortilla topped with peanut butter, or a scoop of wrestling casserole.

It doesn’t make you lazy, pathetic, or morally deficient. It just means you’re struggling, and when you’re struggling, good enough is perfect.

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