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Reddit Controversies: Five Topics That Spark Foodie Freak-Out

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Data reveals Reddit’s most pot-stirring food topics.

Gil C/Shutterstock

Every day a bunch of food-lovers submit photos, recipes and links to the food section of Reddit.com, and every day fellow "redditors" discuss why they love or hate the posts. As with all Reddit submissions, the more "upvotes" the community gives a comment the higher it appears on a page. The more downvotes, the more likely the comment is to be hidden or overlooked.

"It looks wasteful and gross, I wouldn’t want to eat it. And I’m a fat guy with a beard." — MactheDog (Reddit).

But what happens when redditors can’t agree, and a relatively equal number of people love and hate a comment? For the past year, Reddit has been flagging these remarks  as "controversial," a label based on the ratio of upvotes to downvotes, despite total number of comments in a thread. Eater worked with a dataset of more than one billion Reddit comments, collected by one ambitious Reddit user, to discover the types of stories that rile up self-professed foodies.

Overall, the data challenges the popular notion that Reddit communities are particularly volatile. Only four percent of the nearly 50,000 posts submitted to the r/food subreddit since 2014 have controversial comments. Of that group, 95 percent have less than 30 controversial comments.

But when a post does divide the community, it tends to fall in one of a few categories. Here now, five topics that tend to spark a foodie-redditor freak-out, plus a look at the 25 Reddit posts that netted the most controversial comments:

Regional Customs

Do you consider deep-dish to be real pizza? Would you eat it with ranch dressing, or wash it down with a can of Blue Ribbon? Chicagoans, Texans, and Portlandian hipsters might, and they will defend their rights to do so if challenged on Reddit.

In a post called "Giordano's," redditor the_YED gives a ranking of Chicago’s best deep dish. Out of 1,200 comments on the post, "That's not pizza," is the most controversial, followed by, "Nice quiche!"

Comment from discussion Giordano's.

Comment from discussion Giordano's.

Other fights about regional eating habits include the irony of the lack of irony of drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) beer in Portland and whether or not In-N-Out Burger is overrated.


Alternative Cooking Methods

Picture aspiring chefs attempting to perfect complicated recipes before nervously presenting them to a panel of expert judges. The judges then critique everything about the dish, from cooking technique to doneness. This isn’t a scene from MasterChef, it’s a typical post in r/food, except the "expert judges" are self-appointed and always at odds.

Take this sous vide rack of lamb with garlic mustard crust, where many people out of 473 comments debated: Is it done or is it raw?

Now take a look at these gourmet burgers and wings. Burned or perfect?

It doesn’t take much for you — or in the case of the burgers, 1,342 commenters — to be the judge.

Excessive Indulgences

Like the amateur food judges, self-appointed dietitians and nutritionists have been the source of r/food controversy. Churro ice cream sandwiches from Disney World may sound like a dream come true for for some boys and girls, but according to one of the nearly 600 Reddit users who commented on the post about it, it’s "more like 900 calories gone to waste :)"

Fortunately, the fact that these comments are "controversial" means there are a ton of users who disagree with the rudeness. It also means an equal number agree.


International Cuisines

The stark contrast between various world cuisines is highlighted in controversial stories about international food. This Swedish school lunch had 2,000 redditors commenting, many battling anti-American sentiments.


Shooter Sandwiches

The so-called shooter sandwich began as an experiment in 2010 by Tim Hayward, a London-based food writer who wanted to turn the Beef Wellington into a portable sandwich. The cook stuffed steaks, mushrooms, and herbs into a loaf of bread and used weights to flatten it into a hand-held sandwich. After that, folks around the web began trying their own versions and posting the results online. Reddit has had enough of it, though. A shooter sandwich tops the list of most controversial Reddit posts. Two others are in the top 25.

This is what happens when some people find a food meme to be A) unappetizing B) a waste of food C) a waste of money and D) an excuse to impress people.

But the controversy can be more of a turn-off.


But a little controversy shouldn't steer potential food redditors away from the subreddit. Remember, r/food subscribers are in agreement more than 95 percent of time. Whether this agreement is positive or negative, is another story.

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