I’ve always relied on the internet, specifically Reddit, to teach me how to cook. Many years ago, having already subscribed to the site’s main food-related subreddits AskCulinary and Cooking, I sought to branch out and stumbled upon /r/tonightsdinner. It's a smaller, humbler page for Reddit users to post—as the name would suggest—photos of what they’re having for dinner.
Less educational than AskCulinary and more product-focused than the process-oriented Cooking, tonightsdinner is a great equalizer. The abundance of posts reminds anyone who visits that, whether you're a skilled home cook or novice in the kitchen, we all have to make ourselves a meal at the end of the day.
As far as the actual posts go, some people share recipes and intimate details of their lives—seriously, I feel like a long-term third wheel in this couple’s relationship—in addition to their images, while others simply post a photo and brief description of their meal. The dinners themselves range from lavish date-night steaks to steaming bowls of soup to novel plates of chicken nuggets, as if to say: dinner is dinner, no matter how we get it done.
I've come to know a little too much about internet strangers’ preferences, palettes, and personal lives. Each time I poke back into the subreddit, it feels like a dear but distant friend is inviting me over for a meal, or just to say hi. I’ve gotten acquainted with the various sorts who frequent the forum, and have grouped my favorites into the showstoppers, artistes, and sharers.
These are those who flaunt their ambitious, definitely-not-everyday dinners, while I look on with envy and awe. There's the 30-hour pork belly that I bookmarked just to look at from time to time; the table brimming with Chinese dishes like bear’s claw tofu, red-braised pork, and fish-fragrant eggplant; or, the curly fries and roast beef sandwich that are dead ringers for Arby’s takeout—only homemade.
And then there are the low-key artistes who plate their dinners with the deftness of a Michelin-starred chef. Like the one who made duck soba, or this “family movie night” chef’s board, or this five spice pork. All of whom I virtually applaud, knowing I’ll never put in an iota of that effort myself.
The final (and arguably, my favorite) group I want to highlight are the sharers, those who show how the rest of their lives are going through their choice of dinner. There's the camping brothers who ate beef and bacon burgers in front of an open fire, the fellow quarantined cook delighting in home-smoked ribs alongside canned green beans, and the grown man sitting down to a dinner of pizza rolls.
The sharers are my favorite because they display a real vulnerability and empathy that we rarely see—online or otherwise. As I take in the few intimate facts they’re willing to divulge, my usual internet-inspired cynicism is drowned out by genuine warm-and-fuzzy feelings toward my dinner-making compatriots.
Though I’m lucky to be quarantining with my significant other and dog, I nevertheless am feeling rather lonely (and I’m finding that my own cooking gets old pretty fast). As a result, tonightsdinner has become an even more important page to browse—not only for all its home-cooked wisdom that I’ve taken to heart (five spice makes anything tastier, spoil yourself with an extravagant meal after a long day, and yes that salad needs cheese), but for the community of posters and avid readers (like myself) that remain hopeful and creative, even as we adapt to our new, uncertain times. If the stewards of tonightsdinner can carry on feeding themselves now, mid-outbreak, as they have for years, I can too.