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OK, why is everyone eating Tide Pods? An investigation

It’s not because they’re delicious

In 2015, The Onion published an article titled “So Help Me God, I’m Going to Eat One of Those Multicoloured Detergent Pods”, in which a fictional toddler just...really wants to eat a Tide Pod. Three years later, the joke has apparently become reality. In the last month or so, eating Tide Pods has reemerged as a meme, with Twitter users joking about eating the colourful, juicy little laundry tabs. Most people – we hope – wouldn’t need telling not to actually put them in your mouth, and wouldn’t need reminding that jokes about eating them are just that: a joke.

However, people have seemingly been doing just that: biting into Tide Pods and posting videos of themselves doing it. As a result, there have been 39 reports of teenagers “intentionally misusing” laundry pods during the first 15 days of 2018 alone, according to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC). All kinds of officials have been warning against the ingestion of Tide Pods. Now, YouTube have said in a statement to Fast Company that they will be removing any Tide Pod challenge videos, as “YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm. We work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate our policies.”

To those not so familiar with the internet, it’s pretty baffling that someone would see a laundry pod and – no matter how tasty they might look – bite into it while knowing the risks. We spoke to Dr. Carolyn Ross, author of The Emotional Eating Workbook and expert in food addictions and eating disorders, to ask whether people really are fancying Tide Pods as a tasty treat, and why. She told us, “they may be colourful, which might fool small children into thinking they are edible since many kids foods nowadays sadly have added food colouring”, but added that, “beyond the toddler stage when kids put anything in their mouths, there is no legitimate reason why an older child should be fooled by this”.

Dr. Jane Ogden, a professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, was more accepting. She said that while most people have “neophobia” (a fear of new foods that is designed by evolution to stop us from eating poison), some people could be overriding this because “the Tide Pods might look like other, more familiar foods to them, such as sweets, making them seem desirable (and safe). Perhaps there has been an increase in sweets which are coloured in more unnatural colours, (which have) normalised eating ‘not natural’ looking foods”. She also believes that as food preferences are learned, some people could be so embedded in social media that they are learning their preferences from their online peers.

Or, more likely, and as both Ogden and Ross believe, everyone is just doing it for A) a little joke, B) some attention, and C) to fit in. Ross said, “I believe that in our society there is such a need for attention and such an allure of fame that people even doing something stupid to get on YouTube or to get ‘likes’ on social media may seem worth it”. On why anyone would be dumb enough to eat poison for that validation, Ogden said, “The brain doesn’t fully mature until the mid-20s. The teen brain does not have maturation in areas of decision making, impulsivity, and making wise choices. So this fad could be a combination between the desire to be noticed on social media/have your 15 minutes of 'fame' or infamy, and the risk-taking common to adolescence due to the adolescent brain still not being mature”.

Ogden added, “social media does encourage a need for feedback and attention. These people might be excited by getting feedback from social media in the form of followers or likes, which is rewarding”. But Ross believes that “since Tide Pods are not food, nor do they have any attributes of food, I can’t say beyond this why they may be eating them. Food is attractive to us because of smell, taste, appearance. Tide Pods have none of these attractive characteristics.”

So there it is, really – for those that are actually eating Tide Pods and aren’t just joking about doing it, it's obviously not because they actually feel peckish for some really cleansing poison. They’re doing it because they’re really thirsty for retweets and likes and all that other good, addictive shit. And fair enough – there is so little to get excited about in January, go get your sweet dopamine from online validation if you want to. Just try not to endanger your life in the process.