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Culture

Last week, a 22-year-old Brooklynite got fed up and sarcastically invited friends to an unusual Facebook event: a food festival that doesn’t really exist. Titled “Claim to Be Going to a Food Festival that You Will Never Attend,” the occasion is slated to take place in Times Square on the evening of October 6—but of course it won’t, because it’s not actually real. The whole thing is an Onion-like satire created by Daniel Lutsker, a Hunter College graduate who’s tired of watching food-aspirational friends’ lack of follow-through.  People he knows “constantly click ‘Going’ or ‘Interested’ on food festival events that [he] knew they had no plans to attend,” Lutsker tells AM New York. “This event was a funny, passive-aggressive way of confronting them about it.”

Is it surprising that the fake food festival has become a smash success? At the time of publishing, 10,000 people have said they’re “going.” More than 21,000 have signaled that they’re “interested.” The whole thing has become a running gag about how, on social media, our actions fall far short of our intentions.

“I went last year it was awesome! Don’t miss!” one commenter wrote.

Another would-be attendee simply screenshotted his calendar: On October 6th, he’s triple-booked for the fake food festival, an all-day flight to from Oakland to Baltimore, and The California Avocado Festival, an apparently real food festival he’d RSVPed to but would clearly not attend.

Meanwhile, Lutsker has updated the event when a video titled “opening act for this event”: footage of a harried parent peeling a banana while a child screams woefully in the background.

Clearly, the post has hit a nerve, a knowing satire about the familiar dissonance between our digital identities and who we really are. But it’s interesting—and probably revealing—that Lutsker singles out food events as the thing his friends are least likely to come through on. He’s probably onto something. Food seems especially to have the power to create the kinds of fantasy lives we pretend to live online. We all want to have a good food life, to be the kind of person who eats well—whatever we might take that to mean—who takes the time to revel in the pleasures of eating. “What is man,” Orwell once wrote, “but a bag to put food in?”—but no one wants to be a mere receptacle, and online we try to dispel the uncomfortable truth that we all must eat for sustenance. It’s a way of saying: For me, food is more than that. For me, food is an adventure, a delight, a connection to something deeper.

Which brings us back to that gap between action and intention. Because, even though we want to pretend that we exercise our aesthetic and ethic faculties through food, the fact remains that often isn’t true. There’s a wide range of scientific research devoted to the so-called “intention-action gap,” the gulf between our desire to behave a certain way and the way we actually behave—and most research suggests that we have difficulty living by our words. A 2010 study in The Journal of Business Ethics used focus groups to look specifically at the motivations for why people don’t follow through on verbal promises. Surprisingly, one factor was found to be even stronger than the twin disincentives of cost and convenience: inertia, the sheer force of habit. Once we get used to certain patterns of behavior, it’s hard to break free from them. Even if we want to be the kind of person who’s always at cool food festivals, it’s actually pretty hard to convince ourselves to go.

So I’ll see you on October 6th, right? Great. It’s been too long.

Joe Fassler bio

Joe Fassler

Joe Fassler is New Food Economy's senior editor. His food safety and public health reporting has been a finalist for the James Beard Foundation Award in Journalism. Follow him @joefassler.