On Sunday, I sat down in front of my phone at 7 p.m. and watched Samin Nosrat eat #thebiglasagna off a beautiful speckled ceramic plate and answer questions from the over 4,000 people watching her on the @nytcooking Instagram page. The dinner party was the result of a weeklong campaign to get as many people in America to make an enormous lasagna from scratch and then eat it at the same time as Nosrat, who is one of the most charming and effervescent personalities on television.
For a lot of people, this was not a tough sell. But I considered whether or not I wanted to spend most of a very nice Sunday making bechamel and attempting homemade lasagna noodles without a pasta machine. At the grocery store, I wrote down the ingredients for the lasagna but went off-piste immediately, picking out a real melange of items, but none of it for the lasagna. Various people I follow on Instagram were sharing their #thebiglasagna journeys, most of which looked very labor-intensive. It was a beautiful day outside. I was confident in my decision to abstain.
Tuning into Nosrat’s big Sunday social dinner on Instagram Live was a test that I gave myself to figure out if I really hated these sorts of social interactions as much as I thought. “Hanging out” with other people has, in recent weeks, become nothing more than a poor facsimile of their previous iterations. Zoom and Google Hangouts get the job done if the job is pretending you are in the same room as your loved ones, but both feel best for meetings and nothing else. House Party, an app that attempts to dress up the fact that its users are speaking to a screen and not the actual faces of the people they care about, is the only suitable tool for socially distanced interaction with groups of people, because something about the technology comes close enough to replicate the feeling of talking in a room instead of at a screen. Perhaps it is pointless to rail against these methods of communication—right now, they are all we have. But if we are to derive any pleasure at all from this miserable shared experience, it should be spent complaining about things that we are incapable of changing, drinking some water, and moving on with our day.
That attitude has gotten me through most of life’s slings and arrows since before the pandemic, but it is difficult to be this much of a bitch now, so I have attempted to get on board with this new way of social interaction with varying results. I will gladly answer a FaceTime at any time of the day, but I need at least 10 to 15 minutes in order to mentally prepare for a Zoom. Interactions with friends and loved ones have become easier as the days pass, especially because I am merely so grateful to see someone else’s face that any lingering bad attitude about the nature of our communication disappears once the hang has commenced.
Broad social interactions with strangers via any of these mediums, though, still don’t feel quite right. Recently, Instagram Live has become a minefield of live stories, a glut of content from yet another source. Entering a Live by mistake and finding that you are one of only three people there is hell; current etiquette suggests that it is okay to immediately exit and not feel one iota of guilt. The Live format includes a scrolling nightmare of a text feed at the bottom, a rushing river of questions, comments, and concerns, and that is perhaps the worst part about it. Otherwise it is frictionless, an experience that could be a suitable temporary replacement for in-person interaction, if only it were not streamed to everyone who follows you on Instagram.
I’ve attempted a yoga class via Instagram Live, and found it difficult to follow along or to feel any sort of actual connection. A ballet class taught by a former Glossier employee live-streamed directly to my phone was a little bit better, but still not quite the same as being there in person. Unlike Zoom, Google Hangouts, or a surprise FaceTime from a friend, both the intimacy and the immediacy of a live-stream are perfect for celebrities and influencers. We’re all bored at home, and so live-streaming that boredom is an equalizer: famous people really are just like us, as they gladly show us as often as they can, in an attempt to stave off inertia and maintain relevancy.
Enter the dastardly minds behind the New York Times’s attempt at virality, and #thebiglasagna. Nosrat is one of the most charming and effervescent personalities in food media today and one of the few people whose personality I could feasibly tolerate in this rubric. In an essay published April 27, Nosrat wrote that though the realities of social-distancing are hard to get used to, especially when it comes to communication, there are ways to get around it.
So I wonder, what would it be like if we threw out all of our expectations and showed up to be together, however flawed our cooking, however messy our kitchens, however rusty our skills?
What if we all come together, light the candles, use the good china, for a meal of good food, good wine and wonderful company, in the only way we can right now?
The #thebiglasagna was a possible solution to this conundrum, urging its participants to make the aforementioned big lasagna from scratch and then eat said lasagna “together” with a bunch of strangers—the easiest way for celebrities, influencers, and randos to forge an intimate connection with their fans.
Instagram Live usage has apparently increased by 70 percent over the month of April, because people generally do not like being alone. The human impulse to share our daily activities virtually in the absence of physical interaction lends itself perfectly to the medium, to middling results. Personally, the only Instagram Lives I ever find myself watching are beauty tutorials from Katie Jane Hughes and Harriet Hatfield, the two makeup artists whose posts and Live videos I consume with relish. Otherwise, Instagram Lives are slapdash and messy or otherwise boring. No one really wants to hang out with anyone like that, but maybe if I could just get over myself and try to lean into something a little corny with Samin Nosrat, someone whom I find charming, then maybe it would work out.
By 7, when I turned on Nosrat’s live-stream, I had already finished my dinner because I like to eat when the sun is still high in the sky, but was enjoying a single Swiss Miss butterscotch pudding cup, watching Nosrat answer questions from her kitchen table. I considered the query I had set out to answer—whether or not this sort of thing would be improved if it was hosted by someone whose public personality I liked—and found that the answer didn’t really matter. Anything that could possibly serve as a pleasant distraction from other, outside forces is a win in my book. I didn’t feel like I was there at all, but it was nice to spend time with someone other than myself.