There is nothing people on the internet love more than to bond over being collectively grossed out by bizarre food videos. (Remember the girl who made a milkshake in a toilet, or the guy who put a Big Mac in a blender? Or for that matter, basically any TikTok Jason DeRulo has ever made?) Recently, content creator Josh Scherer learned this firsthand, receiving death threats over a video he’d made about “Spokane-style pizza,” a concoction featuring canned salmon, strawberries, and fry sauce that went massively viral on Twitter after he initially posted it to his TikTok.
Made Spokane-style pizza and honestly it’s my new favorite. So good. pic.twitter.com/tdT8MqoFhx
— Mythical Chef Josh (@MythicalChef) April 6, 2022
Scherer is a YouTuber at the channel Mythical Kitchen, and on TikTok, he regularly posts parodies of food videos, such as a video called “Five SpongeBob Characters I Would Like to Eat and How I Would Cook Them,” and a “What I Eat in a Day” video in which he starts his morning with a bowl of Froot Loops in a giant wheel of parmigiano reggiano. So when he posted his video about Spokane-style pizza, featuring quips about how the Washington city invented the casserole (it did not) and how the “people of the Spokane area and the greater Coeur d’Alene region” obsess over the pizza’s “good-quality eastern Washington salmon” and “beautiful creamy fry sauce,” he assumed people would understand it was a joke.
“Our most successful series on TikTok is me talking about how I’d kill and eat beloved childhood cartoon characters,” Scherer tells co-hosts Brittany Spanos and Ej Dickson in the latest episode of Don’t Let This Flop, a podcast about internet culture. “So, no, this is just a big goof. We were just New Boot Goofin’. And it’s incredible to me that people really took it and ran with it as far as they did.”
Part of the inspiration behind the video, Scherer says, was the popularity of regional foods, specifically pizzas, on social media, many of which are of dubious origin. “There are so many of these small regional pizzas out there that the internet always seems to get worked up about,” he says. “Altoona style is the biggest one from Altoona, [Penn.], which just has a slice of American cheese draped across it. There’s Old Forge-style pizza [in Old Forge, Penn.] that’s double-crusted and occasionally stuffed with broccoli. There’s Colorado Mountain Pizza, which has a braided crust that you dip in honey so it can be a dessert. There are so many of these small, obscure regional pizzas that I was like, ‘Why not Spokane?'”
Few, however, got the joke, particularly when the video traveled to other social media platforms, losing the context of Scherer’s other content. On Twitter, for instance, it got 1.2 million views, with thousands of angry quote tweets expressing their disgust or accusing Scherer of making up the pizza for clout. “Spokane-style pizza” ended up with its own Wikipedia entry, to the chagrin of Spokane residents, who inundated Scherer’s mentions with angry replies about how he had just invented the dish for clout (which, of course, he had). He received nonstop abuse and death threats, including one from a man who, unbeknownst to him, had gone to high school with Scherer’s fiance.
“Food that people don’t like on the internet seems to be something that hits very close to home,” says Scherer, by way of explaining why and how the video got so much traction. “People have a lot of nostalgia locked up in that, their own identity locked up in it, and the responses are just so incredibly strong for everything, which is bizarre to me.”
The response is particularly strange, he says, considering that many regional dishes are, like Spokane-style pizza, made up whole cloth. “Someone said, ‘You can’t just make up a food and attach it to a region and say that it exists.’ Yes, the fuck you can,” says Scherer. “[It’s] like that old saying, ‘a cult plus time equals religion.’ Same thing with regional food. You can just make up foods, and they do exist in a sense.”
This week on Don’t Let This Flop, Spanos and Dickson talk to Scherer about what it’s like to make the most hated pizza on the internet. They also discuss Britney Spears’ pregnancy announcement, why Al Pacino is obsessed with Shrek, and the addictive pleasures of watching a Wilmington, Delaware high school musical theater director slowly reveal what next year’s musical will be.