Cottage Cheese, WaterTok, And Other 2023 Food Trends That This TikToker Says Are Red Flags That We're In A Recession

    "If that doesn't signify an impending recession, I don't know what could."

    Whether you're aware of it or not, the economy influences trends in everything — from the movies that get made to the fashions that show up in stores.

    Take, for example, the escapist comedies of the 1930s that were made to lighten people's spirits during the Great Depression, or the current recession-core fashion moment on TikTok.

    What we eat can also change during tough economic times — whether due to how we're feeling about our financial prospects or down to what we're able to afford.

    Think: this Great Depression-era chocolate cake recipe or my 2008 Great Recession peanut butter sandwich era.

    Well, recently, 50-year-old Nisa Ahmad has been stirring up a lot of conversation on TikTok with a series of videos pointing out how current trends in food are giving off major recession vibes, and I think it's really fascinating.

    Nisa smiling

    In a video that's been viewed 1.4 million times, Nisa shared how as she saw 2020's decadent charcuterie boards give way to 2022's butter board trend, she started to ponder what these popular foods said about the economy. "Things started getting a little rough around the butter board, because the butter board was a step down... But we have now stepped down from, like, a $40 situation to, like, a solid $4 situation with some accoutrements. It's not quite giving poverty, but it's definitely poverty-adjacent."

    charcuterie board with an array of meats cheeses fruits nuts olives and herbs

    However, Nisa realized she had to sound the alarm when she saw that the latest food trend on TikTok is apparently just ice cubes with flowers in them. She said, "When I knew that we were down bad as a people, as a population, as a gang, and as a crew was when we got into designer ice cubes. This is water. We have gone from butter to water... So if that didn't signify an impending recession, I don't know what could."

    ice cube tray

    Watch the whole video here:

    @prettyrabid / Via

    And in the comments, people were quick to point out other food trends with big recession energy, citing everything from foraging and growing vegetables to cottage cheese and ramen. One commenter wrote, "Tinned fish date nights really showed me how downhill we're going."

    a TikTok comment

    Another commenter chimed in, "I was thinking about how the hot vegetable right now is cabbage. That's povertyyy."

    a TikTok comment

    And people seem to generally agree with Nisa's premise that these cheaper food trends point toward economic hardship. One commenter wrote, "Honestly, I'm gonna start looking up Great Depression recipes so I can just fully acclimate."

    a TikTok comment

    Nisa told me that she was shocked by all the conversation around her videos. "I seemed to have touched a nerve. People started talking about how they were trying to save money on food, and how their food habits had changed. It was fascinating. People brought other food trends to my attention; I took deeper dives and realized that the food landscape on social media was really a microcosm reflection of what was happening on a larger scale."

    And she pinpointed a couple of trends that really sparked debate. "Tinned fish and WaterTok (the flavored water trend) seemed to be the most polarizing, and charcuterie and crab boils seemed to be the two trends that brought back memories of good times. Overall, it seems like people want food to be fun and don’t want to feel poor when eating, but with inflation and everything else that’s going on, people seem to be leaning into recession core foods these days more than ever."

    @prettyrabid / Via

    There's one recession core food trend that Nisa just can't get on board with. "My least favorite recession core food is probably tinned fish, but mostly because I hate the way in which it’s being marketed as some luxury food when it’s just fish in olive oil to go with crackers. I’ve eaten my fair share of smoked oysters with hot sauce and crackers, but not once did I ever feel luxurious eating it."

    But she says another trend has captured her heart (and tastebuds). "My favorite recession core food is probably birria ramen because it’s the perfect fusion food. I love that Instant Ramen is having a moment right now because Instant Ramen has always been there for us when we needed to stretch our money. Combining birria, which is a Mexican dish, with Asian noodles, is something I feel could only be born in California, and I love it!"

    @prettyrabid / Via

    Finally, Nisa says, "Although people like to argue with me about whether or not we are in a recession or whether or not the economy is declining, when I narrow the focus and talk about it through food, a lot of people seem to agree with me. I’m not an economist by any means, but I am an observant person, and this is what I see. Also, as a middle-aged woman, it’s been pretty interesting to see my social commentary so well received because I honestly thought TikTok was only for younger people."

    Follow Nisa on TikTok.

    What do you think about these recession-core food trends? Tell me all about it in the comments.