What Would a TikTok Ban Mean for the Food World?

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A version of this post originally appeared in the March 17, 2024 edition of Weekend Extra, a place for the freshest news from the food world. Subscribe now.


The House passed legislation on Wednesday, March 13, that could lead to a ban on TikTok in the United States if the app’s owner, the Chinese company ByteDance, doesn’t sell its stake in the app. On Tuesday, April 23, the Senate followed suit, and on Wednesday, April 24, President Biden signed the bill into law. Now, ByteDance must divest from the app within a year. It is “the most serious threat yet to the video-streaming app’s future in the U.S.,” according to NPR.

American legislators have argued that the app is a national security threat since, as the AP explains, “ByteDance is beholden to the Chinese government, which could demand access to the data of TikTok’s consumers in the U.S. any time it wants.” (This kind of tracking has precedent.)

A TikTok ban — should it go into effect — would have huge ramifications for the food world, given that TikTok has surpassed Instagram and traditional food publications as the way to launch a food career today. Because of its algorithm, the app offers budding food creators the possibility of “explosive growth” and has, as a result, reshaped the landscape of food stardom, the cookbook world, and even the grocery store. The hashtag #FoodTok accounts for at least 2.6 million posts, and the app has become the de facto way many people encounter new recipes. What would a ban mean for the food world?

It’s not the first time this question has come up. In May 2023, the state of Montana passed legislation banning TikTok in the state, though it was blocked by a federal judge in November who cited that it violated free speech. At the time of the bill’s passing, Montana-based food creator Spencre McGowan, known on TikTok for her cottagecore cooking videos, told NBC News that the app provided her with essential income, thanks to brand sponsorships on her social content. Food creators told Bon Appétit that because of TikTok’s faster growth compared to other platforms, their earning potential on the app is higher. The app has become a “lifeline,” one creator told NPR on the heels of the current national legislation.

Beyond finances, however, Bon Appétit’s Sam Stone noted that any potential TikTok ban would especially harm new and budding cooks, recipe developers, and food creators as the app, despite its problems and annoyances, has “already helped remove many of the gatekeeping and other hurdles that amateur chefs may face taking a more traditional path in the food world.” Essentially, creators who have pre-established followings on other platforms or have the backing of traditional media or publishing would be slightly insulated from the loss of the short-form video platform by virtue of their other avenues for recipe and content distribution.

Of course, restaurants, however begrudgingly, also rely on TikTok more and more for business. The app has proven to be a hugely powerful marketing tool with a sense of populism, which is especially compelling for restaurants who might not have the resources for a flashy PR firm. There’s a general sense that TikTok can save a struggling restaurant from going under — and it has. When restaurants are desperate to stay in business, the app can be the one thing keeping the lights on. The app has also revitalized interest in older restaurants: Despite having been open for five years, New York City’s Golden Diner, for example, has recently seen a huge surge of new customers, leading to hours-long waits.

If there’s any immediate takeaway for food creators and other food businesses that rely on TikTok, it’s this: Relying on any single app for your livelihood is a risky choice, especially when all of them are subject to huge forces outside their control. Diversification is the name of the game.

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