One Thing I Like About Tasting History

Good things can happen when people on the internet make an effort

I’ve gotten to be a fan of the YouTube channel Tasting History with Max Miller, which manages to hit the sweet spot that combines interesting, funny, and accessible.

The idea is pretty simple: Max Miller chooses a dish from some point in history, attempts to prepare (or recreate) the recipe, gives some historical or cultural context for the dish, then eats it. One thing that I love about the series is that there’s one thing Miller never says: “I don’t know how to pronounce that.”

Instead, if Miller encounters a term or a name in a foreign language, he’ll find an expert or a native speaker, learn the correct or preferred pronunciation, practice the correct pronunciation, and include only that in the video.

What impresses me the most is when he tackles episodes that deal with languages that can be difficult for Westerners, like Chinese. In this episode about nian gao, he’s careful to get the pronunciation correct, including the changes in tone, for all of the names. It’s often clear that he recorded it until he got it right, then edited that recording into the episode to make absolutely certain it was right, being careful to hide the edits and make it seem as natural as possible.

That kind of dedication would be pretty impressive for any show, I think, but is unheard of when it comes to a YouTube channel. Miller keeps the tone light, casual, and funny, but it’s also clear that he’s committed to getting the details right and showing respect to the cultures he’s talking about.

I haven’t had live TV in several years, so I watch a lot of YouTube1Years ago, I signed up for the ad-free version of YouTube, and I couldn’t do without it at this point.. Obviously, there is a ton of obnoxious behavior on YouTube, but something that’s disappointingly common, even among people I like otherwise, is the tendency to straddle the line between “casual” and “professional.”

They’ll make casual, chatty videos that say stuff like “Now, you guys know me,” and then complain about parasocial relationships. Or do insincere calls for engagement that mimic having a conversation with people in the audience, but with no intention of ever actually engaging with the audience. And to be clear, the problem isn’t that somebody with 1000 subscribers isn’t actually friends with each of them — the problem is that false sense of friendly familiarity.

But the most common is to simultaneously insist that yes, this is too a real job, actually, and not just some hobby, because I am a professional video content creator, and also that they’re not under any obligation to know stuff or get details right. “Research” for a disappointing number of people means “glancing at the Wikipedia or IMDB page.”

And it’s extremely common to hear “I’m not even going to try to pronounce that.” Maybe it’s well-intentioned, as if a mis-pronunciation would be somehow even more offensive than not bothering to say it at all. But it all builds up over time to give the impression that a lot of people are making a good bit of money off of YouTube (and Patreon) without making much effort.

So I appreciate Max Miller making the effort. It sounds crass to say, but it’s true: a handsome and charismatic guy with millions of followers could probably get away with doing a lot less. Instead, he acknowledges that he’s neither a historian nor a chef, but instead of making excuses, he just takes the time and effort to get the details as close to correct as he’s able.

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    Years ago, I signed up for the ad-free version of YouTube, and I couldn’t do without it at this point.

One thought on “One Thing I Like About Tasting History”

  1. That’s why I’m a fan of Tasting History too. And he’s funny and keeps it lighter. Max published a cookbook this year too.

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