Your grandmother would probably shake her head if she happened across such a scene: an individual recording themselves with a cell phone next to the graves of their loved ones. We’re a long way from the times in which the mere mention of a cemetery was enough to cause goosebumps. Gone too are the days of those teen horror movies in which the cemetery next door to the high school was the culprit for mass nightmares. There is no more forbidden territory for the chronically online.
The hashtag #gravetok garners millions of views on TikTok. Beneath its umbrella, one finds all kinds of content: tombstone repair and cleaning, personal and familial tales regarding the departed in question or even cooking from beyond the grave. The latter can be credited to Rosie Grant, whose posts went viral when she started sharing the recipes of gastronomic enthusiasts who are no longer with us. She began when she was interning at a cemetery in Washington D.C. “I had just gotten started on TikTok and had to pick a topic to post about, so I chose #gravetok and was talking about how we remember people. I talked about different graves through what I was learning about the funeral industry. That’s how I discovered the grave of Naomi Odessa Miller Dawson, a woman buried in Brooklyn. She had a recipe for spritz cookies on her tombstone and it piqued my curiosity. I tried it and posted it to my TikTok. Then I discovered that she wasn’t the only one who had left a recipe on her tombstone. People started to get in touch with me, sending photos of the graves of their family members that had recipes on them,” she says.
Posting about such a serious and delicate subject might seem questionable to some. “Interest in cemeteries and death is universal and timeless. They’ve always been exorcized and milked by mediums of cultural production, which at times exoticizes them, sometimes as a vehicle with which to discuss problems, threats or anxieties, or many times as merely eerie scenery,” explains Albert Lloreta, founder of Bonobo Films and a digital culture analyst. “In the digital creator industry, which is centered on converting the human experience into items of interest for entertainment platforms, death and cemeteries have a similar value. Gravetok is nothing more than the successful hybrid of satisfying cleaning videos with the emotional and nostalgic environment of cemeteries.”
As such, one might ask oneself if Gravetok serves as a way of dealing with trauma. “I really appreciate the willingness of people to share stories about loved ones they’ve lost, and how they reconnect with their memory through food. Maybe they make their mother or father’s favorite recipe on the anniversary of their death or on their birthday, and that recipe helps to keep their memory alive,” says Grant.
For Lloreta, diverse factors are not mutually exclusive. “It’s frivolous because their real motivation is questionable, but at the same time it has undeniable creative value. Putting emphasis on that dichotomy between honesty and resulting views, which is to say, success in social media (which in the end is all about playing a game, like TikTok), is the most interesting way to understand and navigate the cultural phenomena of the creative digital industry.”
Perhaps now you’ll want to think about your own definitive recipe, the one that you could carve into stone for posterity. Rosie Grant knows what hers is: “My recipe for linguini with clams, one of my favorites to serve at dinner, and the instructions are easy enough to fit on an inscription.”
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition