The bizarre laundry pod eating trend explained

We would like to tell you that none of the people talking about eating Tide Pods are serious, but some of them are.

Of all the strange things the internet throws up and obsesses over, this one may take the cake. The meme of the month is the "forbidden snack" - objects that are not food but because of their look and feel, are strangely appetising. Soap, wishing stones, bath bombs and worryingly, laundry pods.

The fad of talking about wanting to eat these things may be a semi-ironic joke, but the expression of interest in wanting to eat these things is still partially sincere. The message of the social posts about these objects is something along the lines of "I really want to eat this thing but I know it is not edible and I won't" - with the "I won't" part of that often obscure or altogether absent.

A meme depicting marbles, a bath bomb, a slinky and laundry pods as a dinner.
A meme depicting marbles, a bath bomb, a slinky and laundry pods as a dinner.

The disturbing side of this fad is that some of the things people are tempted to eat are life threatening. One particular brand of laundry pod, the Tide Pod, (which is thankfully not available in New Zealand) stands out as the favourite of the meme makers.

One astute Tumblr user answered the question everyone is asking - why do people want to eat these things?

As Tumblr user kitswulf explains, your brain is programmed to identify the nutritional value of fruit by its look, feel and smell.

The pods (and many of the other objects being called "forbidden snacks") give your brain all the sensory signals that it is full of nutrients. The fact that it is shiny tells you it has good fats, its colour tells you that it is the kind of berry that you can eat, and it even smells sweet like food. It is heavier than water but still squishy, telling your brain that it is full of fat or sugar.

So while it may seem like a dangerous and arbitrary joke, there is reason behind the madness of wanting to eat these brightly coloured things. Residual animal instincts are the reason people are being tempted by non-food items - but even so, those instincts are misleading and in cases like that of laundry pods, those instincts are telling people to eat something poisonous.

Unfortunately, poisonous laundry pods' temptation extends beyond the meme and laundry pods' resemblance to fruit has proven fatal for two children and six cognitively impaired adults over the last 5 years in the US. Consumer Reports, along with several other safety advocates have called for the pods to be redesigned as they look too much like lollies or fruit.

The packaging of laundry pods already involves child locks in most instances, but James Dickerson, Ph.D, chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports urges that "family members caring for anyone who is cognitively impaired [should] not keep pods in the home."

He also reccomended that "manufacturers should modify the appearance of laundry packets, so they do not look like candy."

Thankfully, New Zealand has far less laundry pods on the market - leaving far less room for disaster. However, the worrying prospect that there are poisons and non-edible items being presented as lollies remains - the answer seems obvious - stop making poisons look like lollies.

Scroll down to see examples of the "forbidden snack" meme

Video by Melissa Tapper.