People brought together by spicy butternut squash pasta – there’s something moving in these sparks of digital community

On a recipe for spicy butternut squash pasta with spinach, posted by the New York Times in October of last year, a commenter did not mince their words. “This recipe turned out horribly,” they wrote. “The timing was incorrect and the spice quantities questionable. Honestly why throw jalapeno rounds on top of red pepper flakes (and I like spice) without rounding it out with other flavors? Wish I had gone curry… but with that profile the cheese flavors don’t mix and you’d have to sub in something more appropriate. The result, compound by two competing Presidential town halls, has basically sprained my marriage.”

As I scrolled idly through the recipe comments, wondering what to do with an impulse-purchased butternut squash, that final sentence stopped me in my tracks. The recipe’s flavours, according to this commenter, had not only been wrong, but had apparently contributed to a “sprained marriage”. This figuration of a relationship –not broken, but bent badly out of joint – was strangely charming. It was also poignant: one wondered, after all, what had gone on with the duelling presidential town halls? Was the marriage able to recover from the squash-bake-gate? It was a compelling story, one without an ending, just a fragment of someone else’s life that was caught in the mix of a complaint about flavours.

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