Passing recipes down through the generations is a practice as old as time, but why leave your legacy on something as fragile as paper?
Enter “gravetok,” the subcommunity of TikTok devoted to graveyards, headstones, and tending to the epitaphs of the deceased. Whether they’re cleaning gravestones or testing out recipes left behind, these “taphophiles” (those interested and intrigued by cemeteries) are making the cold grip of death seem warmer than ever.
Cooking and Cryptkeeping
When you picture a gravestone, what does it look like? Maybe it lists the name and lifespan of the deceased. Maybe it has some religious iconography, like a cross or Star of David, etched into the stone. There might be a short phrase declaring how beloved and missed this person will be. And… that’s it, right?
Some stones, most frequently those of women and homemakers, add something special to their plots: a recipe. Most often a dessert or snack, people who were known for their cooking in life may choose to be known for their cooking in death as well. “It might spur people to talk about the good memories instead of the last memory,” claimed Jane Menster, whose parents’ gravestone shares the recipe for her mother’s Christmas cookies. Others believe that to share a recipe is to live on through that recipe, and someone will remember them every time they work dough the way their gravestone instructs. It certainly felt like I was being observed by Mrs. Naomi Miller-Dawson while attempting her recipe for spritz cookies, which both comforted and intimidated me.
Strength in Sweetness
Some of these recipes have even garnered international attention; Ida and Isaiah Kleinman’s burial plot in Israel contains Ida’s lovingly crafted nut roll recipe. “She had golden hands,” states Yossi, the eldest Kleinman son, “She was able to make every batch special.”
Also featured on the stone is an engraving of a harmonica, symbolic of Isaiah’s love of music. In life, he said that his harmonica gave him the strength to survive the Holocaust.
Of course, we can only love recipes that we make, and that’s what gravetok is for. It could be creators traveling to taste recipes at the burial site or amateurs trying to translate Ida’s nut rolls. Either way, TikTok ensures these chefs can nourish people even in death.
Of course, cooking is beautiful and important, but whipping up a batch of Kay’s Fudge doesn’t keep the plot tidy. Though there are sextons employed by the cemeteries, some have discovered a passion for cleaning graves on a volunteer basis. TikToker @manicpixiemom has been scrubbing gravestones and telling their stories for over two years to an audience of 2.7 million. Cleaning in a time-lapse, pulling weeds, and scrubbing moss, she provides as much information as possible about the deceased. “I’ve been really interested in history and cemeteries for as long as I can remember. It’s been a lifelong fascination,” states Manicpixiemom.
Originally a volunteer at Find-A-Grave, people asked her to clean their ancestor’s headstones, which marked the beginning of a longstanding passion.
Another prominent gravetok creator is @ladytaphos, also known as Alicia. Though she doesn’t focus as strongly on telling the stories as other creators, she shoots her videos in real-time, allowing viewers to hear the sounds of scraping, scrubbing, and rinsing. While this is, of course, done in service of the deceased, Alicia states that the dead gave her a life worth living. “I started doing this for my mental health,” said Alicia in response to queries about how she began this path. “I was going through a really hard time, and I found cleaning these stones to be incredibly peaceful.”
Demonetization and the Deceased
Since TikTok uses an algorithm to choose what to promote, users have been updating their language surrounding certain words. While I understand the concern about censorship, I’m also worried that in talking around difficult topics such as death and dying, we become further removed from them. Using the term “unalive” is understandable when avoiding demonetization, but authors are implementing it in real, published books, which is… odd. Censorship isn’t a concern when self-publishing, so why not just say “kill”? Though to say that it cheapens the idea is my opinion, I’m not the only one who holds it.
Of course, gravetok creators avoid using the words “death” and “deceased” due to similar concerns. That being said, simply talking about death in a straightforward manner is a big deal. Manicpixiemom uses the substitute phrase of “joined their relatives,” which treats the passing of these people with dignity and respect. Also, the directness with which she discusses death allows for her audience to grow more comfortable with it. This is a stance I, personally, find to be very healthy.
Gravetok shows us that dying does not mean you cease to exist. Someone will always take care of you, and you should totally put your favorite recipe on your tombstone. Someone 50 years from now is gonna love it.