Hot, Bubbling, Gelatinous Chunks: The Hypnotic Appeal of “Tallowtok”

The art of turning animal fat into... that

Close-up shots of beef tallow in the process of rendering.
Image: @mirendarosenberg/TikTok // Icon: Jack Koloskus
Giulia Alvarez-Katz
Net Positive

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It can happen to you one day: You’ll be scrolling on the increasingly well-tailored For You page on Tiktok, and suddenly you’re watching pale, vaguely gelatinous chunks of something bubbling in a slow cooker, gurgling up at you. You feel as if you might fall in. And whether you realize it or not, you do.

This is “Tallowtok,” a slice of TikTok that is all about the art of turning animal fat into tallow. Tallow suffers from bad PR. It’s the kind of animal product — a castoff of ruminants like cattle and sheep — you might have heard of, but have probably never seen or tried, let alone used. It feels like a thing of the past, a reminder of needier, less abundant times. Spend enough time on Tallowtok, though, and you’ll learn that it’s not so bad. It’s versatile, simple to prepare, and, frankly, kind of amazing to look at. There’s something fascinating about watching big hunks of meat transform into pale white tallow cakes, which can be used for cooking, skincare, and even weatherproofing. Maybe, I found myself thinking the more I watched these videos, tallow deserves a redemption arc.

The de facto thought leader of Tallowtok is Mirenda Rosenberg, an American singer who lives in Ireland and leads one of those sustainable cottagecore lifestyles that city slickers have feverish dreams about. She composts and grows her own vegetables. Rosenberg, whose bio includes the moniker “Lady Tallow,” calls tallow “one of the weapons in [her] arsenal towards sustainability and self-sufficiency”; her page is peppered with videos that go beyond tallow, into life’s bigger questions. Her narration is gentle, encouraging, almost maternal. Before watching her videos, the thought of making tallow had never occurred to me, in the same way I didn’t think I could start composting or growing my own food. Yet, listening to Mirenda, watching her careful hands break apart tallow cakes over and over again, soaking in this education of both mind and soul, I began to believe in a different life for myself. (This is a dispatch from my new yard, in which I plan to compost and grow herbs.)

But I found myself fully drawn into the community via the comments section, where Tallowtok regulars and newbies congregate. There, Rosenberg’s acolytes supplement her careful lessons with explanations about basic tallow making for novitiates. Every question — even sillier ones like “is this cheese or soap?” and “is tallow like Vaseline?” — gets answered. Devotees talk about how Tallowtok helps their panic attacks subside, how they watch a dozen videos in a row to relax. Sometimes it sounds like a sort of religious ecstasy. Cult-like, even, in the hands of more malevolent forces.

Frankly, I get it. Even though Tallowtok found its way to me through the cold black mirror of an iPhone, the calm it produces is an earthy, organic-feeling sort of calm. Watching these videos, I get the same soothing feeling as when I make ceramics or forage for wild plants. Week by week, I have gotten better at predicting how many renders it will take to finish processing a new batch of tallow, at admiring its form and utility. It is so easy to get sucked into Tallowtok — and once you’re in, you’ll never be able to tear yourself away from it.

Giulia Alvarez-Katz is a freelance food writer and artist based in Queens. She writes a newsletter on Substack about culture, gastronomy, and life.