This may be hard to believe, but there's an elusive corner of the internet where everyone is really, really, really nice to each other. No, it's not Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood Dot Com — it's the world of secret, invitation-only, food-centric Facebook groups. And we believe that they're some of the few places where the words "happy" and "internet" can coexist.
To back up this sweeping claim, we did some ethnographic research (read: joined three specific secret Facebook groups) to get a feel for each vibrantly unique community. After several weeks of observing how members of the Leaf Rakers Society, Kitchn's Meal Planning Club, and Instant Pot Community all interact in the privacy of their comfort zones, I can confidently say that I have found the internet equivalent of holding hands and singing Kumbaya. We're talking a deep passion for pumpkin spice that transcends the seasons, collaborative Instant Pot cheesecake adventures, and passionate fridge clean-out brainstorms. And if there ever was a time that we all needed that, it's now.
But first, what's a secret Facebook group?
There are three types of Facebook groups: public, closed, and secret. What makes them different are their privacy settings. As its name suggests, anyone can search for a public group and join or leave as they so choose. Closed groups are searchable, but require approval from an admin or an invitation by a current member before viewing any content within. Secret groups differ in only one way: You can't search for them. The key to entry is an invitation from a current member (whom you must first be friends with), followed by admin approval.
According to social media management platform Hootsuite, secret Facebook groups hit a sweet spot of engagement, a technical term for how often members meaningfully interact with the platform in the form of likes, comments, and shares. That's likely because secret Facebook groups are relatively "hidden from cyber trolls, spammers, and contrarians, and offer members a space for like-minded individuals to seek advice, share opinions, and organize." It's a way to build community and, as a result, "members are often more candid and more active," compared to the average FB user.
Let's talk about just how active, shall we? In the 11 years that I've had a Facebook, peer-to-peer usage has reached an all-time low in favor of different forms of social media. Aside from the occasional relatives' political post, elementary school acquaintances' engagement photo shoots, and targeted ads, my personal newsfeed is pretty sparse. But when it comes to all the secret Facebook groups that I'm a member of, the interactions are endless — and, dare I say, pleasant.
We're spilling the beans on the "secret" food-focused Facebook groups that make us happy.
Leaf Rakers Society: The Group That Has a Collective Obsession with Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Leaf Rakers Society — that's kind of the point of a secret group. The group was first created in June of 2018 and went by the name, "Summer Sweater Society." On July 25, the name changed to Leaf Rakers Society. No word on weather the group's secret identity will change yet again, come winter. It's a Starbucks fan page dedicated to all things fall (all year round) and the love runs deep. The group's 27,000+ members pay homage to more than just the PSL, though. Devotees share tips on how to hack the Starbucks secret menu, post pictures of over-the-top Halloween decorations, collectively rejoice when the weather calls for shirts with sleeves, and get into heated debates about spooky movie marathons.
I reached out to Tara Lea Roorda, one of the group's eight moderators, who got the gig when Starbucks tapped her as one of the earliest active members. She's like the fall version of Buddy the Elf — if Buddy ever got his hands on a PSL.
"I know that I can speak for everyone in the group here when I say that fall never ends for us! I think the page is overwhelmingly positive because we've all finally found people who share the same passion for the fall season."
For Tara, the group's mission transcends fall appreciation, though. "This community page is about bringing everyone together. It doesn't matter who you are — your name, age, story, or political affiliation — you're welcome in Leaf Rakers. We feel that we can be happy about Pumpkin Spice Lattes. We can be obsessed about the leaves changing color and the temperature dropping. It's okay to feel excited about apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and haunted houses coming alive. There's nothing 'basic' about it."
Perhaps the partial key to the overwhelming positivity of Leaf Rakers is the level of moderation that it takes to run it. Tara and seven other moderators carefully approve pending posts, steer the conversation towards the group's guidelines, and make sure that all product conversations circle back to the Starbucks brand. People aren't mean, because they can't be.
"As of right now, this secret Facebook group has roughly 27,200 members. On the average day, we have 30 to 100 posts per hour. That's why Starbucks has partnered with eight others to help run the page. On special days like National Coffee Day and the first official day of fall, the pending posts can triple per hour, so there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work that people don't realize."
Every single post gets hundreds if not thousands of likes and has the most spirited and supportive comment section you've ever seen on the world wide web. Kaitlin Flannery, Kitchn's Social Media Manager (who also happens to spend a lot of time on the internet), happens to agree. "I adore Starbucks' Leaf Rakers Society just because of how friendly and open the group is. Seeing people rally around something that makes them so happy is really a bright spot in my feed."
Instant Pot Community: The Group That Will Quite Possibly Convince You to Cook Everything in an IP
To earn membership in the IP Community group, I had to answer three questions about my level of interest in the gadget. I honestly admitted that I don't have one (yet!) and am curious to learn more from the passionate members. Oh, the things I have learned so far.
Members of this group have a very particular set of skills. Here's an example: Try to name one thing the Instant Pot can't cook. Then ask the Instant Pot Community if that's actually the case. IP devotees will show up (to gently prove you wrong), and provide not only recipe links and tips, but also words of encouragement.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could cook a turkey with stuffing and gravy in an hour," one member proudly announced — along with a photo of a full turkey shoved into a 6-quart DUO. Where there's a will, there's a way!
The devotion is sometimes borderline obsessive: "Help ... I have a serious addiction. I've been up since 3:30 a.m. and have already made cheesecake, egg bites, blueberry topping, strawberry topping, and boiled eggs. If I had another spring pan I would have made a chocolate cheesecake too. Update: And now I'm steaming veggies to roast for dinner."
In the comments below, a fellow member joked, "There must be a support group for that?" Why yes, yes there is.
The passion with which members of the IP Community help each other search for silicone accessories, swap cheesecake recipes, and share photos of spoons sticking out of freshly made yogurt is next-level aspirational. Being a member of this group makes me feel compelled to go out and buy a three-tiered roller cart in order to house every single size Instant Pot ever made. It's totally worth it — ask anyone in the group.
Meal Plan Club: The Group That Cheers You on All Week Long
If you're looking for a natural segue from fantasy meal planning to actually meal planning, this group is just the ticket. (Shameless plug, we have to take credit for this one!) Kitchn's Associate Food Editor Meghan Splawn suggested starting the Meal Plan Club back in January, and she is one of the group's main moderators, encouraging members to share what's on their weekly food agenda, and how they plan to get it all done.
"Crowd-sourcing solutions is my favorite thing. Whether I'm looking for tips as an editor, or other members are looking for advice, everyone jumps in with smart, thoughtful advice. We have a weekly thread where we share what's left over in our fridges or needs to be used up, and everyone shares recipes and ideas. It's a great way to make the most of our leftovers," she says.
Kaitlin agrees: "I love that you can ask for advice and get it, but also apply other people's questions to your own meal planning challenges. There's just so much sharing and positivity that I love seeing new posts pop up on my feed."
Here's What I Learned About Secret Food Facebook Groups
So, why are these people so happy, so nice, so pleasant? Because finding "your people" makes people happy.
If your friends IRL can't relate when you're questioning the proper ratio of syrup pumps to achieve a Cinderella Latte, or want to know what happens when you accidentally Natural Pressure Release an Instant Pot full of broccoli soup before company comes over, there's someone in a secret Facebook group who feels the same.
Just know that when regular social media sometimes can feel like you're shouting into the void about whatever you're passionate about, there's someone out there ready to shout right there with you.