October 2023

Instagram’s Tommy Swan Is The Only Food Reviewer Not Buying Food

How @tommyjswan Is Revolutionizing Wholesome Food Review Content One Finger Heart At A Time

Tommy J Swan also known as tommyjswan from Instagram.
Tommy J Swan in Walmart from an Instagram Reel.
(Source: Instagram / @tommyjswan)

My favorite food reviewer on Instagram is a guy named Tommy Swan (@tommyjswan) and my favorite thing about him is that he doesn’t review food. He just walks into Walmart and picks up things.

What’s The Current Landscape Food Review Content?

Placed in the top percentile of brain-dead content, food reviewers hold a strong lead. The various thresholds that a person’s worldview and personality need to pass through to make that final “I’ll just review food in my car” decision is already evident in the objectively strange and simple-minded people who’ve already gone viral for it. I’m talking Reviewbrah, Daym Drops, JoeysWorldTour, BenDeen, and most recently Luke Foods.

All of these men (I don’t know why it’s always men) have roughly followed the same format which, overall, is dry and rundown due to oversaturation, seemingly aided by the YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok algorithms. I guess Wendy’s being eaten in a car with a GoPro is an easy visual for social media algorithms to recognize. These algorithms understand that humans have one lowest common denominator – food –  so, why not recommend it to every human at least once a day (preferably before lunchtime)?

To use the word that everyone loves, these food reviewers are autistic. When people use this word to describe content creators, it’s a reductive way of describing one’s simple-minded yet productive tunnel vision. Although some might actually be autistic, not every food reviewer is. Instead, they’re just people who’ve discovered a widely accessible medium of content creation, memorized the uncomplicated “secret formula,” and added their own “secret ingredient” which is usually just a quirky intro or outro.

Right now, the pace at which food reviewing is being revolutionized and reshaped is a slow evolution. How much more inventive can one get? It’s the same reason why cooking videos are so stale. TikTok chefs can only slap down so many meats onto a cutting board before the viewer understands and expects the visual shtick.

Off of the top of my head, the only new food reviewer doing something objectively different is a guy named Joe is Hungry but (again) it’s only groundbreaking because of his wacky intro where he spins the hilariously unappetizing Whopper he’s received on a lazy Susan.

GIF of Joe is Hungry from TikTok spinning a Whopper.
GIF of Joe is Hungry from TikTok spinning a Whopper.
(Source: TikTok / @joeishungry)

Who Is Tommy Swan On Instagram?

So, I guess, in the realm of food review content, I’m not a consumer. I don’t sit down and watch it. Even at the peak of Reviewbrah’s success, I didn’t really care that he was wholesome or whatever. I found him interesting as a case study – as an internet phenomenon – but, further than that? Nothing made me actually subscribe to the guy.

The only food reviewer that I’m subscribed to is a guy named Tommy J. Swan on Instagram. My favorite thing about him is that he doesn’t even review food. In his usually 20-second-long Reels, he picks up a random item at Walmart, says, “Wow, guys, would you try this?” and then proceeds with his goofy, wholesome outro where he makes a two-finger heart.

In his first video to reach over a million views, which was uploaded back in June, its top comment with over 25,000 likes said, “Had to do the outro for the 6 second video.” Another top comment wondered if he was real, reading, “If this is ironic this is brilliant.”

Tommy Swan’s “Deez Nuts” Instagram Reel.
(Source: Instagram / @tommyjswan)

From what I can gather, there’s nothing ironic about Tommy’s content. Every day, he walks into Walmart with his dad. He picks up an item. He laughs at it. He wonders if anyone would try it. Then, he doesn’t try it. He puts it back down.

In a very “old internet” way of thinking, Tommy is a “Person of Walmart.” His hair swoops over his face like no other. His size large t-shirts are cut into tank tops, revealing almost all of his midsection but, mostly, his ribs. His jeans look stripped from an Aeropostale mannequin. They’re so tight and elastic that they might as well be joggers. His “skinny, white boy” vibes give off “Christian, camp counselor” who, in his free time, tries to do kickflips on his backyard trampoline. 

Tommy’s aesthetic embodies a type of middle-American person that is totally alien to me. He’s so deeply a 2010s goofball that he gives off 2000s vibes. He’s like a throwback that feels modern, as if Anthony from Smosh was cloned and it didn’t turn out great.

He’s evolving the way that I view people which – in all truth – is the reason why I go on social media at all. Sleuthing on Instagram is like advanced people-watching. Every day, there’s the potential of exposure to a new type of person that I’d never even considered. In a very unserious moment in this piece, Tommy’s revolutionizing people.

The same could be said for Reviewbrah and many other “food review” influencers. With Reviewbrah, he’s another case study on peak people-watching, in that, like Tommy, for his time, Reviewbrah occupied a phenotypical niche that was familiar yet slightly off. His suits and mousy demeanor were mindblowing (in that, they exposed people to a new type of person) yet recognizable and homely. Tommy J. Swan is similarly pushing the boundaries of who we consider is alive – who are the people that are a part of our society?

Reviewbrah and Tommy Swan.
Reviewbrah (side left) and Tommy Swan (side right).
(Source: Medium / The Immaculate Appeal of Reviewbrah / Instagram / @tommyjswan)

What Are Tommy Swan’s Food Reviews?

Outside of his physiognomy, Tommy’s also revolutionizing “food review” content. Similarly to how he occupies a phenotype that’s slightly off from the “normie” norm, his “review” videos (if you could even call them that) don’t review food at all. They read like “food review” content, as in, the video’s intro, framing, and Tommy’s diction allude to a further food review taking place, however, there’s one key difference; he doesn’t eat anything. He doesn’t even buy anything. He just stands in the store, picks up the item, and says, “This is crazy!”

Thinking backward, Tommy has deconstructed the initial epiphany that (I imagine) most food reviewers experience before they start their content journey. What I mean is, that I believe that every food reviewer has an “Aha!” moment that happens when they’re eating food one day and they think something along the lines of, “I like food. I should film this and make content about it!”

For Tommy, his “Aha!” moment seemingly did not happen when he was eating. Instead, it happened at the grocery store. He was probably walking around, probably not even shopping, probably just doing that classic, suburban pastime of going to a big store and hanging out in the aisles, just biding time during the day by looking at shelves packed with products that catch your eye, like something shiny in a river… I imagine that Tommy thought, “I could film this. I wonder if anybody has tried this item.”

This moment that I imagine happening in Tommy’s head is something that I can relate to way more than the average, food reviewer’s “when eating food in my car” epiphany.

Tommy Swan’s “Pumpkin Eggnog” Instagram Reel.
(Source: Instagram / @tommyjswan)

Personally, I love grocery stores. It’s an innate fascination of mine. It always has been. Whenever my mom was going to the grocery store, I always wanted to go with her. I liked (and still like) the people, the products, the brand names, the sounds… even the layout of the building. I like it when you go to the bakery section and there are words like “Fresh” and “Bread” written in big letters on the wall and it’s always barn-themed for some reason. I like touching things and picking them up. I also like reading the descriptions on hot sauce bottles, wondering if they’re good or not. They’re always too expensive to buy and try. In reality, I want to know who else has tried it. Would they recommend it? In Tommy, I see someone alien but also someone familiar.

Others seem to agree because he’s quickly grown a following of over 16,000 on Instagram. Thinking rationally, though, probably most of the people who are reacting to his content are coming from the Explore feed. The Reels algorithm sometimes boosts him, exposing new users to his brazenly bare content that’s anti-climactic in the most meta way possible, as in, it subverts the expectation of a formal review by opting out of even purchasing the item.

With this, even though his content’s meaning is nonexistent, Tommy gets a pass, mainly because he’s so wholesome. By ending every video with the now iconic finger heart, Tommy can produce the bare minimum and still foster a community by asking them to engage in the comments and get personal with him. Plus, the smile on his face helps a lot.

Photo of Tommy Swan on Instagram from the account tommyjswan.
Mirror selfie taken by Tommy Swan.
(Source: Instagram / @tommyjswan)

Tommy’s face isn’t necessarily “punchable.” It’s actually not punchable at all. In a weird way, though, “punchable” is a great way to describe his friendly aura. Just take all of the anger out of the adjective’s definition because there’s nothing to be angry at Tommy for. He’s not trying to prove anything. He’s not trying to be something that he’s not. He’s literally just going to the grocery store and vibing.

The man’s both someone to laugh at and someone to envy. Judging by his content alone, he seems at peace with the world. I truly believe that if he keeps posting videos in this style he’ll be the Governor of Indiana in five years’ time.

For food reviewers, it seems like the running throughline between them is wholesomeness. Maybe the way to truly subvert the genre going forward is to be super mean instead. For Tommy, though, he doesn’t have to do that to convey an avant-garde turn in the “review” medium. If he did, he might seem like he’s trying too hard. Alternatively, it doesn’t seem like he’s trying at all. That’s probably the best compliment and best criticism one could bestow on him.

I’ll be reaching out to Tommy Swan for comment [Updated: 10/23/23].
For now, you can follow Tommy Swan on Instagram here.