If you often find yourself working on your night cheese, you’re not the only one. Researchers using sophisticated modeling programs to analyze global internet searches concluded that worldwide, people’s food searches peak at 7 p.m. and 2 a.m.
This paper from the Royal Society For Open Science details the researchers’ methods: They used software programs to evaluate patterns in generic food searches like “pizza delivery” and “Chinese delivery” as well as culturally specific food searches like Just Eat (a U.K./Australian food app) and Zomato (an Indian website similar to Yelp) across five years of data. The results: Everyone searches for food at 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. Even when the researchers controlled for the variables you’d expect—college towns, high percentages of young
stoners people—the 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. spikes still held up.
The scientists posit the patterns are “not culturally dependent and instead are biologically motivated.”
That might not sound like a big deal, but what the scientists hypothesize is that we don’t get hungry at 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. because that’s when society has programmed us to expect meals, but rather that there’s something in human biology that triggers food cravings at those times. The study’s authors note that Google Trends data has previously been able to predict outbreaks of influenza (probably when I’m Googling “bulk Kleenex” and “why does my face feel like a brick”). They ask whether these spikes in food-seeking couldn’t also be pointing to a biologically based event that’s expressing itself as a late-night pad Thai craving.
They call for further investigation into whether the model of internet-search analysis could be used to track other types of biological rhythms and human motivations. I’m kind of afraid to know what they’d make of this Takeout writer’s search history, which today includes: Smithfield ham, beer tallboys, snuggle chickens salmonella, and carrot soup.