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S7 E6 –Is it ok for brands, chefs and bloggers to ‘fake’ food style?

From perfect burger adverts, to insta influencers. From mashed potato ‘ice-cream’, to painted steaks. The topic up for debate this week surrounds the ethics of ‘fake’ food styling and artificially enhancing the appearance of food in order to sell more. Barry, James and Jamie take apart this argument and attempt to gain a ‘clearer picture’

Best soundbite: “Aaaand now you’ve created your dish please THROW IT IN THE AIR” – Barry Taylor

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  1. ThomasEdwards

    I like James point where you have to be able to eat it afterwards and Ithants where I stand now.

  2. Joanhotson

    I think one of the bigger forms of irresponsibility comes in the form of food blogs or recipe channels faking food because the idea is that this food being presented to me should be something I can then make myself if I follow the recipe. Obviously skill is involved, but if I’m trying to make a meal that I don’t know has been faked in the photo and I inevitably fail, I’m going to end up disappointed and over time, possibly lose my interest in trying new recipes because I’ll think well, I just can’t do it. It won’t turn out right. I won’t have confidence to try these interesting recipes. There’s a psychological cost to those Insta-worthy or fad food blog photos creating an impossible ideal.

    With food advertising in restaurants and businesses, I always assume there’s some level of chicanery involved, so it’s less impactful. I think most people are naturally suspicious of advertising these days. But with food blogs there’s always the idea of commonality and connection – yes, I’m not going to cook as well as a Michelin star chef but hey, maybe I can cook what Jane Doe has on her popular blog.

    I have to give a lot of credit to your team for making Instagram stories teaching how to plate food to make it visually appealing. It’s undoubtedly a lot of work to present food for a cookbook or to grab people’s attention, but there is a lot of value in sharing some of the steps involved, and making average cooks feel like they can at least attempt something similar.

    Great podcast, thank you!

  3. vsotardi

    I think Barry made a valid point early in the conversation but it got lost in the other topics: food trickery is designed to create the ideal experience. It’s certainly an underpinning of marketing. Use imagery to spark a desire, a need, an impulse. It’s particularly used to help people envision themselves in that “special” situation. Extending that view, I would add that an important piece of that argument is about the the cost of the food product and target consumer.

    Fast food companies aren’t going to faff around with trying to get billionaires to go into a Macca’s. This sort of touches on the point made about paying double to make a burger look like how it was advertised. In an extreme situation, if a person with unlimited expendable money sees that kobe-beef burger on a gold-leaf brioche displayed on the glossy pages of fancy magazine, then you know the consumer is going to expect (and demand) what they pay for.

    I’m a lecturer of learning/motivation psychology. Here’s my initial thinking around this podcast:
    (1) If people expect an expensive food product to look similar to how it is advertised and their outcomes don’t meet (or exceed) those expectations, then the disappointment and cost would motivate them to fight for a better product.
    (2) If people expect an inexpensive food product to look similar to how it is advertised and their outcomes don’t meet those expectations, then they may not have risked much (financially) and would be more likely to accept the inferior product and less likely to fight for a better product.
    (3) If people expect an inexpensive food product to look different from how it is advertised and their outcomes confirm those expectations, then their expectations were met and would be unlikely to feel disappointed or fight for a better product.

    Food for thought? Cheers, Valerie

  4. Anita

    I agree that it all comes down to what the photo/video claims to be. If it’s photography for the sake of art, I don’t mind pretenders, I even think it’s awesome if you can trick my brain and make glue look like cheese and make nasty chemicals pour like maple syrup on a pile of play-doh pancakes.
    If it’s just food photography not wanting to sell anything, I’m okay with some props, pads, pins in burgers, tampons I cannot see, maybe also with certain edible things pretending to be something else in the photo. However, I did feel a little misled once when I found out that a perfectly scooped ball of ice cream I was looking at was a mixture of canned frosting and powdered sugar… I would love to learn how to take lovely food photos, and these masterpieces set my expectations too high (well, that’s my problem… 😀 ). My goal would be to take pics of the food I would eat afterward, and I don’t want to be sitting there spitting out t-pins (or worse, throwing out that burger and make the bear sampling our garbage every other night choke on those pins) or putting a big spoonful of shortening into my mouth by accident 😀
    When it comes to marketing (ads, menu illustrations, and even blog posts that “sell” recipes to the reader), I guess I want the food I get to look as similar to its photo as possible. I know it can be tough and sometimes you do need props to compensate for that lost dimension. But if possible, please don’t paint half-cooked chicken with molasses to make it look deliciously roasted and plump at the same time and give me a piece of a dry and sad little bird when I order it. I get it, they want to show the best possible face of that dish (and it doesn’t have to look perfect to look delicious), but if they do it without backing it up with the actual thing I get, I am disappointed… at first, of course. Then, the flavor and other aspects of the food experience can make up for that initial disappointment. But still…

  5. SammiJMB

    My first job was in Burger King – as you can imagine, part of the problem with why the end product looks nothing like the photos is because of the production method. Take for example the Whopper; you have a frozen meat patty and a pre-sliced burger bun, which get put into a ‘broiler’ that reminded me very much of the old 80s children’s animation show ‘Bertha’ (showing my age here a little…). The patty goes along a conveyor being flame-grilled, while the bun is on a similar conveyor underneath getting toasted. As long as the timing has been set correctly, they come out the other end at the same time, correctly cooked. They then get collected together into a sandwich and put in a steamer drawer to keep warm until they’re needed. When it’s time to assemble them, they get separated again and the heel (or bottom of the bun) and the meat are topped with slices of processed cheese – and freeze-dried crispy bacon if required – then popped in the microwave so the cheese melts and the bacon warms through. While this is happening, the crown (or top of the bun) is covered in sauce, and topped with the lettuce, tomato and pickled gherkins that you’d expect to be sitting pre-sliced at the production station in their plastic tubs for hopefully not long enough to wilt (though frequently has in the case of the lettuce…). It’s then all combined into the final product, wrapped in paper and placed in the ‘chute’ behind the front counter to wait for someone to buy them. So by the time you unwrap it to eat, the bun may have been in the steamer long enough to lose some of the crispiness from the toasting process, the cheese may be under or over-cooked in the microwave, and it may have been wrapped too tightly in the paper and the whole sandwich is a bit squashed.

    It is very much a ‘you get what you pay for’ and there’s no way you’re going to get what you see in the adverts – particularly when the poor souls at the production stations have to get a whole bunch of them prepared in seconds during the lunchtime rush…. Personally, I would recommend being quite content if you order a burger from them and the kitchen calls back to the person serving you something like “Cooking time on that order!”, ’cause that means they’re having to make it fresh for you. If they were able to prepare each one to go direct to the customer rather than make them up ahead of time, it’s very likely they wouldn’t look nearly so pathetic. I still base my home-made burgers on the techniques I learned during my stint there.

  6. Powerfulweak

    When you guys were discussing food styling and industries and try to make their products seem better, you missed the most egregious offender- hotels and hotel rooms. If you ever look up a hotel online, everything from the room size to the amenities is always beefed up to look like you’re staying at at least a star or more above where you normally stay.

    I think it’s incredibly difficult to make food look delicious without styling and a little bit of trickery, because just looking at the food on a screen or in a magazine is taking away two other essential senses in taste and smell. Trying to fully appreciate a dish without those isn’t the full experience, but stylization can heighten the the one sense and give the overall sense of what it might taste or smell like.

    • Anita

      The hotel analogy is an interesting one. Hotels do tend to pimp up their room photos to make the accommodation more appealing, most of us have experienced that. But I also noticed – I’m working at a hotel now – that if you take a picture of an entire room, for instance, the photo instantly makes the room look cleaner than it actually is. It must be the size difference. It makes it much easier to present hotel rooms in 2D in a nice way, unlike in the case of food, it’s an added bonus that room photos don’t smell 😀

    • Sorted

      Hotels are a great point! But suppose everyone now knows to be wary of booking a hotel, so it’s industry standard to check reviews and other people’s experiences before you book. Is instagram a bit like that in the food world? People should vet that a restaurant is actually a delicious experience before booking and spending money?

      • Anita

        While planning our trips, I do like to check restaurant reviews (Yelp, though, not Insta) in advance to narrow down the overwhelming number of choices of the destination and to have a few options for when spontaneity on the spot fails us. However, I’m much more comfortable with relying on strangers’ reviews when it comes to accommodation. Food is just too subjective, isn’t it? Luckily – while you normally opt for 1 hotel/airbnb – you can play around with your food choices multiple times a day when you travel 🙂

  7. Annie1962

    No edit in this method of posting – I meant to say that it’s known that MacDonald’s and the big companies hire photographers and cosmeticians for want of a better word to literally use tricks to enhance food photography – there’s a video on it link here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MflT0I7ZPCs

  8. Annie1962

    James ; not your shirts, it’s the lighting because when you moved, the colour stayed in the same spot – thus the lighting.

    I think it should be law that WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get. The ad or picture at say Maccas tells you ‘this is the burger’ – and when you get the burger – it looks NOTHING like what is depicted. It’s known that people are hired to do help add cosmetic enhancements in order to make the burger look awesome. It’s wrong.

    I was going to make a car analogy but Baz beat me to it.

    Here’s an analogy.. it’s the Wish product.. a dress shown on Wish website is NOT going to look anything like the actual dress that arrives on your doorstep.

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