You know those people who feel an unassailable need to post pictures of their breakfast/lunch/dinner (and on weekends, brunch) on Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat? Apparently there are sometimes deeper reasons for this. And yeah, we don’t really get it either.
But the funny thing is, at least half of the time, the meal doesn’t look all that appetizing. And that’s a liberal estimate.
There’s a sound reason for this. Food isn’t photogenic.
So What Makes Food Look So Appetizing in Advertisements?
Some foods are more camera ready than others - like a shiny apple or a perfectly browned baguette. These are the culinary supermodels. Like the top human supermodels, they need only be young and have minimal work done before they’re ready to work it and make love to the camera.
But most foods are far more camera shy. And they age must faster than their human counterparts - especially when exposed to the bright lights of producing a television ad.
Certain Tools and Tricks (and Additives) of the Trade Must Be Applied
Truth is, if you were served that good-looking advertising food, you’d be immediately returning it. And dashing out a strongly-worded review on Yelp - if that’s your thing.
Because here’s what would show up on your plate:
1. Mashed Potatoes
Doesn’t sound too bad, right? They’re the ultimate comfort food. Until they’re playing the role of stunt food, that is.
The minute they’re loaded into a syringe, they become distinctly less comforting. But they sure do plump up a roast or a turkey when injected into it. Stir in a little Red Dye #569 and you’ve got a reasonable facsimile of strawberry ice cream that won’t melt under the hot lights. Dig in.
2. Cotton Balls, Sponges and Tampons
Sometimes food needs to look hot. (The hot that implies actual heat.) How do advertisers convey this? With steam coming off the food. And what’s the best way achieve this effect?
By soaking cotton balls, sponges or tampons in water, microwaving them until they’re steaming, and then hiding them near the food, of course. Consider that next time you’re having a steaming bowl of soup.
3. Glue and Glycerin
Got milk? Not while producing a commercial you don’t. But you’ve got plenty of glue. Because it’s the perfect stand-in for milk and won’t make your cereal soggy. Nor will it make it taste good.
Glycerin, on the other hand, makes fruits and vegetables look shiny and freshly touched with morning dew while imparting a sweet flavor.
Though they get a little sticky.
4. Hairspray and Spray-On Deodorant
For food that looks better with a matte finish - because nobody wants a shiny cookie - hairspray or spray-on deodorant is the go to. Nothing says lovin’ from the oven like aerosol.
5. Fabric Protector and Motor Oil
Ever been lured by the ad with the stack of pancakes getting drenched with maple syrup? Of course you have. Those pancakes are real deal.
But before logic gets the best of you and you’re blindlydriving to the nearest IHOP, it might help to remember that those real pancakes are coated with a layer of aerosol fabric protector. That’s so the maple syrup won’t soak through. Oh, and the maple syrup? Motor oil.
6. Shoe Polish or Varnish
That steak in the ad looks perfect. Seared just right and branded with grill marks in all the right places. Don’t worry. Those steps are actually done with a blow torch and then branding iron. All would be good if the madness ended there.
But the reality is, adding a little heat makes that slab of red meat a little brown. So to infuse that succulent hue of red once again, it’s rubbed with shoe polish or varnish - rather than a delicious blend of garlic and herbs.
There Are Other Ways to Make Foods Look Appetizing in Advertising
For example, paper towels can be helpful in keeping sauces in place - sauces not actually made of food ingredients, that is. Or tweezers (and someone with too much time and patience) are employed to arrange the sesame seeds on a hamburger bun in just the perfect order. And toothpicks are used to prop up foods. That’s just to name a few.
So the next time the serial food poster in your life wants to showcase some soggy Rice Krispies or a pastrami sandwich on Facebook, recommend some glue and shoe polish. They’ll be so glad you did!
(They won’t really. But you might.)