Food Fashionistas

McDonald’s breakfast burrito: ad vs. reality.

Looking for a new career? Love fast food? Food styling is a fabulous option!

Food stylists – not to be confused with false advertisers – inject, primp, plump, puff, mist, sparkle, and gussy up tired buns and stale shrivelings to look delicious, colorful and appealing. You can thank Elmer’s glue for those crispy bran flakes preening proudly in glistening “milk” (as pictured on the box). Cocoa is often made extra frothy by way of detergent (wonderful, but is it phosphate-free?). Gels, glazes, styrofoam, paint, and plenty of tweezers for all those pesky stray sesame seeds – well, these tools are all in a day’s work for a food stylist. Food styling is both deceptive and legal, so give McDonald’s a call now!

Many of the articles covering this exciting career are careful to inform you that what you see advertised may not be an accurate depiction of what you’ll get on the tray! Oh, come now. Has anyone ever ponied up to the counter, ordered a Big Mac, and expected anything more than a haphazard, forlorn stack of beige, peach, and dun? What’s more surprising to me is that Americans know packaged, processed, and fast food rarely, if ever, lives up to the depiction..and yet it still flies off the shelves and out from the heat lamps.

Further Reading:

What Does 4,000 Calories a Day Look Like?

Fried Lattes, Finally!

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TAGS:  Hype

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18 thoughts on “Food Fashionistas”

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  1. It is just like a professional Cake Decorator, but with more options.

    Nothing wrong with adding flair to a salad, is there? Creatively carve your radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes(quite the challenge).

    As a guy, I just wash, cut if necessary, and put them in the bowl.

    Others may want to experiment. Some young kids, and older ones for that matter, play with their food. Perhaps they are the next Picasso or, most likely, Dali in this new field of Food Stylist.

    Lastly, in comparison to Hair Styling, the subject of the endeavor will not bleed, unless it is Raw Food, but that is for the subject two down!

  2. Oxybeles has a good point.

    There’s definitely a spectrum to what’s going on. The fish sandwich honestly doesn’t look that different. Just a fluffier bun and better lighting, which is expected in any professional photo. We don’t take family pictures of Dad in his boxers with a beer, mom with an oversized snoopy sweater, and two kids covered in sandbox dirt and magic marker.

    The Wendy’s chicken sandwich on the other hand is a pretty far stretch.

  3. What about the teenage employees in the ads? Happy, enthusiastic, thin, polite, and ready to serve. “Welcome to McDonalds, how may I help you”? Now, that’s a stretch…

  4. Did you really waste your time writing about this? More importantly, did any of us really expect to improve our lives in any way by reading it?

    What’s my point? Knowing that false advertising in food exists is the same as knowing that smoking causes cancer. We all know the assertions of how great it looks are untrue.

    I was a food photographer for many years. Its true that there are a lot of tricks used to make food (if you call McDonald’s food) look better. But many of your assertions are untrue. I have never met a food stylist, nor have I ever personally used Elmer’s glue for Milk. Its a myth! I would have hoped that you would check your facts better. Its true that there are plenty of things done to concoct foods so they are more stable and able to withstand the heat of hot studio lights. But much of what we see is for real. It may be enhanced in some way, its definitely picked over, and with all the handling, I wouldn’t want to eat it. But in most cases (we have laws about truth in advertising in the US) it is what it looks to be. Sure fake ice cream is used, but never to sell Haagen Daas or Ben and Jerry’s. Do you really think Unilever’s legal department wants that lawsuit? And we all know the lawyers always get the last say.

    I love reading your articles, but now I have to wonder what other facts have been conveniently overlooked. I’m all for truth in advertising. And I know few people who rant about lack of corporate accountability more than I do. Proactive and well-informed suits you much better. Reactive is so…republican.

  5. Wasn’t a waste of time at all. Highly entertaining and made me laugh because it’s true. Go back and look at the arbys cheddar melt. He he he. Is that fit for a commercial?

  6. Hi, Josh,

    I didn’t waste my time writing this – I happen to care about it and find it interesting, though I make no promises or guarantees that everyone who reads my words will feel the same or have their lives changed. Namely because that’s just not possible, much as I might wish I were the perfect blogger to suit everyone’s needs in advance of knowing them or their preferences. As for glue and detergent, while that wasn’t information included in the linked articles, I distinctly remember reading that some years back in a print magazine. Unfortunately I couldn’t locate that particular article, but the links are to reputable sources. I’m sorry you felt I wasted your time, but I can’t please everyone. I’m not sure how this post makes me a republican, but I guess you know better than I do! 😉 Thanks for sharing your personal experiences with photography and advertising. Always good to get more viewpoints.

  7. It’s really not surprising that something photographed by a professional photographer looks much better than the same thing photographed by an amateur with a consumer grade camera. That’s why people hire pros for their weddings rather than just taking some random shots with a cheap digital camera.

    These photos are hardly “deceptive”. Much of the difference in appearance can be explained by the better colors and focus in the professional pictures. All of the food components are there in both cases in reasonably the same proportions. No one is going to be confused by the fact that these sandwiches might end up a little squashed after being made in 2 minutes and shoved in a bag.

  8. You don’t know what deceptive food packaging and advertising is until you’ve spent time in China.

  9. Josh you know you should really at least go and do simple Google search before you criticize someone who researches for a living. It might in the future save you from looking silly, but to each their own. Your own personal experiences aside, there are pages of results from practicing Food Stylist and Photographers about methods used to present food -and yes GLUE is mentioned many times, as is motor oil for syrup, and the use of many other non-food products, all in the pursuit of making food look appealing.

    As for your truth in advertising reference, you may want to go check out the FTC’s web site and read the regulations, but nowhere do the regulations specify what maybe used to enhance the appearance of a product. The only requirement is, that if it is an advertisement for a specific product, then that product must be used, but it doesn’t limit what other items are used in conjunction with it, or how it is prepared, and if it not an advertisement all bets are off – there is no regulation for menu boards, cookbooks and the like.

    And personally I, like Crystal, liked this article — it made me laugh, and the next time I see that oh so perfect food pic I won’t need to wonder how they got it look so good. So no, Sara did not “waste” her time as you so pedantically phrased it. I think she did exactly what she set out to do — enlighten and entertain.

    Some of my favorites from some of the MANY articles from Photographers and Food Stylists on tricks of the trade…

    “You know what happens to breakfast cereal when it sits in milk — soggy cereal’s not a good look. How to fix it? PVA glue does a much better job than milk. The flakes stay put and stay crisp.”

    “That juicy turkey? Raw on the inside, blow-torched and painted on the outside.”

    “If you want a perfect drip of sauce glistening on the side of your dessert, use a small piece of soft wax shaped like a drop and put it in place, then coat the drop with sauce for a perfect mid-drip shot.”

    “A thin painted-on coat of glycerin makes seafood look juicy. And tossing some liquid glucose through noodles makes them keep a hot, fresh look.”

    “The perfectly shaped chicken leg can be achieved by injecting mashed potato under the skin and coating. “

  10. Sara,

    I think it would be great if you were a Republican, I wouldn’t feel so lonely, or so out numbered, on the Board. 😉

    Just remember that a Healthy Lifestyle has no political preference. It is truly for Everyman or Everywomen to be PC!

  11. B – thanks for the great additions and quotes! I owe ya! 😉

    Oxy – Libertarian all the way baby! (Wait, I just let the cat out of the bag…) 😉

    Sonagi – I think we’d all be interested in hearing more about that!

  12. Brian,

    Someone who researches for a living knows, or should know, that links to uncited internet articles or google searches aren’t going to stand up as credible fact. You can’t use hearsay as evidence in a court of law, and you certainly can’t use it in any sort of scientific endeavor. Sara should carefully consider things she presents as fact but can’t cite or verify before publishing, such as the glue/detergent examples in the above article.

    Having said that, this is a blog, and it should be assumed that blogs are unsubstantiated opinions at worst and ‘infotainment’ at best. In my opinions the line between opinion and fact is one that is blurred often in the tone of the articles here, but the subjects presented are compelling enough that they make me want to go out and do my own investigation. That, rather than the credibility of what’s presented, makes me continue to come back and read.

  13. Chris, I didn’t realize this was a court of law or scientific endeavor, and if it were I might agree, but as you also say it’s a blog and an opinion, and I for one don’t have a problem following links to get to the original source article, or reading multiple source to make up my own mind on something. But hey that’s what makes the internet fun, right? You can read, consume, research and decide for yourself, because even “facts” from documented “sources” are only as good as their representation — hmm… NY Times … or better yet… OJ Simpson trial — “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit…”, maybe “facts” aren’t always as factual as one might hope. Just a thought.

    Bradford — very cool video.

  14. Who knew fast food could be so controversial 😉

    Mark’s got a great video coming up, gang…and this one’s on gas station food!

  15. Yes, good video Bradford. I thought Dove was into the natural look.

    Oxybeles-Why do you feel alone? Did we take a poll when I wasn’t looking?