The lure of fake food

Advertisers the world over use tricks while taking shots of food. In fact the pictures could well make us feel that there is something wrong with our culinary skills because however much we try, our home-cooked food doesn’t look as good.

The food stylists and photographers together use certain techniques to make food look appetizing. Everything from cotton, foam, cardboard, paper. glue, glycerin, oil, colours, glaze, hair-spray and substitute foods are used. And then there is always Photoshop.

For example, mashed potatoes are often used as a substitute for ice-cream and the syrup over it could be motor oil! Of course if a model is required to eat the stuff, only edible substitutes will be used. If an advertiser wants to use real ice-cream, at times dry ice is used to freeze the ice cream rock hard.

Glycerin/oil is used to put a shine on fruits, vegetables and meat. Glycerin is in fact commonly used on food to make it look wet, fresh and shiny. White glue can be used instead of milk in photographs of cereals, although many top cereal companies today have started to use thick cream instead.

Rotis which looked puffed up are often stuffed with cotton wool and the ‘steam’ is rarely steam, but plain simple smoke. Cigarette smoke blown gently through a straw or at times chemicals (in the form of pellets) that give off smoke are used to imitate steam.

Ice cubes are usually made of acrylic. Fizz can also be created artificially by adding chemicals.

A blowtorch works well for melting butter or creating grill marks on meat, although photographers have used brown shoe polish to create a browning effect!

So is all this is legal you might ask? Well, in the U.S it isn’t. In most countries, including India, it’s legal. Consumers however can always protest against misleading or false advertising. But it is very difficult to prove that doctored photographs are misleading. Advertisers can always claim that they are showing the food as it actually looks. As Dennis Davis, a well-known commercial photographer based in the US says: Within 1-3 minutes after putting a beautiful plate on a table to shoot, whip cream runs, wet food dries, fried food becomes greasy, ice cream melts, and steaming food doesn’t.

Therefore advertisers feel justified in using substitutes. The company can always say that this is what the food looks like at it’s freshest and best.

It isn’t really that difficult to use actual food…as Davis explains in his article, one can place all the props in advance, use a stand-in dish until all the lighting is done and bring in the real thing at the last minute. Also, digital photography has made shooting food easier (it’s quicker) although many photographers feel that digital photographs do not give the best effect.

All in all it’s best to be wary when one sees mouth-watering dishes in photographs, whether in an advertisement or in a cookery book. The truth is that they aren’t real and if you feel that are far removed from the real thing…complain!

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