Fruits and dishes look always good in movies. Thanks to home economists, the backstage stylists of food.
For anyone who’s ever watched shows like Desperate Housewives or movies like Julie & Julia, the question must have crossed your mind: who prepared the food and when? And was it just sitting around between takes, waiting for the camera to pan over it in a shot or two?
Well, the truth of the matter is entirely different and anything but casual. Like the troupes of workers whose job is to oversee hair, makeup and wardrobe, there's an entire team of food stylists whose sole job is to make the food you see on camera look as good as it (supposedly) tastes.
A home economist is the figure in charge of taking care of the featured foods’ appearance, like a spaghetti make-up artist or a hamburger hairdresser. The first thing to understand about the styling of food in movies and television, are the two different approaches and concepts.
The more “natural” way requires that the food is preserved as much as possible, allowing it to be eaten by the actors during the filming of a scene. Whether a single carrot stick or an elaborate Christmas dinner, this natural approach ensures that whatever “part” the food plays in the scene, it should always be edible.
This is the exact opposite of the other, “artificial” way of presenting food on-screen. Consider television shows like Brothers & Sisters or Pushing Daisies: every cake, every meatloaf, every supreme serving of French cuisine is always a masterpiece to behold. And “beholding” is usually where the edible masterpiece stops: the truth is, most of what is dished out is not only “enhanced” but fake – often completely inedible.
Food may be frosted with hairspray, melted and put together with glue, painted with tempera, often raw and without any doubt unsuitable for human consumption – even poisonous, like Snow White’s fatally red apple. The only purpose this food serves is to look good – eye-candy if you will. And the actors in these scenes better learn to fake-eat with a certain skill, because taking a bite out whatever’s in front of them could be a career-ending move.