Remember when you were a high school senior and everyone talked nonstop about college applications? I hated that. It drove me insane to have people ask me about test scores, application plans, future dreams. Instead of getting involved, I chose to give people the same answer, every single time they asked: I told people that I was looking for schools to pursue my dream career in food styling. Day after day my classmates asked me about college, and day after day I gave the same answer. Tongue in cheek, with a silly smile, but the same answer nonetheless.
Now, my answer might have been a joke, but I actually have a lot of respect for food stylists. I first read about the trade in some business magazine when I was in my early years of high school, and the idea stuck with me. Sometimes food styling just means arranging components in the most attractive of ways, e.g. putting cheese on a plate just so. But often it means injecting bread with special solutions to make it look fresher, adding fake water droplets to fruit, or even using completely artificial ingredients to “represent” a food like ice cream. It’s pretty incredible what food stylists can accomplish. It’s likely that every food commercial you see on TV owes some thanks to food stylists for making the food look so darn tasty. But it’s also sort of an unspoken thing that food goes through so much styling for advertisements and menu shoots. I mean, why would a restaurant want you to know that the beautiful food you see in ads isn’t 100% what you’ll get in their store?
Which is why it’s so incredibly interesting that McDonald’s of Canada recently released a video detailing how its hamburgers are styled for a photo shoot. Apparently, a customer asked the troubling question of why food in ads looks so different from what customers get in stores. Instead of providing some PR gobbeldy-gook (or evading the question altogether), McDonald’s decided to show the process a burger goes through to turn from ordinary to ad-worthy. The video walks us through the steps that a McDonald’s stylist takes, from strategically arranging ingredients to some final photo shopping. The video has become rather popular on the viral circuit (yes, that’s a circuit), and the company has gotten major kudos for its transparency.
I too applaud the transparency- it’s nice that McD’s didn’t try to pretend their ads show the food in its absolute natural state. But as consumers, would you rather see an accurate representation of what you’re going to get? Or would you rather see an idealized abstract of what you’re going to get?