Don’t Eat It: The Peculiar Profession of Food Styling

By Gigi L.

We’ve all seen it. Don’t lie to me. That banquet scene in Harry Potter. It’s so mesmerizing, so mouth-watering that you just want to crawl through the screen and shove that glorious turkey in your mouth. Except… you probably shouldn’t take a bite. All that delicious, delectable, lucious, enticing, pungent food is fake. “What? No way!” Yep. There is a whole profession dedicated to creating fake food for movies and swindling hungry viewers. Meet the evil crusher of all your dreams, the food stylist.

A scene from the 2009 film, Julie & Julia

You are probably wondering why your beloved Harry Potter would do such a thing. Well, the answer is simple. Filmmaking is a long process. It can take days to shoot one 2-minute scene. Directors and cinematographers definitely cannot afford to have food melting on the job. Fake food lasts a lot longer and can stand the heat of those big studio lights. It is also a lot less wasteful and less expensive to just buy a feast made out of plastic. Food stylists have a very important job. As a reporter from Insider said, “They’re the movies’ biggest problem solvers you never think about.”

So, what does it take to be a food stylist? Turns out, it is a lot of work. The head chef at Fake Food Factory, Lisa Friedman, did a video interview with Insider in 2018. She walked us through the excruciating process of creating fake food for movie clients. Typically, the production company will place the order and then send Lisa a real version of the food they want created. For instance, the Harry Potter crew would have sent Lisa a real turkey for her to use as a model when making their deliciously deceptive fake dinner. After that, Lisa makes a mold of the item to get the size and shape right. Most of the time, fake food is made of rubber or foam. She pours the material into the mold to set. After the pieces come out, she sands down the excess. Once the pieces dry, they are painted and decorated to look like real food. There are not really any rules or regulations for making fake food, so artists have to get creative with materials. Brenda Chapman, food stylist and owner of Just Dough It!, told Insider, “You just kind of have to look at things a little differently, and think, okay it’s not made for this but it does look like this. We use a lot of Styrofoams, a lot of stuff from the local hardware store, you know, caulking, and drywall patching, and sheet rock mud.” For example, to replicate granola and ground beef, Lisa Friedman uses crushed corkboard. 

Fake food is popular in the movie business, but sometimes, real food is used. Production companies will try to use real food whenever they can, so artists can cover real cereal, popcorn, or candy in special resin to preserve it. This method might be more convenient for studios due to time-sensitive projects.

Fake donuts created by Brenda Chapman for The Muppets, 2011

Food styling may not be a well known profession, but it certainly plays a key role in keeping movie studios up and running to produce your favorite films. But if you’re ever on set and you see that delicious, fat, juicy turkey, whatever you do, DON’T EAT IT.