“This is the reason for this journey into hyperreality, in search of instances where the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake” (Eco, p. 8, 1990).
The real food movement has been dubbed an “ideology” by nutritionist Gyorgy Scrinis, because of its fixation with how food is produced: whole or unprocessed foods are trusted yet there is a disdain for anything processed. Whilst the definition of what makes a food “real” is unclear, most sources favour traditional food habits (Scrinis, p. 20, 2013). Relating to other health-food favorites such as “whole,” “natural” or from the “earth,” the real food movement sees food as something which cannot be modern, manufactured and certainly not plastic.
By comparing real and plastic fruit in my piece, not only could I question what it means to be “real,” but I also compare how the real food movement rejects certain foods in a similar way to how society rejects plastic. The middle of the 20th century saw plastics technology bring exciting new possibilities, just like food technologies: food could be broken apart, and re-molded into new, unfamiliar products. However, just as plastic soon became a “depressing symptom of mainstream culture” (Belasco, p. 38, 2007), ‘plastic food’ became a term for dangerous and unhealthy foods.
My piece was inspired by the dichotomy between how fake or artificial foods and blamed for causing disease, whereas real and natural foods are healthy. Some advocates believe so strongly in the health benefits of real-food that they reject the modern nutricentic approach to food, only eating foods that our ancestors would have eaten. The blog Kath Eats Real Food rejects nutritional science on these grounds, claiming that ‘real food’ is “the only diet that has stood the test of time” (Younger, 2015).
Nutritional science has also been attacked by food marketers. In 2004, Kettle Chips launched a marketing campaign for their crisps, with the slogan “no science, no fiction, just real.” Science here is not related to the ingredients or production of the product. Instead, it is used as a metaphor for anything chemical, plastic or dangerous. Providing an additional reason for the attack on science, Ben Goldacre, author of the book and Guardian column Bad Science proposes that rejecting science can boost company profits, as they are able to market products as a “maverick alternative” without necessarily being healthy (Goldacre, 2004).
Why have real-foods stolen the limelight of food stardom? I’d certainly be interested to see what Kettle Chips could produce with a little “fiction.”
This led me to explore the idea of “fake” foods being superior, or more realistic than their real equivalent. Margarine for example was designed to replace butter: “considered better- more real- than the merely real and original product” (Scrinis, p. 23, 2013). However because it is unnatural and processed, margarine is forbidden in the health-food world. I was inspired by the work of Italian philosopher Umberto Eco. His book Travels in Hyperreality plays with the concept of reality, stating examples where replicating “real” life can produce something that seems more real than reality itself. For example Disneyland, Eco describes, is a “fantasy space more real than reality,” a place which can “give us more reality than nature can” (Eco, p.44, 1990).
Eco’s theory certainly offers an interesting perspective when looking at food: Is margarine the Disney-land alternative to butter? And might fake fruit look more real than the real fruit in a fruit shop?
To explore the concepts of fakery, reality and hyper-reality within food, I took a photograph of a range of fake fruits nestled amongst real fruit in a fruit shop, adding the label “real fruit” to the box. Whilst taking the photos, other customers in the shop were unaware of the fake fruit, and the shop owner couldn’t tell the difference between the real and fake items. The difficulty in distinguishing between the items shows how unclear these boundaries are. Therefore this photo challenges what real food means and why marketing is so interested in promoting real foods.
Belasco WJ. 2007. Appetite for change: How the Counterculture took on the Food Industry. New York: Pantheon Books.
Eco U. 1990. Travels in Hyperreality. Florida: Mariner Books.
Goldacre B. 2004. “The not so posh kettle chips.” The Guardian. URL:
Scrinis, G. 2008. “On the Ideology of Nutritionism.” Gastronomica: The Journal of food and culture 8(1):pp 39-48.
Scrinis, G. 2013. Nutritionism: The Science and Politics of Dietary Advice. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Younger K. 2013. “The synergy of real food.” Kath eats real food. URL:http://www.katheats.com/. Accessed June 2015.