Packaging, Photography, and Presentation

Stevan - Cereal Knowledge

Childhood Obesity News has been exploring the art and science of food porn (or foodporn), including the ways in which food is visually enhanced, sometimes for the purpose of advertising, and sometimes just because. An entire enormous genre of photography is focused on the depiction of food.

Photoshop and its brethren may have made the real profession of food photography into a lost art. Back in the day, the artistes would fiddle around for hours, adjusting the lights and coating the food with glycerine. They got up to all kinds of tricks to achieve a tactile, tasty look.

Who needs that kind of craftsmanship, when we have computers? An online mentor known as “Heather” offers “7 Tips for Aspiring Food Pornographers”:

Try both portrait and landscape mode when shooting. It can create a different feel to the finished photo. If you are wanting to submit to one of the foodporn sites, you will need to crop the photo to a square format so it’s a good idea to keep this in mind from the beginning. Above all, remember that food pornography is best shared. Don’t just sit there drooling over the computer screen, bake those cookies and enjoy them with someone special!

Is all this a bit sick? Or is it normal and healthy? Is food porn nothing more than a modern extension of such venerable traditions as the pickle contest at the state fair? And what about those foodporn sites? It seems there are several of them, and pictures of food is what they are full of — tens of thousands of pictures of food. No disrespect to farmers, restaurants, or Moms, but is the obsession with food indicative of some all-pervasive societal pathology?

Australia never ceases to astonish. Some government agency did the research to find out the most visually repulsive color, which happens to be olive green. Why did they want to know? Because (unless it is successfully challenged by whatever process the country uses for reversing unpopular legislation) a law will take effect soon, requiring all brands of cigarettes to be sold in olive-green packages. They must also look identical in every other way, with only two lines of text — to identify the brand, and prominent health warnings.

Come December, the playing field will be level, packaging-wise. Kayla Holman explains:

The plain packaging initiative has one goal, to lower the number of tobacco-related deaths throughout the country. Apparently the Australian government believes that this can be done by grossing people out. Or in more proper terms; they aim to use unattractive packaging to dissuade people (particularly youngsters) from turning to cigarettes as a form of personal or stylistic expression… Plain packaging is making large enough waves in Australia that the aftershock could impact decisions made in Canada and the U.K. as well.

Chris Snowdon of the Adam Smith Institute contributed to the debate, because he doesn’t want this crazy idea spreading to the U.K. He fears for the future of not only the tobacco industry, but sugar, fat, alcohol, and salt as well:

What happens to tobacco tends to happen to other products sooner or later. Public health organisations around the world have been applying the blueprint of antitobacco regulation to other products for years. Sin taxes and advertising bans are increasingly common for certain types of food and drink…

Well, yes, that is exactly what Dr. Pretlow and many others in the United States would like to see happen! If the restrictions on advertising junk food were the same as the ones that apply to tobacco, that would be a big step in the right direction. Extra taxation isn’t a bad idea either, especially if the revenues go to obesity prevention and treatment. Dr. Pretlow says:

Foods that kids say they have the most problem resisting should be taxed, in the same manner that taxation of tobacco products has shown success in decreasing tobacco use.

As soon as the plain cigarette-packaging law was passed, Australian nutrition activists got into the act, talking about generic packaging for junk food. Some radicals have even suggested that high-nutrition foods be packaged in glitzy wrappers, in order to attract the eyes of indigenous people in the outback, whose food choices are said to be easily swayed by a colorful and shiny external appearance. The same is definitely true of children. It may be worth trying.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “7 Tips for Aspiring Food Pornographers,” Digital Photography School, 08/08/10
Source: “Australia says ‘g’day’ to plain packaging,” CPS Blog, 02/16/12
Source: “Plain packaging – a new Adam Smith Institute report,”, 02/20/12
Image by navets (Stevan Sheets), used under its Creative Commons license.

4 Responses

  1. Unless we understand why certain food is bad for us, then focusing on packaging may well lead to a dead end. We first need to determine what part of our food is truly “pornographic”. Is it fat? It is calories? Is it carbohydrates? Is it sugar? Until we answer this basic question, we will be groping in the dark.

    As my friend Dr. Robert Lustig recently proposed in the Journal Nature, it’s time to start regulating sugar (sucrose and HFCS) because they are clearly chronic toxins like tobacco and alcohol.

    Unlike acute toxins, you can consume chronic toxins for years without apparent ill effects–that is until suddenly one day the wheels fall off. In medicine we now spend a great deal of money, time and resources dealing with the adverse affects of sucrose and HFCS. It is now clear from research that excessive fructose from sucrose and HFCS is the driving force behind insulin resistance and central obesity.

    When you combine excessive fructose with high glycemic carbohydrates, you eventually trigger a reversible brain dysfunction disorder we call Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome. Healthy brains play a key role in auto-regulating fat stores and people with CARB syndrome lose this function and begin to store excess fat at any caloric intake, even as they lose lean body mass by dieting. You sometimes have to measure body composition to see this extra fat because it isn’t always apparent by relying on weight or BMI.

    Carbohydrate cravings are hard wired into our brains as a survival mechanism. Our brains use glucose levels to monitor food intake and when the food starts to run out prior to a famine glucose levels begin to fall. At first your brain responds by ramping up hunger signals. If you don’t respond to these signals by eating, glucose levels fall to dangerously low levels. At this point your brain pulls out the big gun—carbohydrate cravings, because eating a low glycemic carbohydrate is the fastest way to restore normal glucose levels.

    This system worked fine when we lived in an environment without high glycemic carbohydrates. When you consume a high glycemic carbohydrate, especially if you have insulin resistance from consuming too much sugar, your blood glucose rapidly rises and then crashed to below normal. Your brain doesn’t know how to read glucose spikes but it does know how to read low levels or hypoglycemia—it’s time to eat! When you respond by eating another high glycemic carbohydrate you again generate another glucose spike followed by a crash. Your brain responds by sending out more hunger signals and carbohydrate cravings.

    When glucose levels remain unstable, your brain interprets this as a possible famine on the horizon and pushes you into a famine-protective metabolic mode where you start to store extra fat at any caloric intake. We are programmed to store extra fat only when the food is running out, not when we are surrounded by endless amounts of food.

    Thus it isn’t true that we are somehow “programed” to overeat when there’s a lot of food around. A healthy person with a normal brain can consume a broad range of calories without storing extra fat as long as they stay away from sucrose, HFCS and high glycemic carbohydrates.

    1. Please see my previous response to your comments. I likewise respectfully disagree with Dr. Robert Lustig.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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