From Shaman’s Rock
By Jim Poling Sr.
Try as you might, it’s hard to ignore television commercials. Especially when you are
watching a lot of sports, as many of us were during the World Series and now the NHL
Between all the exciting plays, the ads keep coming at you. You finally start to pay
attention to them.
I started paying attention to the ubiquitous burger ads. You know the ones where some
guy stretches his mouth open impossibly wide to bite into a large and luscious looking
hamburger offered by one of the many burger joint chains like Burger King,
MacDonald’s and Wendy’s.
Those TV burgers must be four to six inches thick when stacked with
beef patty, onions, tomato, lettuce, bacon, onion rings and whatever other condiments
the makers throw in. The only mouth big enough to handle that kind of a load belongs to
Those burgers are not what you get served at your favourite fast-food joint. They are
highly juiced up in elaborate ways to make your mouth water and send you out the door
to buy one.
The juicing up is done by “food stylists” employed to make burgers look drool-worthy in
advertisements. They use a variety of clever techniques, and some inedible products, to
make a burger look perfect for the camera.
When a burger is just lightly roasted it stays raw and without the 25-per-cent shrinkage
that comes with full cooking. It is big and juicy, but red. So a food stylist brushes it with
brown shoe polish to give it the fully cooked look without the shrinkage.
The fully cooked burger you get at the fast-food place is much smaller and less
appetizing looking. Most are just under 115 grams (four ounces) with less than half of
that being the actual meat patty.
That doesn’t mean the fast-food burger you get is not good. It’s just not as big, fresh
and appetizing as food stylists make them look for advertisements. And, that has
created some controversy.
A 2018 study by Cancer Research United Kingdom reported that teenagers exposed to
TV fast-food advertising eat up to an additional 350 calories a week in food high in salt,
sugar and fat. That’s 18,200 extra calories a year.
Also, dissatisfied customers have filed lawsuits against some major fast-food outlets,
claiming the companies make their menu items look bigger and better in advertising
than they really are.
A judge in the U.S. recently ruled in one case that there is no proof that McDonald’s and
Wendy’s sold burgers that were smaller than advertised. The judge ruled that the fast-
food companies’ efforts to make their burgers look appetizing are no different from other
companies who use “visually appealing images to foster positive associations with their
There are other cases still before the courts, including one against Burger King,
Burgers are not the only food that gets juiced for advertising. Glycerin is sprayed on fruit
and salads to make them glisten and look appetizing.
And, how tempting is an advertising photo of a plate of fluffy pancakes smothered with
warm maple syrup?
Looks delicious, but maple syrup is not used in photographing pancakes for advertising.
Maple syrup can heat up and become runny under photo lights and gets quickly
absorbed into the pancakes. So motor oil is used instead because it it is thicker, glistens
nicely and does not get absorbed by the pancakes.
Those ads featuring a milkshake parfait or slice of pie with dollops of whipped cream
don’t use real whipped cream, which melts and gets runny under hot lights. So
photographers use shaving cream, which doesn’t melt and is easily shaped to give the
Ads can be deceptive and manipulative but fortunately we don’t have to eat what the
photographers are serving up.
The ads do encourage people, notably children, to eat the wrong things and various
jurisdictions around the world have discussed ways of restricting TV and online food
Sweden and Norway banned all ads to children in the early 1990s. Quebec also has
banned advertising to children during programs geared to kids.
Canada’s federal government has updated its code for food and drink ads that reach
children under 13 but little else.