Ornamental Cookery

Roland Barthes essay, “Ornamental Cookery” focuses on the magazine Elle and the images of food that it publishes. The images are “openly dream-like” and  “never show the dishes except from a high angle, as objects once near and inaccessible.” (79)  The images of food that are published are beautiful and are intended to appear as perfection. This is evident by the “obvious endeavor to glaze surfaces, to round them off, to bury the good, under the even sediment of sauces, creams, icing and jellies.” (78)

While food itself is natural and essential for the survival of humans, Barthes seems to take issue with the way that food is presented within these magazines. The food appears to be less natural and its connection to nature is severed when ornamentation becomes so prevalent. Examples of this include “sticking shrimps in a lemons, making a chicken look pink, [and] serving grapefruit hot.”(79) These dishes all seem to defy nature in a sense, as they  are a way of changing something that perhaps didn’t need to be changed.

This is by no means a trend that has died out. The essay’s focus on the perfection of food made me think of the way that food is advertised and all the tricks that are used in order to get the best photo and capture the “concept” of the meal, more so than the actual meal itself.  The video below shows some of the advertising techniques used within the food industry and seems highly relevant to what Barthes was discussing. These techniques are used in order to to achieve perfection. Ice cream would melt, so mashed potatoes become the photographed product. Glue takes the place of milk in order to prevent the cereal from becoming soggy. Beauty is achieved by replacing the natural product with another. This connects to what Barthes was saying about the relationship between food and nature being severed. Milk is more natural than glue and yet it is glue that is used to advertise the product.

The second significant issue that Barthes take with ornamental cookery in Elle is the way that it is often marketed towards small-income communities and that these communities likely don’t have the extra money to make the meals that they are being showed pictures of. The complexity and expensiveness of a meal are directly related and this relation isn’t knowledge or taken into account within the magazine. The meals being depicted in the beautiful and dreamy photos aren’t accessible for many people and are instead “the recipe of fancy partridges.” (80)

This issue is also one that arises with the way food is advertised. No matter how hard someone tries, it is highly unlikely that their finished product will look as appealing as the one portrayed in the commercial.  The “fake” product is simply better looking than the real one and the image and idea being conveyed aren’t accessible to the viewer. The issue of accessibility is also linked to economic status, as mentioned earlier. Elle had this picture published at one point and the article that accompanied it was about hosting an Italian dinner party. Image result for elle food This is a full course meal and there are a variety of elements to it. This isn’t a meal that can be easily accomplished nor is it one that can be put together at a low cost. Every component of this meal would quickly add up and be out of many people’s price range for a single dinner. This meal is inaccessible to so many people and doesn’t make sense if the magazine is truly read in many low-income communities. The photo is well angled and a wonderful shot. The viewer is given a wonderful perspective and yet, this meal is so out of reach. This meal exists in a world where there are “mythical economics” and every element and aspect of the meal and photo supports that idea.


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