Food is not spared of the people’s tendency to pass visual judgment.
Without the aid of aroma or actual taste to guide hunger, simple pictures can drive the urge to eat. The visual significance of food is so defined within current culture that the simple act of ordering from a menu still relies on appearance.
For instance, fruits; no one would pick up a dry-looking pear at the grocery if there is a juicy-looking one next to it.
To combat fruits that look boring, there are actually farmers in China who craft them into the shape of Buddha, a likeness that is said to bring good luck. The visual upgrade actually causes the good-looking food to sell more.
According to Chef Zakir, a famous television chef, the main purpose of food carving is not only to make the food more attractive but also easier to eat. Even in common households, food carving is often done by wives preparing for a guest’s arrival. This is usually done by carefully paring, seeding and usually cutting fruits into bite size slices for optimum enjoyment.
For kids, however, cartoon characters seem to add much enjoyment to their meals. No, not the little action figures in cereal boxes, but the cartoon-covered lunchboxes and crackers that seem to add an extra kick for kids.
According to nutritionist Susan Brady, for children, food inside packages that contain a cartoon character on them taste better than food packaged without any. Clearly, we can see that food is made appealing not only by its appearance but by its packaging as well.
On another note, colors may gravely affect our food choices. Bright primary colors naturally make food look more appealing as opposed to darker tints. The color blue is said to be an appetite suppressant along with the color black, maybe due to the gloomy nature or depressing atmosphere these colors bring.
Imagine a bowl of fresh red, yellow and green fruits as opposed to a bowl of blue dyed apples with black dots. Even if apples are your favorite food, the likeliness that you’d pick these is still less than the probability that you’d choose the healthy looking bowl. It seems darker colors affect food choice because it can make some food appear to be rotting or just plain gross.
Food is not a book
Thou shall not judge food by its cover; their appearance nowadays can look like anything from furniture, to appliances or even another food; believe it or not.
For instance, decorated cookies can be made to look like sushi, the Japanese raw fish delight. Imagine some round cookies, smaller than your pinky. Stack a few of them on each other, coat them with vanilla frosting, sprinkle shredded coconut bits on top, then wrap them all around in a tasty green fruit roll up. A snippet or two of fruit placed on top, some chopsticks on the side, and you have one hell of a sweet treat.
Imagine sushi in its truest form: a big dead fish gutted in front of you, definitely less than appetizing. This brings us to another equally appalling dish: balut; the ugly duckling.
Why does Philippines’ own very ugly duckling fit so comfortably in our mouths? Picture this–a small egg cracked open revealing a nearly embryonic baby chick, feathers, skeleton and all, floating in all its birth juices. Is that appetizing? More close to vomit-inducing. It doesn’t even smell good.
Yet why have the Filipinos embraced this delicacy known to all as balut along with other more obscure but just as terrifying, or more so, disgusting dishes?
Disgust, according to Kitayama and Cohen in their book Handbook of Cultural Psychology, as an emotion, is actually connected intrinsically to man’s relation to food. Taken to a deeper level, the initial aversion stems from the idea that it will taste bad or is simply not good for the body.
In addition, visual similarities with the food and other disgusting objects cause the two to have an association even when there is none. Appearance overrides the actual evidence of taste.
For Filipinos, balut is an exception. It looks like a dead duck and may elicit a response of disgust since people associate it with death, but when one finally flees from the preconception of disgust, ugly food becomes normal food.
Eating these kinds of unappealing food can also be traced toward the feeling of excitement at eating something that shouldn’t be eaten. It is the same rush of excitement at doing something new. Just like in the TV show Fear Factor, there is a morbid fascination in watching people eat edible but otherwise disgusting food.
The ugly appearance of food, especially to people outside the culture it was made in, is a challenge, something to overcome. Once the food had been sampled, it will be remembered as a conquest.
With this in mind, it becomes more understandable how balut is still being happily eaten along the streets alongside immaculately designed sushi cakes. People have tried it and have attested that it is good.
So our challenge to you dear reader is this: with your eyes closed, what will you eat next?