80/20 baking and cooking and why ‘food porn’ hurts this approach

Who doesn’t love beauty? Looking at photos of tasty food creations posted on social media and blogs make me hungry even when I’ve just eaten. But at the same time, after having seen so much food photography, I tend to sort these images into the 20% I don’t want to spend 80% of my efforts on.

When being efficient and authentic is no longer the goal

It seems that all food bloggers have done their research properly because you will notice many similarities-good lighting, good composition, a high-quality lens, wood or marble ground, and most importantly: decoration with flowers, plants, ingredients and utensils, on and around the food. Some blogs show photos so marvellous, they are like art. Or ‘food porn’, in a good, virtuous way. Foodies who are especially into health matters do this even better than others, possibly because they want to prove that living a healthy life is also delicious. I totally support that!

There are, however, a few downsides to the glorious foodie world:

  • Wrong expectations. Have you tried following a recipe that is photographed so deliciously you want to bite right into the screen? And have you ever realised, biting into your own work, that it turns out to be less delicious than you thought? Of course, there are your cooking and baking skills to consider and also personal taste. But sometimes, all that decoration covers up very average recipes. I began to realise that as I noticed how more boring-looking recipes got better reviews than the beautiful ones I had picked to follow. Read recipes carefully and compare them with similar recipes that are less beautifully presented. I have since returned to selecting simple recipes with simple photos that show me more clearly what to expect. And don’t forget that our perception also plays a big role: Well-decorated dishes trick your taste buds and make you enjoy them more. You do have to decorate your own dish if you want to achieve a similar effect.
  • Lack of authenticity. When people started decorating for photos, they wanted to combine two very important aspects in portraying food: Make it look delicious and authentic. Clean tables are a no-go, after all, you’d expect some aesthetic chaos in the average kitchen, perhaps an ingredient here, a spoon there. Nowadays, though, decoration habits have gone through the roof: fresh flowers everywhere, explosions of scattered ingredients, surfaces and utensils that were bought specifically for food photography, … oh, and don’t forget to add some kind of sauce, fruits or nuts, as they suit any recipe. But let’s be honest: Would anyone who is not a food blogger actually do all of this, except for special occasions that warrant decorations?
  • 80/20-unfriendly. Foodies make it look so easy in their videos and posts, but the most time-consuming part is actually everything that happens around the cooking and baking: the planning, the preparation and measuring of ingredients, the setup, the extras, the decoration, the shoot, the after-production. Expect to spend several hours on just that if you want to achieve the levels of ‘food porn’. And the actual recipe? If you just make the dish or cake itself, it might require only half an hour of preparation, plus time to cook or bake. If all you want is a delicious product, you will only focus on the recipe itself, and it will look nothing like the heavily decorated version.

I am not saying that food bloggers are doing it wrong. No, on the contrary: We need ‘food porn’. I would not want to miss it! I love browsing through those pieces of art, they are inspiring, they raise my appetite, they motivate me to cook or bake something new. But I do not expect them to reflect the reality of an average person with average skills, of a parent who cooks three meals a day while pursuing a job that is not related to food blogging, of a single student with little money to spend, or a busy professional who does not come home before 7 pm. And I no longer believe that all of the recipes behind the gorgeous photos will give me a taste explosion. I am also fully aware of all the time and effort that goes into creating that gorgeous-looking food and have great respect for the time and passion that goes into each cooking or baking session. But most importantly: I have no ambitions to become a ‘true’ food blogger myself because I stick to the 80/20 rule. I want to blog about food the 80/20 way and have found more appreciation for seemingly simple dishes.

80/20 foodies will shoot boring photos

If you haven’t read my post about the 80/20 rule, you might not know that I follow a 80/20 approach in all of my recipes. Unless there is a really special occasion, I do not strive for perfection, I strive for efficiency and flexibility. There is always an element of surprise in how my dishes turn out in the end. I also want to put in as little time and effort needed to get a tasty dish or pastry done. Where’s the cut-off point? That will be different for everyone. For me, anything that takes longer than half an hour should justify the return-either in taste or appreciation, depending in the occasion.

Let me take a chocolate cheesecake as an example: If I weighed all the ingredients perfectly, used a water bath where recommended, took special care in mixing the eggs and the butter to make it extra fluffy and then added a proper chocolate topping and decoration, plus the setup before I take photos and the image editing after, it would probably take more than two hours, not counting the time in the oven. My own simple version with microwave-melted chocolate takes half an hour. The resulting difference? After doing the former for guests (except for the photography part) and the latter for myself, I’d say 20% is pretty much spot-on, maybe even less. So even without the photography, that’s half an hour for 80% deliciousness and another minimum of one whole hour for the other 20%. Worth it? For my guests, I gladly made that effort, but for myself, that simply isn’t worth my time.

Regarding food photography, I have one simple rule: There aren’t anyrules. I shoot the dishes and pastries as I make them. I don’t do special preparations or decorations for no reason. I don’t normally leave ingredients lying around, so you won’t see any on my photos. I try to shove personal items out of the picture, but that’s because I value privacy. If there is a smudge, there is a smudge. If the lighting is bad, that’s because I don’t use any special equipment and I don’t cook or bake in the best daytime under the warm sunlight. I sometimes retouch photos before I upload them onto this blog, just for the sake of unifying the look and colour palettes of photos, though I am not really into it and I don’t care enough to spend more than a few minutes, if even that. To cut this short: These photos of mine, an 80/20 advocate who is actually quite passionate about food, are boring. I could call it 80/20 photography, but it’s really even less, as I just take out my smartphone and shoot what’s there.

But what I can offer is authenticity. What you see is what you get. 80/20 recipes free up time and allow for great flexibility and experimentation. And even when using more complex and time-consuming recipes, you can still tweak them to reduce your efforts at a minimum loss in taste. And that is exactly how I started my own food journey: I browsed through user-generated content, looked at recipes that looked easy, flexible and authentic and reckoned that I, a complete newbie at cooking, would be able to do them, too. I have since learned so much that I take more inspiration from food blogs than I did before, and I really and truly enjoy all that ‘food porn’ out there, but I try to see beneath the surface and stick by my preference: Authenticity is key to me, and there is nothing more authentic than to present an 80/20 dish in an 80/20 way.

Now, feel free to bite my virtual head off in the comments below!

Originally published at http://8020perfection.wordpress.com on April 11, 2021.

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Lana

Happily juggling my roles of working full-time in the media industry and resisting the urge to micromanage my two kids. Perfectionist, yet in love with 80/20.