I visited a mansion recently that was furnished entirely in $50,000 worth of staging supplies: Furniture, bedding, a phony IPad with a picture of an IPad screen on it, stacks of books wrapped in plain paper, appliances with no electrical cords, luggage in the closets, ginormous silver spoons on the walls.
The food: Artichokes, pastries under glass, green herbs standing erect, looking eager to please in whimsical containers. In the center of the kitchen island stood a clear glass pitcher full of fake ice (which, it turns out, can be purchased in a lot of 60 for $18).
Once you start to look for it, fake food is everywhere: In catalogs, magazines, movies, TV, restaurants and model homes. Props America brags: “Our fake food products have been stars on stage and screen in many countries.”
I remember these replicas clearly from childhood. While my parents were furniture shopping at Woodward and Lothrop (or Woodfuff and Lofred, which my mom bizarrely insisted on calling it), I wandered among the displays, picking up (literally) hard rolls, rubbery grapes, hollow oranges.
One fundamental fake food fact: It is not meant to be eaten. Multiple web sites emphasized this. As a somewhat shocked staging professional cautions (“I never thought I would have to write those words…”):
“Fake food [has] no caloric or nutritional value. You should not try to eat it.”
Likewise, propsamarica.com states: “All materials are non-toxic and safe, but should not be eaten.”
Because simulated food is made from plastic, more specifically vinyl chloride, which Sake-Drenched Postcards calls charmingly “nearly eternal.”
Faux fish, daikon and rice are a staple in Japanese restaurants so patrons can see what the dish looks like before ordering. The process of creating artificial food begins with real food. A mold is made, then as Sake-Drenched Postcards explains it:
“Liquid vinyl, in whatever color is necessary, is then poured into the empty mold. The mold is set in an oven where the vinyl will harden for between ten and 30 minutes. An air gun is used to pop the vinyl chunks loose.
Any excess vinyl buildup is trimmed off with scissors. Oil-based paints in tubes and jars add details with the photos working as guides. Airbrushes are used to provide consistency in the paint and ensure a natural look.”
Fumiyoshi Nagao, a pretend-food craftsman, is admired for his “fake roast pork pieces, [which] even have the fat marbled in different locations.”
Us normals can purchase false food singly, by the case, or as part of an arrangement, such as a swanky platter of champagne and caviar, a steal at $101. Common items are pastries, bread, cookies and alcohol, though there is the occasional outlier.
And while apples, lemons, and cookies are just fine, I favor the spills, or “seat savers.” In general, we are a sloppy people, to which the surprisingly specific options such as the spilled glass of dentures. Toppled food items are so popular they can be purchased in bulk.
Prices are wide ranging, so it pays to shop around. A glass of spilled red wine, for example, runs from $15 to $30.
These spills tell stories: typical family life in a leaky baby bottle or a lollipop stuck to a compact disc; a night of debauchery illustrated by beer splashed across a bad poker hand and what is (presumably) soon to be lost money; and bent pizza, perhaps discovered by a mom after the little league team’s season closer party has ended.
Fake food is ultimately eerie. It plays with time, creating the illusion that the inevitable deterioration of all things can be stopped. When used in home staging, it represents the good life but with a twist: the home’s occupants have not just stepped out for a moment but have fled, so desperate to be out of your sight that they have left a pitcher full of ice cubes on the kitchen counter or thrown an ice cream cone (literally frozen in time) right on the floor.
Like listening to a perfect mimic (say, a parrot), the uncanny imitation is at first fascinating, but then it fades into the background and the wonder is gone. Once you know it’s fake, it looks fake.
I did take one souvenir from the megahouse, a single ice cube (value approximately 30 cents).
Alone, it looks forlorn and unrecognizable.
But mingling with its real cousins, it is camouflaged and safe.
Until, of course, the melting starts.