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For hundreds of years, images of food have predominantly been elaborately staged and somewhat misleading affairs.
If you think visually-induced food FOMO is a phenomenon that started with the advent of Instagram, here's a study that will disabuse you of that naive notion. The Cornell Food and Brand Lab looked at the history of food in modern art and found that for hundreds of years, images of food have predominantly been elaborately staged and somewhat misleading affairs.
In an analysis of more than 750 Western European and American paintings of food between the years of 1500 to 2000, the team at Cornell concluded that historically, food images have been more about conveying a certain level of status rather than documenting the foods people of the time typically ate. The lavish banquet portraits of the Renaissance were actually just painstakingly painted counterparts to your foodie friend's carefully staged brunch Snaps. They are were mostly used as a way to show off wealth and prosperity.
Many of the food paintings from this era included non-native foods and ingredients that had to be imported—a luxury at the time—such as the non-indigenous lemons featured in more than half of the Dutch paintings studies, or olives, which were featured in paintings from many countries except their native Italy. Fruits, considered a treat, were featured much more prominently in these early works than vegetables, which were more readily available to the common people.
"The bias of either the artists or the patrons seems to have been in the direction of painting either special or aspirational foods, or aesthetically pleasing foods," the study authors write. "Care should be taken to not project food depictions in paintings as indicative of what was actually served or eaten in that country at the time." So, the next time your friend insists on ordering the prettiest dish on the menu for the sake of the 'gram, give them a break—they're just following in a grand artistic tradition.