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Food for Thought: Visual Illusions Good Enough to Eat

Face or food? The brain recognizes edible artwork on multiple levels


Are you impressed with meals that look like one food but are actually made of something else? Tofu burgers and artificial crabmeat, for example, are not what they appear to be.

It's actually an old trick. In medieval times fish was cooked to imitate venison during Lent, and celebratory banquets included extravagant (and sometimes disturbing) delicacies such as meatballs made to resemble oranges, trout prepared to look like peas and shellfish made into mock viscera. Recipe books from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance also describe roasted chickens that appeared to sing, peacocks redressed in their own feathers and made to breathe fire, and a dish aptly named Trojan hog, in which a whole roasted pig was stuffed with an assortment of smaller creatures such as birds and shellfish, to the amusement and delight of cherished dinner guests.

Unwelcome visitors were also treated to illusory food, but not for their own amusement. Instead they were served perfectly good meat that was made to look rotten and writhing with worms. Maybe not good enough to eat, but good enough to send your in-laws packing!

Food illusions are alive and well in the 21st century. Our buffet of contemporary lip-smacking illusions will appeal to both your eyes and your stomach … for the most part. We hope you’ll enjoy the spread. Bon appétit!

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