If you’ve ever watched an actor in your favorite TV show or movie eat something that makes your stomach turn—like bugs or rotten meat—you’re witnessing the work of an on-set food stylist. Although it’s not unusual for photo shoots to use fake food, when you are filming something, anything that needs to be consumed on camera actually has to be edible.
That’s where food stylists like Melissa McSorley come into play. You can watch some of McSorley’s food styling trickery in the below video from Insider explaining “how five movie props are made to be eaten.”
For example, during the filming of HBO’s True Blood, McSorley’s challenge was making edible fake blood that was safe to consume in large quantities. Although stage blood is non-toxic, it isn’t the kind of product that you want your talent to be gulping down on the regular.
The “blood” that the vampire characters in the tv show were regularly seen drinking was a mixture of cran-cherry, pomegranate juice and wheatgrass. She also added a bit of blue food coloring to the mixture to make the color more convincing. For shots where the blood’s viscosity was important, she added a bit of methylcellulose to the mixture, so that the “blood” would slowly slide back down the side of the glass after a character had taken a sip.
But it’s also important for certain props to be edible even if there isn’t a moment where the prop will be consumed. In the television show Homecoming, there is a scene where two characters are in the kitchen preparing a chicken and needed to handle raw chicken guts as part of the action. To avoid cross contamination while filming and risk someone on set getting sick, McSorely made a batch of fake chicken guts for the scene.
To accomplish this, she filled collagen casings with bean curd and dyed glass noodles yellow and pink to replicate the intestines of the chicken. She then dyed turnips different colors to replicate the heart and the liver. Although the characters never ate the guts, McSorely’s creation made for a stable and safe stand-in that could be used for multiple takes of the same scene.
In the film Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, McSorely was asked to create edible bigfoot poop that the characters needed to eat. She created her piece of faux poop from chocolate and peanut butter for color and texture but added a few nuts for a more realistic bigfoot poop—we have to assume he lives in the woods and has been snacking on lots of nuts and berries. Luckily for the actors in the scene the final product tasted like a chocolate and peanut butter brownie.