Libby's Tomato Juice - What can brown "eew" for you?

Today we have for you an ad freshly delivered to my desk all the way from 1947. Food pictures are hard to get right in the first place, and they don't age well once the colors start to drift over time. This ad for Libby's Tomato Juice has a kind of subtle "browning" that looks pretty good on old magazine photos... except for the food, which is the center of attention here.
There are photographers who specialize in food. Most food dries out and becomes disgusting under studio lights, and the trick of getting it to look good despite all this is interesting reading. I need to pick up a book on this, so that I may know more whereof I speak. What I know about it now mostly comes from stories from friends and dim memory of some TV show I saw a hundred years ago.

So, Libby's, yeah. I don't like tomato juice. I loves me some tomatoes. However, give them to me in their original shape, please. Like peanuts, once they've been molested into a liquid or a putty, I've lost interest. I don't know why. This rule only seems to matter sometimes. I have no problem with lunch meat or candy or most foods which undergo a baffling technological transformation on their way to a cellophane package on my plate, and peanuts in their "natural shape", as I called it, have been roasted and salted to death even then. It's not a nature versus science thing. I just look at tomato juice and brain says "gross". Sorry. I don't make the rules. Brain does. You think it sounds dopey? Try living in this thing.

Anyway, here's a fun fact I heard about this weekend on one of my science podcasts. Tomato juice is actually brown. It needs to be artificially colored to be red. Always has been. Yep. Have a look at this article in Psychology Today, which I was really relieved to find, as I couldn't remember where I'd heard about this. Here is some pasted text from the article:

Would you drink brown tomato juice?  If given a choice, most likely you would refuse the brown tomato juice in favor of the same stuff doped with an artificial chemical that stains the juice bright red.  Even though you know that the brilliant red color of tomatoes fades with time after caning, and you know the red colored artificial chemical does nothing for taste or nutrition, you can't help yourself from consuming the adulterated juice instead of the faded colored juice in its natural state.  Is this rational?

Har har! I found a typo! "canning" has two N's, unless your tomatoes have done something very illegal in Singapore. Ironically, a caned butt, like a canned tomato, will start out a vibrant red and, over time, will probably fade to some shade of brown. Less ironically, I want neither on my dinner plate, unless the tomatoes are fresh.

I'm a bit surprised that in 1947, a white bread magazine like McCall's featured exotic foods like tortilla chips. Are those tortilla chips? Odd side dish for a cup of hot tomato juice. They could be goatskin. I have a couple of doumbeks (Egyptian drums) with goat skin heads that look like these goat skin chips. Searching for some doumbek links was dangerous just then. I see them, and I want to whip out my credit card. Doumbeks are wonderful drums that have a surprisingly deep tone when you hit them in the middle, and an equally surprising sharp "crack" sound when you slap them near the edge of the head. This wide range of sound makes them, in this person's opinion, better than bongos or congas for a small portable "bring it to your friend's house because everyone's bringing their guitars to my Christmas party and we need a drummer". With a doumbek, you can simulate almost any kind of sound you'd get from a drum kit, all in a package about 12"x20".

Wow, a bit off track there. Umm. So, tomato juice is brown and gross, but people like it anyway, and you eat goat skin nachos with it. I don't think the goat skin nachos are going to catch on. This ad ran in 1947 and if they were a hit, I think I'd have heard of them by now. Nice try, Libby.

Here's some unfortunate retouching. The steam rising from the cup (which was added by an artist after the fact, of course) seems to be doing some weird stuff. Where it overlaps the juice, it's solid white, but over the white of the cup, it looks misty. Pity the poor artist back in '47 who had no Photoshop to make this easy. Also, the art director wanted him/her to airbrush in some steam over a white background. WTF? There was nothing for it but to make the steam a pale blue. Morons. Should have shot it over yellow, or almost anything but white. This reminds me of some commercials we worked on years ago, for a toy called The Littlest Pet Shop. It was a toy for girls, and the commercial was all pink and lavender, and we were animating the opening sequence. Girly toy commercials always want every color to be as bright as possible. Of course, the sky was so bright as to be almost white. Then they had us do magic sparkles over a pony or something, and they couldn't be seen against the sky. When your sky is nearly white, you've got nowhere to go but down, in brightness. So, they wound up with colored pixie dust that was slightly darker than the sky behind them. morons. It looked like shit and of course it didn't matter, but I complained about it anyway, to our producer. She told me she understood but just get it done and move on. Wise words. Doing that was still easier than getting through a glass of tomato juice.


Steve Miller said...

Tortilla chips in 1947? Maybe, in the border areas of southwest US... but in Chicago 9, Illinois, ethnic foods were Polish or of similar Euro-centric origin. (We could digress here for a diverting discussion of brokered radio airtime to serve Chicago's minority communities. Think that pretty much faded away by the '80s.)

Anyhoo, it's more likely those are delicious Saratoga Chips.

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Saratoga chip? This I did not know! Thanks for the info, Steve! I still want to look at doumbeks, though.


FIL said...

Saratoga means 'Goat skin' in Swahili. Maybe.

I was comforted to read of your attempt to educate your superiors regarding the white sparkles over a white background. I worked in a newspaper art department long ago and it was comical how disinterested sales people and advertisers were when presented with the prefessional, educated advice from any of the artists. They would roll their eyes, as if to quietly say, "I !!@*%! hate you, you piece of !%*#!."
You could cut the tension with a knife, which was always close at hand in those days of actual cutting and pasting. I can still see my furious, shaking hand hovering above the handle of my X-acto knife while my eyes burned holes in the back of ad-rep Rosemary's skull...
So many fond memories.

Anonymous said...

Mr. P'Arego- There once was an awesome progam I saw on my video unit a few years back, about that very subject (commercial food photography), but I did find a compu-link for your peepers to peer, perhaps with your P.A.G. peers, at your leisure:


Quite similar in most respects, and Yes! I occassionally speak Bocce!!
(Anonymous 2)

Anonymous said...

One other thing. It would seem to my somewhat trained eye, the the attempt of a steamlike "question mark" was proposed (with the soup-cup's enhanced redness to mark the dot at the bottom of said q-mark), for the unwitting consumer. Early subliminal advertising?
(Anonymous 2)

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