Seeking the stories, histories, and values behind food in stock imagery

Plates of food stacked on top of eachother spread out over a table.

Image source: Adobe Stock/Arief Dharma Kurniawan/EyeEm.

Stock images and content depicting food are about as close to being “evergreen” as possible. Like the needles of a conifer, there is no annual or cyclical limit to when food will be useful to brands: it’s always part of our visual ecosystem.

But just because something is evergreen doesn’t mean it’s not changing. The creative brief for Taste of Heritage, part of the Adobe Stock Advocates program, shows us just how dynamic and adaptive these kinds of images are to the world around us. The brief invites photographers, video artists, illustrators, and designers to create and contribute the kinds of food-related images that invite deeper thought, tell personal stories, and resonate strongly with audiences and brands today.

As brands and creatives increasingly speak to globalized audiences, the contemporary stock imagery that depicts food culture is growing to reflect more authentic global diversity. At the same time, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the relationship between their food and drink choices, global food production, the environment, and their communities.

At its core is the fact that the best kind of imagery about food is the kind that tells us a story, triggers deeper narratives and memories, and asks us to consider our relationship to food.

Left image, women holding a fish and right image, a cooked fish in a pan.

Image source: Left: Adobe Stock/Oriana Koren , Right: Adobe Stock/Oriana Koren.

Tasty images and personal narratives

Anyone who has poured over a grandparent’s book of recipes, or been taught a traditional family dish, knows that food is intimately connected with our heritage, identity, and culture. What we eat connects us to our ancestors as well as the land that nourished them and ourselves.

Great content about food reflects this: the best images about eating are those that feel specific to a place and tell us its story.

This is part of a larger trend in food media to look beyond recipes and hip ingredients. Padma Lakshmi’s popular documentary series Taste the Nation organizes each episode around a different immigrant community, connecting dishes like poke, dosa, and chop suey to the communities that make them and their history. Similarly, the James Beard Award-winning writer Mayukh Sen’s upcoming book, continues his work telling the stories of immigrant women who changed the culinary world.

Brands large and small seem to agree that specificity, tradition, and family are the way to reach audiences where it matters. A recent Coca-Cola campaign, for example, showcases thirteen family gatherings across eight countries. Made during the global coronavirus pandemic, the campaign is grounded by connecting a giant global brand to the intimate and very particular ways families eat and drink together.

It’s no surprise, then, that some of the most successful stock imagery about food connects what we eat with who we are. Lauren Allen, an Adobe Stock Contributor, often incorporates her own family traditions into the images she makes. Her colorful and eye-grabbing images of turcos, a mincemeat variation of an empanada her family made often growing up, features her grandmother’s hand. From the oilcloth to the fork pricks in the dough, Allen’s images tell us a story and ground themselves in personal experience.

A hand reaching out to a pan full of empanadas.

Image source: Adobe Stock/Lauren Allen.

Adobe Stock is supporting tomorrow’s tastemakers

We realize that it’s not always easy to marshal the resources needed to create images about food that speak to who we are and the values we hold. It costs money to compensate models for their time, to drive to locations with equipment, and procure all that delicious, mouthwatering food.

That’s why, as part of the Advocates program, Adobe Stock created the Artist Development Fund. This $500,000 initiative offers selected artists the opportunity to create a commission project, using the funds to create bold, personal imagery.

Oriana Koren, a first generation Haitian-American Florida-born photographer, writer, and researcher based in Los Angeles, CA, is one of 2021’s first Artist Development Fund recipients. Their project, created in response to the Taste of Heritage creative brief, is entitled “The Black Food Visual Bible”: a visual library of African and Black contributions to American cuisine. Through these carefully-considered images of ingredients, meals, and their preparation, Koren takes steps to expand the conventional understanding of African and Black culinary art.

Along with the rest of the Advocates program, Taste of Heritage is about committing ourselves to work that is culturally representative, diverse, and impactful. From our plates to the stores we shop in, what we eat is inextricably connected to who we are and what we care about in the world. The next generation of visionaries for everything edible will be the ones that share these stories.

Left image, assortment of fruit, right image, a plate full of food.

Image source: Left: Adobe Stock/Oriana Koren, Right: Adobe Stock/Oriana Koren.

Food for a more sustainable and equitable future

Another element of food that is rapidly changing the visual landscape is the connection between what we eat and the values we hold. The farm-to-table movement helped raise awareness both about the global food supply chain and environmental sustainability. Initiatives like community gardens, food co-ops, and free produce fridges raise awareness about how industrial food production leaves many communities behind.

Consumers and tastemakers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of certain foods (like almond milk and beef) and are constantly looking for sustainable practices and alternatives. From top-tier restaurants like Eleven Madison Park going vegan to McDonald’s introducing plant-based meat alternatives, many brands are looking to show they care about sustainability. Additionally, issues of food insecurity and its connection with economic and social justice around the world are increasingly entering into the mainstream conversation.

Leading chefs and tastemakers are also connecting our food to our sense of community and equity. Forbes 30 under 30 Food & Drink chef Kia Damon, is a tireless advocate against food apartheid in Brooklyn. She co-founded Auxilo, a non-profit collaborative food space that provides support, resources, and nourishment for Black, trans, queer, and indigenous communities.

The images we have of food need to speak to this reality. The best stock content explores new frontiers and reflects the diversity and value-driven world around us. Images that help us see the connection between food and the environment — from farming co-ops to cutting-edge technology — can provide the visual language for a more sustainable world. And content that asks us to think beyond the kitchen and into our streets, homes, and community spaces will resonate with brands and consumers who care about hunger, health, and food justice.

Contributors wanted: Get inspired with Taste of Heritage and other Adobe Stock Advocates program creative briefs. Then upload your best photographs, video clips, and illustrations to share your vision and sell your content on Adobe Stock.