ITG Resolutions: Make Decorated Mush


In pockets of boredom, a wonderful thing to google is "food styling tricks." If you've had the pleasure of going down this road before, you will know that professional food stylists stuff chickens with paper towels, pour Elmer's Glue into cereal bowls instead of milk, and paint prawns with clear nail polish to make them shiny. Even if these "tips" aren't true, they make me feel like less of a failure when I take a picture of my lunch and it looks disgusting. It takes talent to make food photogenic.

I think about these things when I can't sleep at night—when I'm laying flat in bed, going down Instagram wormholes and making my thumbs ache. During these episodes I'm generally hungry but too tired to make a snack, and to cure both ills, I find myself scrolling through the accounts of 'heathy food' bloggers, looking at all the fascinating foods they eat. Do this for a few consecutive nights and you start to notice trends rippling through the community: ingredient trends, photography trends, and—most gripping of all—styling trends.

My favorite of these is the recent rise of what I will call "Decorated Mush": bowls of hot cereal topped with a marquetry of healthy vegan ingredients. (When I say "mush," it's not a slur—I love mush and consume it daily! Usually oatmeal.) You can click through hundreds and hundreds of these bowls—each one different, but all answering a few specs:

-Must have a "base" of mush (oatmeal, buckwheat, chia pudding, quinoa flakes, etc.)
-Must have two or more toppings
-Must have fruit
-Must look pretty
-Must be accompanied by a description of ingredients

Other common motifs include fanned-out banana slices (how do they do that?), tidy puddles of nut butter, and superfoods like goji berries, chia seeds, cacao nibs, and maca (what is maca?). The particulars of mush-making—the handwork, the attention to detail and placement, the exchanging of tips and tricks—reminds me of letters Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, about cool sewing projects she was doing. You can tell that these people are enjoying the process. And if the resulting photographs are dizzying, the captions are even better, each one a haiku of virtuous sensory excitement:

"Vanilla maca oatmeal with banana, raspberries, almonds, white mulberries and hemp hearts, plus a morning time tea on the side"

"Rolled oats + cacao + chia seeds cooked in rice milk and water, topped with banana + honey + coconut flakes"

"Vanilla chai buckwheat porridge with banana, tahini, hemp hearts, coconut sugar and pumpkin seeds"

Is there an obsessive element to these bowls? Dunno. That word gets thrown around too casually where women and food are concerned, and if a preference for exactitude is all it takes to be obsessive, then anyone who's ever baked a successful cake qualifies. In my case, Decorated Mush fills me with an earnest, temporary avowal to eat more fiber-rich foods, as well as a curiosity about the costs of all those superfood ingredients. Perhaps I could incorporate one or two into my diet as a New Year's resolution.

As for the origin of this trend, I'm equally unsure—though it seems like a logical extension of Things Organized Neatly. There is certainly skill in Decorated Mush bowls, and there is also time: if these women took up painting, they could probably turn out some incredible geometric abstractions. But why should they? You can't eat a painting, and that's half the fun.

—Molly Young

Read Molly's other ITG stories here. Also follow her on Twitter

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  • Holly Skelton

    Love the pics and the food looks delicious!

  • Samantha

    Silent prayer for the day that Molly announces she's accepting friendship applications.

    • magicmollys


  • Sophia

    I'm four days in to my 22 day vegan challenge (thanks, Bey) so this came at the perfect moment. Now I'm off to peruse the aisles of Whole Foods for some acceptable mush!

  • cat

    check out @insaminsa - she (i think?) has the most colorful and fascinating healthy-instagram I've seen yet

    • magicmollys

      Ooh, just started following

    • Sophia

      I'm hooked! Thanks for the recommendation xo

  • Groovychimpster

    There's a Goodnight Moon spin off for the inventive and talented Molly Young to take on....
    "and a bowl full of picturesque mush"?

  • Jennifer Monforton

    Ooh, these look super tasty! I love peanut butter and fruit in my oatmeal :)

  • notnefkat

    I lay awake at night doing this exact thing. Recent descent into #paleo is not as aesthetically pleasing, FYI.

    • anita rivas

      I look at my postmates app and drool over the food when I'm hungry and to tired to leave the house.

  • Emma Hager

    Haha Molly this is such a great piece! Acai bowls are all the rage in California, and I am wondering if that also goes for the east coast? They are beautiful, delicious, and as you might imagine, expensive (nearly $7 a's crazy). Mmm, so good though. Every instagram picture of an acai bowl looks the same, too: the aforementioned fanned banana slices, varied fruits, etc.

    • Lindsay Sue

      We have acai here! Not all the rage, but they're popping up at juice spots over the city. My favorite is acai, peanut butter, banana and almond milk topped with granola, banana and chia seeds. bommmbbbbb

  • Rosie von Waldherr

    I feel you, my food always looks so...gross sometimes!!! =P

    Rosie's Life

  • Carlie Watson

    Your ttle had me cackling instantly - really funny read and I have no idea how they fan bananas either! :D


  • Jessica Rose

    When I see the ones above...I think one think.....that some people have way too much time on their hands!! ;)

    • anita rivas

      It doesn't have to be that fancy, it's more about the mush combinations. I plan to just toss my ingredients in and enjoy.

  • SiobhanO_

    Thanks so much for featuring me! It's nice to know my little hobbie has caught the attention of others. In the end it's a way to be creative and make healthy eating fun! :)


  • Kiri Yanchenko

    This is a great idea! I will try to be organised at the office now so I can try it!

  • anita rivas

    I just ordered organic oatmeal, Gjoi berries, Chai seeds and something else, total was roughly $40. I figure I can enjoy a healthy bowl of mush on the weekends, during the week it's a smoothie or juice for breakfast. Loved the post!

  • Vivdarkbloom

    Molly, this was charming and it put a smile on my face.

  • Layla Corcoran

    One of my favorite bloggers has been doing this for years with oatmeal. Take a seriously delicious look.

  • Sophia

    Will do!

  • Hungry

    I am afraid to prepare myself a meal like that, because I would get so OCD about eating it. It's like "first the banana slice in the middle, then four spoon digs into the four corners, then just fucking stir it all up and stuff my face"

  • lyz143

    I know quite a few food stylists, and they actually do not do any of those things. Sorry :/

  • Eleri Roberts

    Oh I love a good food fiddle and a breakfast insta snap! xx

    Eleri Roberts

  • holydances

    obsessive? yes.
    pretty? yes.