Two children sat at a table surrounded by a heavily frosted kitsch birthday cake, party snacks and cups.

What’s Driving The Kitsch Food Trend in 2023?

What is the kitsch food trend? What are people making and posting online? And what factors are driving this food trend?
Author Headshot
Olivia Higgs
Apr 22
4.5 mins
Apr 22
4.5 mins

The trend towards kitsch and retro comes down to several factors including, social media, nostalgia and the cultural climate - and food is not immune. Bright colors, sumptuous cakes with buttercream flowers and piped icing ruffles, Jell-O creations and the recreation of childhood favorites are finding their way onto our screens and into our bellies.

What is causing the larger trend of retro and kitsch foods?

Social Media

Social media has certainly increased the popularity of kitsch. People are looking for visually appealing and shareable content for platforms like Instagram and TikTok. The more unusual and over-the-top the dish the more likely people are to react with and share the post which is driving up demand for these types of foods.

Economic and Political Climate

As we look for ways to save cost, some of those retro ingredients are proving to be much more cost-effective as we see sales for custard powder, spam and jello (jelly for the Brits) booming. And with all the negative news we’re exposed to, many are finding ways to balance out an increasingly serious world with playful, whimsical and escapist experiences.

Foodie culture

In part due to the pandemic Lockdowns where we had more time to try new things, many of us found an increased interest in culinary experimentation. There’s a willingness to try new and unconventional food combinations, with kitsch food offering a fun and often unexpected twist on traditional dishes.


Many retro dishes are made from simple and locally-sourced ingredients, before fast food, convenience foods and globalization took over. This aligns well with the current trend towards sustainability and eating locally. This is especially true for classic American comfort foods, which often use simple, pantry-staple ingredients.

What kind of retro food and drinks are we seeing?

There are several sub-trends within retro foods which are currently popular on- and offline:

Classic childhood comfort foods

These are the foods we look back on fondly when we think of our childhoods. In America, mac n' cheese, fried chicken and meatloaf are all experiencing a resurgence in popularity and in the UK, shepherd's pie, fruit crumbles and Sunday roasts are on the up. Once again transporting us to a simpler time.

Retro Desserts

Desserts like Jell-O molds, pineapple upside-down cake, and banana cream pie are making a comeback, with their colorful and playful presentations appealing to a younger generation and their simplicity and familiarity appealing to the older generations.

International retro dishes

Dishes from past eras of international cuisine are also experiencing a revival, with popular examples including Swedish meatballs, fondue, and shrimp cocktail. This trend may be influenced by a desire to explore and celebrate global culinary traditions.

Vintage cocktails

Cocktails from the 1950s and 1960s, such as martinis, old fashioneds, and sidecars, are popular again, with a renewed interest in the craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into cocktail culture during those eras.

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Has this affected food photography trends?

The retro trend has even taken over photography particularly on social media platforms favoring visually striking and shareable food content. There’s a renewed interest in classic food photography techniques, such as dark and moody lighting, dramatic shadows, and soft focus. These techniques were popular in the mid-20th century, and are now being rediscovered by a new generation of food photographers who are seeking to capture the essence of these vintage dishes.

  • Dark and moody lighting: Classic food photography often used dark and moody lighting to create a sense of drama and atmosphere. This could involve using low light, deep shadows, and rich, saturated colors to create a sense of depth and texture in the image.
  • Soft focus: Soft focus was a popular technique in mid-20th century food photography that involved intentionally blurring certain elements of the image. This could involve blurring the background of the image to create a sense of depth, or blurring the foreground to draw attention to a particular element of the dish.
  • Low angles: Low angles were often used in classic food photography to create a sense of grandeur and importance. By shooting from a low angle, photographers could make the dish appear larger and more impressive, while also creating a sense of depth and perspective in the image.

Cluttered Food Product Photography

The trend of cluttered food product shots is a relatively recent development in food photography, and it is characterized by images that feature an abundance of ingredients, utensils, and other objects arranged around the dish. These images often have a messy and chaotic feel to them, and they are intended to convey a sense of authenticity and “realness."

As food has become more central to our cultural identity, people have become more interested in the story behind the dish, as well as the process of preparing and cooking it. The cluttered food product shot trend can help to capture some of this complexity and richness, by showing the various ingredients, tools, and techniques that are involved in creating the dish.

The cluttered food product shot trend is also associated with a broader cultural shift towards authenticity and transparency. As people have become more skeptical of highly polished and airbrushed images, they have begun to seek out images that feel more real and honest. It's a reaction to the highly polished Instagram feeds which used to dominate but in recent years social media platforms which are optimised for live, in-the-moment content like BeReal, TikTok and Snapchat have taken over. In the case of food shots, we’re being shown the mess and chaos of the cooking process, as well as the imperfections and idiosyncrasies of the dish much more.

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