Most often seen in comedy; this is when the universally hated tinned meat (Spam) or some other (usually low-quality) substitution food is used to simulate a meal of higher quality. A character will sculpt a Turkey, Chicken, Lamb, Pig or other food animal out of canned Mystery Meat, or another substitute food.
Does not cover synthetic foodstuffs in futuristic settings.
- One commercial for Pepto Bismol has two young kids make and serve pancakes to their parents in bed. It's not until after the father takes a big bite that the mother whispers, "We don't have the stuff to make pancakes." Apparently, they made the syrup too.
- An Over the Hedge strip had Verne sculpt a lookalike roast pig out of tofu, claiming that roast pig had so much cholesterol. He even claims, that it looked almost real, until it melted from being roasted over the fire.
- Andy from FoxTrot makes these a lot. For example, when she tried to cheer Peter by making "virtually" his favorite meal: A tofu burger, eggplant strip "french fries", and putting brown rice paste instead of a chocolate milk shake. Peter remarks that she's succeeded in taking his mind off his crappy day (while Jason appears and offers Peter some "beet-sup").
- In the novel Dog and Dragon a kingdom has been in a state of war for a few generations and even the ruler's castle faces food shortages. In order to keep up appearances, feasts would be prepared out of stale bread and then the royal mage would cast a spell that would make the food look and taste like a sumptuous meal fit for royalty. Only another magic user would be able to see through the ruse.
- Shameless (US) features a sculpted SPAM turkey for the Thanksgiving episode.
- On M*A*S*H, the main characters sculpt a "SPAM Lamb" after Radar lets the original lamb, provided by a Greek military unit, escape so it can avoid being eaten.
- It's also noted once that the mess tent serves powdered egg substitute for breakfast. At one point when they're provided real eggs from a local farmer, it becomes a very big deal.
- Done in Three's Company with a phony cake Jack made from sawdust, thinking he was on his way out and trying to ruin the party. Surprisingly, Mr. Roper liked it. (Recall in an earlier episode the man ate dog food....)
- Firefly: The crew makes a birthday cake for Simon. But since they live on a spaceship, it's made out of protein rations, which are exactly the same thing they'd had for dinner.
- In one episode of Angel, Cordelia Chase's new boyfriend, a being from another dimension, makes her a drink called "mochra". He mentions the ingredient he needs to properly make the brew isn't available in our world. Cordy dubs the tea "mock mochra".
- The Supersizers Eat. On the Wartime episode, they reconstructed what was apparently a common dish during WWII Britain: a Mock Duck made out of sausage.
- This is done in Black Books with wine: having drunk an incredibly rare bottle of wine while house sitting, Bernard and Manny try to replace it by filling the bottle with cheap wine and adding the tastes the real wine is described as having, resulting in them adding vanilla ice cream for the vanilla and a twig for the oaky finish. The task is not aided by the fact that Bernard's taste buds have degraded to the point that he can happily eat a coaster. Their friend inadvertently kills the Pope by giving him the wine to drink.
- Done rather more... disgustingly in Blackadder Goes Forth. Baldrick is forced to substitute for whatever he has, meaning that the least disgusting dish he serves is "café au lait" made by adding mud and dandruff to boiling water and spitting in it.
- Once in Two Lumps, Snooch ate the Thanksgiving turkey and Eben sculpted a fake out of gooshyfood. It didn't fool "Mom".
- Phineas and Ferb have one such where Baljeet sculpts a chicken out of peanuts, and calls it "Peanut Chicken: so peanutty you won't even taste the chicken."
- On Spongebob Squarepants, someone orders a pizza from the Krusty Krab by mistake. Sensing an opportunity to make money, Mr. Krabs squashes some Krabby Patties into a pizza and sends Spongebob and Squidward to deliver it.
- SpongeBob once tried to make a sundae, but since he ran out of ice-cream, he uses the next best thing - ketchup. He then adds some onions for texture and tops it off with some anemic peanuts he grew on the windowsill in his bathroom along with the the dirt he grew them in. The resulting concoction gave him horrible bad breath.
- When Mr.Krabs threw Pearl a birthday party, the cake was just cardboard covered in frosting. As for the punch...
Pearl: This tastes like dishwater!
Squidward: It is dishwater.
- The Simpsons had a Thanksgiving episode with a vegetarian "turkey" sculpted from tofu.
- Played both straight and inverted with a non-food item: in Tex Avery's "What's Buzzin', Buzzard?", one of the vultures painted a flat rock to look like a T-bone steak and offered it to his friend. He ate it as if it were meat. The first vulture quickly painted his own rock and took a bite. Crunch.
- Mr. Bogus:
- In the episode "Et Tu, Brattus?", Bogus cuts up a piece of wood and paints it like a slice of cheese in order to fool Ratty into getting caught by the bully's box trap.
- Another episode involved Bogus chasing after an ant that had stolen his special piece of cake. The ant manages to elude Bogus for a while by painting a rock to look like a piece of cake in order to fool Bogus. When Bogus bites into the rock, he winds up breaking his teeth in the process.
- Looney Tunes: Wile E. Coyote has at least three instances: a tin can in "Guided Muscle," a turkey sculpted out of clay in "There They Go-Go-Go!" (in which he loses an incisor), and an old shoe over a campfire in "Hairied and Hurried."
- During WWII, meat was severely rationed so housewives often had to fake it with meat that was tough or poor quality, plus organ meats and other less-valued pieces. These were put in a grinder along with oatmeal or some other meat-extender (even soy was used) and shaped into steaks or another more appetizing form. One name for this meal was "Emergency Steak."
- During the Siege of Leningrad, the besieged civilians had almost no food and had to eat whatever they could scrape. The oft-told tales of various inedible materials, such as pine tree needles, sawdust, wallpaper paste, and mineral oil is something of a misrepresentation, though. Trying to eat really inedible stuff (like the toxic mineral oil) would only make things worse, while harsh conditions of Northern Europe prepared people to eat things that wouldn't be considered edible in better times. Pine needles, for example made an excellent vitamin supplement tea, while the certain part of a coniferous tree bark was long known to be edible and even nutritious (but barely palatable) throughout the region. Thus the pine bark was stripped of inedible parts and ground into bitter, resiny "flour", or "sawdust", that was added to the siege bread with anything else the people could find, like wheat bran (normally reserved for cattle fodder), ground burdock root (eaten as a vegetable in Japan, but regarded as a famine food in Russia), orache and nettle (common weeds) and so on. Wallpaper paste made from potato starch was also edible and thus eaten, as well as various rawhide items, such as boots and belts. A lot of machine oils were of vegetable origins before WWII, and thus also were made into a food source. But there still wasn't enough.
- "Mock Apple Pie" dates from a time when apples weren't always around and frozen apple pies weren't plentiful and cheap. Now it's more expensive to make a mock apple pie than a real apple pie.
- There's no actual turtle in a Mock Turtle soup, either. It uses cheap cuts of beef, fish, and chicken, brains, organ meat, a bit of wine, spices, and a few other kitchen odds and ends.
- Crab sticks and crab salad, popular in (among other places) East Asia and Russia, don't contain any real crab meat. They are based on surimi, powdered fish flavoured to taste like crab and textured to look like crab. Crab salad is sometimes made with corn, sometime with egg, sometime with pickles, but what they never put in it is crab.
- The reason for it was that the crab fisheries in Russia is a relatively modern practice, only started in earnest after the WWII, and for a time crab was a novel, unknown and somewhat mysterious food, so to stimulate a consumer interest it was sold basically at cost, and thus cheap, so it was the time when it started to be used in salads. But then, roughly in The '80s, the Soviet government learned of the huge prices Japanese were ready to pay for the Russian king crab, so they've started to export more and more of it to Japan, and come the Nineties and beyond almost all Russian crab is exported to Japan, making it too expensive to use in salads.
- But wait, there is more! Certain brands of Chinese crab sticks do not even contain any surimi. It is replaced with a mixture soy protein, starch and egg white. So, that's this trope, squared.