Brooklyn-based chef and artist Jen Monroe is addressing food sustainability through art. Combining innovative cuisine and visual displays, Monroe’s project Bad Taste explores the impact of consumption on modern culture and climate change.
“All chefs are artists,” Monroe tells Food Tank. She uses art and cooking to analyze what she describes as “classist, cultural, and financial” aspects of modern food culture and to imagine the effects of environmental degradation on the culinary arts. Monroe describes her work as an interpretation of the future of food if no action is taken to address critical environmental challenges.
“How can we push those things to their extreme in a way that still feels pleasurable and interesting and fun?” Monroe asks.
In 2012, Monroe moved to Brooklyn, New York to work in food media after graduating from Reed College. While writing for publications, Monroe launched Bad Taste as a series of dinner parties featuring exclusively monochromatic foods, named Color Meals. After their initial success, Monroe turned her full attention to Bad Taste, creating commissioned pieces of food art for private companies and organizations throughout New York.
The chef’s dystopian meals and immersive food art explore themes such as industrial agriculture, ocean health, and honey bee endangerment.
Monroe’s recent project The Next Menu imagined the future impacts of climate change on seafood. The chef created centerpieces from recovered ocean detritus and served foods that help to restore ocean health, including seaweeds and sustainably-harvested shellfish. An empty mussel shell comprised the final course, representing the impact unsustainable fishing practices will have on future meals.
“[I] recreate this futuristic menu that we think of as such a far off thing,” Monroe tells Food Tank. But, she continues, “we’re talking 30, 40 years – in our own lifetimes. It’s not going to be a sci-fi novel. It’s now, we’re living it. We’re watching it happen in real time.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Monroe also interacted with followers through hosting cooking demonstrations.
Monroe hopes her work inspires action on food sustainability and environmental initiatives. She tells Food Tank that political and an “individual emotional” engagement can catalyze efforts to address climate change. “My goal when I come at food through these mediums is always to help people foster [an] emotional connection. I think that’s sort of the best thing any artist or chef can hope to do.”
Photo courtesy of Steven Acres