Still-life composition of modern foodstuffs; instand noodles, energy drinks, sweets, doughnuts, processed cheese, etc. Image: Su Lesie, 2016

Still life composition of edible food-like substances.”  Image: Su Leslie, 2016

While still life art can encompass any set or collection of inanimate objects, I tend to associate the genre with 17th and 18th century paintings depicting tables or benches loaded with an abundance of foodstuffs. These paintings offer fascinating social history snapshots; being both literal depictions of the types of food available (if only to the rich), and loaded with symbolic allusions to gluttony, intemperance and the transience of luxury.


Still life composition of “edible food-like substances.”  Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Food production and consumption exists in a social and economic context. Scarcity,  quality, nutrition, price — these are all part of a food narrative that can be explored in art.

In New Zealand, as in much of the world, the prevailing narrative is one of over-abundance. Or at least an over-abundance of calories — mainly derived from highly processed, readily available “convenience” foods. In his highly influential book In Defence of Food, Michael Pollan calls these “edible food-like substances”.

The Daily Post Photo Challenge asked this week for life imitating art. So I give you a still life from 2016, with all the symbolism and allegory of the genre. I also give you this, again from Michael Pollan:

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t. ”
Michael Pollan



Still life with Cheezels

46 thoughts on “Still life with Cheezels

    • It’s a fantastic book. One of the most influential on my life. One of the first things that resonated with me (and probably inspired this post is: “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, ‘What are those things doing there?'”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is wonderful. Only one thing missing, if any of these edible food like substances were to be found in a teenager’s bedroom, there would need to be a touch of mould. Although a lot of this type of food takes a very long time to generate any decay.


    • Hehe. So true. One of Pollan’s eating “rules” is never to eat anything that won’t eventually rot (except honey). I remember seeing on TV once a piece about a 15 year old hamburger from a famous global chain which shall remain Mcnameless. It looked pretty much like a new one. That was scary.


    • Thanks Tish. I had such fun with this, from the eye-opening trip to the supermarket to the jury-rigged backdrop. Sadly, I’m left with a pile of “food-like substances” that even my teenage my boy-child won’t eat.


    • Thanks Raewyn. Sadly, these things were only a tiny fraction of stuff sold on supermarket shelves as “food.” And of course, many are much cheaper than whole food, and so force low-income shoppers into a diet that lacks nutrition and makes large companies rich at the expense of actual food producers.


    • I have a sneaking fondness for the Chesdale slices and the Terry’s Chocolate Oranges are tucked away for future reference. Hubby had some of the peaches for breakfast and my son hoovered up the sweets. The rest — even the teenager couldn’t really face.


  2. Artful arrangement of stuff that makes me cringe. Life imitating art, indeed. I’ve found that the other nice thing about eating real food, mostly plants, is that I don’t have to worry about weight. I also get sick less.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes; food is meant to sustain us, not make us sick. I’m starting to feel that, as a species, we’ve lost our way a bit. I feel like an evangelical every time I open my mouth about my garden, or my foraged plums from the park at the end of my street. The crazy green lady 🙂


  3. Brilliantly composed,a great piece of contemporary Still Life photography nicely connected with the old roots of Still Life paintings.Thanks for introducing us to such a book,If I judge from the quote,it must be very interesting.Hugs to you,Su dear friend 🙂 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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