Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Aliza Eliazarov turns salvaged produce into fancy tableaux.
In her photo series, Waste Not, Aliza Eliazarov gussies up salvaged food in elaborate vignettes. They’re visual celebrations of abundance that reclaim the beauty—and the value—of foods that would otherwise have been destined for the trash.
The scenes look delicious and indulgent. Light glints off of apples and pears, which pop against a matte backdrop; oysters look succulent and sumptuous strewn over white fur. The presence of gilded trays, turned candlesticks, and ornate pitchers telegraphs that this food merits special treatment—it shouldn’t just be cast aside.
But to get her hands on it, Eliazarov pawed through dumpsters outside of grocery stores and manufacturing facilities in Harlem and Brooklyn, diverting food from the landfill—the last stop for roughly 60 million tons of produce in the U.S. each year.
Back in her studio, Eliazarov arranged the haul in a way that referenced centuries-old still lifes by European painters. “In these paintings, the level of appreciation and respect for food is so high that it has been elevated to art,” she says. Eliazarov hoped to do the same thing for food at risk of being dumped, which is often given short shrift because it’s a bit knobby, dinged, or dented.
The project aims to shift the narrative away from talking about spoiled food to focusing on food that can be rerouted from the waste stream while it's still edible. “This entire project focuses on food rescue and various aspects of food rescue, as opposed to waste,” Eliazarov says. “All food photographed in the series has been diverted from becoming trash and was eaten.”
Responses to the food waste crisis continue to accelerate across the globe. In Montreal, locals can give away surplus produce by adding it to one of the public fridges that the BonApp start-up is piloting around the city. The Canadian province has also recently loosened aesthetic guidelines for produce sold in grocery stores. Wal-Mart launched a bargain-price line of wonky-looking produce in 300 of its U.S. outlets in July, and Italy is slashing the volume of food en route to landfills by rolling out a campaign to promote take-home containers for restaurant leftovers—backed by €1 million in government funding.
Eliazarov’s series is a reminder that trash is in the eye—and, sometimes, the belly—of the beholder.